Monthly Archives: March 2016

Out of the Past Review

In contrast to the western, film noir is more like my cup of tea.  I’ll take the visual style of noir over the visual style of the western any day of the week.  It’s so dark, smokey, dramatic, theatrical, and mysterious.  How could a saloon girl compare to a deadly, spunky femme fatale?  How could a singing cowboy compare to an eerie saxophone?  Film noir has a special charm about it that I appreciate, but I haven’t actually watched many films in the genre (if any) all the way through, until I finally saw Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past.  This picture is a good example of what film noir has to offer to the history of cinema, but what it presents is both the good and bad aspects of the genre.

This is, in its own way, a very interesting movie.  It still strikes me as “tederesting” more than captivating, but it is very easy to get lost in the world of the film.  The structure is surprisingly pleasant, because the first act or two is/are done almost entirely within a flashback.  The plot does take surprising twists and turns, and it handles the twists and turns well . . . for the most part.  Eventually, as can happen with noir, the plot becomes unintelligible.  It gets too difficult to tell who’s who and why each of them is doing what he/she is doing.  As it turns out, the characters are also unsure of what’s going on, and they are surprisingly struggling to know why they are doing what they are doing.

I wish to elaborate on the subject of motivation, because it is an important subject in art and philosophy that I have yet to address in a movie review, and this is the ideal motion picture for beginning this discussion.  In fiction, deterministic fatalism is generally treated as a pleasant view of life – the good side is predestined to beat the bad side, and the chosen one simply must save the day because the prophecy says so.  While I am not a fatalist, I am a determinist, which is to say that I stand by the evidence that our thoughts and actions are determined by subconscious brain activity we cannot control, which leaves us without freedom of will (in that we are not the source of our own intentions and desires).  That being said, I would obviously much rather live in a world in which we do have free will, and the fact that this cannot be is troubling.  This movie exemplifies how the genre of film noir uses this troubling predicament to make good drama.

Kathie is the femme fatale with a lot of bad habits, from shooting people without sufficient reason to being a compulsive liar.  When challenged for her actions, she persistently claims that she didn’t want to do what she did – she had to, and she couldn’t explain why.  In my film history class, the professor explained why.  Noir is fascinating because it shows the consequences of living in a world with not only determinism, but fatalism, in that the characters have certain actions that they must commit regardless of their intentions, and they have no control over whether these actions will be good or bad.  This is, when pondered, a rather terrifying concept, which brings all the fiction that celebrates “destiny” under serious scrutiny.  As annoying as it was to repeatedly hear Kathie’s rejection of responsibility for her actions, this did make me realize that there is a certain kind of conflict that I want to see far more of in cinema: the struggle for freedom in a world that cannot have free will.  This subject may very well be the most captivating concept that any work of art could discuss, at least in my opinion, and I wouldn’t have even thought of it if not for Out of the Past.

Overall, this movie is fine.  It’s true that I couldn’t fully appreciate the characters, and it’s true that I found the ending a little unsatisfactory.  I found it rather slow at many times, particularly in the last act, and I could not keep track of the chaotic plot-line (which was more of a plot-scribble) if I were well paid to do so.  However, it does provide a bit of entertainment, and can even be surprisingly thought-provoking, so I give it a pass.

98 Out of the Past

Unforgiven Review

Oh.  Westerns.  Right.  I forgot that I was supposed to acknowledge the existence of this genre at some point.  I’ve really never been into westerns, and I’m not sure that I can ever quite understand the appeal.  Even with the way that Eastwood chose to re-imagine the genre when making this film, I can’t enjoy Unforgiven the way others might because the old west just doesn’t grab me.

First of all, the environment of the old west is not conducive to the kinds of visuals I like, meaning that my first annoyance to overcome is the bland visual style.  While this movie has a much darker look than many westerns did before it, the darkness is done in such a way that it’s hard to make out anything on screen unless the screening is held in a black hole.  The second problem is the outstanding extent to which I do not care about the protagonist.  He’s simply in the mood to kill somebody.  That’s all.  I don’t ask for a story’s hero to be perfect – far from it, since I would greatly prefer a more morally complex character, like Deadpool or Eddie Valiant – but I want to like the person for whom I’m expected to be rooting.

