Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I was on vacation for a week, and I'm only now getting caught up. Here's what I watched before embarking on the annual October Horror Challenge:

268. Underworld Beauty (1958, directed by Seijun Suzuki) Suzuki at his most generic, but an entertaining genre piece none the less, involving a recently released yakuza who has the diamonds from the heist for which he went to prison. Mix in guilt over the loss of his partner's leg (and later life), his partner's straying younger sister, and the treacherous boss who covets the diamonds, and you have a pretty good blend of elements. Suzuki was pretty good with black and white, in spite of his later color experiments.

269. Transsiberian (2008, directed by Brad Anderson)
270. Tell No One (2006, directed by Guillaume Canet)

The difference between a good thriller and a bad thriller: one goes through the motion of a plot without any real meaning to its characters; one uses plot to dig into the moral and psychological states of its characters. Transsiberian is riveting. Tell No One is exhausting. Transsiberian unfolds without leading the audience by the nose. Tell No One requires a 25 minute exegesis to unravel its story. Tell No One is French, but it seems like a generic Hollywood thriller (it was written by Harlan Coben). The plot hook is pretty good: a man whose wife was murdered seven years ago gets an email indicating that she may, in fact, still be alive, but from there it piles on the twists and turns until it resembles the Gordian knot. It's so busy with plot that it has no time to examine the moral or psychological dimensions of it's lead character. To its credit, it does shed some light on his professional life, in which he seems particularly affable (he's a pediatrician). But the movie never really engages. Transsiberian, on the other hand, is a big ole truckload of menace, emotional and moral conflict, and dark secrets. It's an interesting conflation of Hitchcockian thriller (it occasionally references and resembles The Lady Vanishes), while turning many of the conventions of film noir on their heads. The story follows a missionary couple from China to Moscow on the eponymous train trip. They meet another couple with suspicious circumstances. Characters vanish and reappear, and all the while, there is the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. Emily Mortimer is superb in the lead, who is led astray by homme fatale Eduardo Noriega. Her character bears a crushing weight of guilt through the movie, and Mortimer makes us feel every ounce of it. Ben Kingsley adds another ethnic character to his portfolio as the cop on the case, who has secrets all his own. It's a superior film.

And a whole bunch of Superman cartoons from the 1940s:

271. Superman: Volcano (1942, directed by Dave Fleischer)
272. Superman: Japoteurs (1942, directed by Seymour Kneitel)
273. Superman: Destruction, Inc.(1942, directed by Izzy Sparber)
274. Superman: Terror on the Midway (1942, directed by Dave Fleischer)
275. Superman: Showdown (1942, directed by Izzy Sparber)
276. Superman: Jungle Drums (1943, directed by Dan Gordon)
277. Superman: Secret Agent (1943, directed by Seymour Kneitel)
278. Superman: Eleventh Hour (1942, directed by Dan Gordon)

I don't have much to say about these except to say that there's a noticeable jump in the quality of the shorts directed by Dave Fleischer. The huge gorilla in "Terror on the Midway" makes one of the best monster entrances in film. Perhaps the most interesting film of this bunch is "Eleventh Hour," in which Clark Kent is in wartime Japan and Superman acts as a saboteur. Most of these shorts act as wartime propaganda, but that doesn't diminish their appeal.