I find this film utterly lacking in substance, and even though the actors gave good performances, I was not invested in any of the characters.  So much of the movie is remarkably awkward, which is largely due to the odd dialogue.  (There’s one scene in particular that I find funny, because Clint is just staring up at one of the few semi-significant female characters – don’t ask me her name – and repeating back everything she says, which is just begging to be parodied.)  Even the most fun and interesting characters in the film couldn’t keep it from feeling like a waste of my time.  I really do think that it was made well for the kind of movie that it is, but this genre just doesn’t usually foster the kinds of stories I can appreciate.

97 Unforgiven

The Twelve Chairs Review

No, not Spaceballs.  Not Blazing Saddles.  Not even The Producers or Young Frankenstein.  Mel Brooks insists that his best film is The Twelve Chairs.  Not too many others seem to agree, but I can understand why he makes this claim.  Is this my favorite Mel Brooks film?  No, I still reserve that spot for High Anxiety.  It is, however, a beautiful example of a wonderfully written and perfectly performed chase movie that captures the essence of fun.

My first exposure to this movie was the theme song.  One day, I was trying to find a song that would perfectly express my daily anxiety, pessimism, and general expectation that everything in my life would go wrong, so I naturally sought the song “High Anxiety” from High Anxiety.  When I purchased this song, I found it was actually cheaper to buy Mel Brooks’ whole greatest hits album, which happened to come with a song I’d never heard of – “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.”  I naturally just had to hear this song, and it was just as satisfying as one would hope – it perfectly captured my feelings about living.  I then realized just how crucial it was that I saw The Twelve Chairs.  My hope was that the song would be part of a huge, extravagant, over-the-top musical number a la “The Spanish Inquisition,” but alas, this movie does not have such an extreme, flamboyant tone.

This film is sort of a change of pace for Brooks, in part because it’s one of his only G-rated films, but also because it’s not trying to parody anything – it’s just an adaptation of an old novel.  However, this makes it a much safer choice to show the younger members of the family (although it is not completely clean), and it also means that the side of Mel Brooks that we see here sticks to a strong story led by likable characters, which happens to thrust the characters into very chaotic situations.  In a way, it’s a little more down-to-earth and believable than a lot of his other works, but at the same time, it gets so, so wild and crazy that it makes Spaceballs seem tame.  For someone expecting Men in Tights or Young Frankenstein, this may be a little disappointing, but I can completely see why Brooks considers it to be his best work.

Rather than trying to throw crazy, “cartoonish” jokes at the audience the whole time, and rather than trying to put a twist on things that have been parodied to death anyway, Brooks managed to get an enormous amount of comedy from a small cast and a simple premise, while keeping the story first instead of the jokes.  One of the best moments in the film is surprisingly when we see some very dramatic tension between two of the main characters, and because it comes in the middle of such a silly movie, it’s actually one of the most powerful moments in all of cinematic drama.  The ending, while not as climactic as I had hoped, has a lot of heart to it, and better yet, it handles the heart in a way that even I, the hater of all things sappy, can really, really enjoy.  It just puts a smile on my face.

As is usual by the time that I have reached the last paragraph of a review, I am left with only a few miscellaneous thoughts about various aspects of the movie, which in this case might hopefully persuade readers to find a way to see this rare work of genius.  There is not a single moment, at least to my memory, when this movie is boring, and there are very few movies that can get such praise out of me.  The whole production is perfectly paced, the story is marvelously structured, and the performances are exactly what they ought to be.  I would go so far as to say that Mel Brooks’ acting in this movie is funnier than his acting in any other (Muppet Movie-inclusive).  I still wouldn’t say that this is my favorite Mel Brooks film, as it doesn’t quite have that special, unique distinction about it that a Young Frankenstein or a Spaceballs has (which is to say that the movie’s cast and setting lack a unique collective personality that sets the world of the film apart from ours).  I must also reiterate the lack of satisfaction in the conclusion of they’re chase, because the story has a twist ending of sorts which I find devastatingly underwhelming.  What I will say is that I can never argue with anyone who claims that this is Brooks’ best work; for it truly is a masterpiece.

96 The Twelve Chairs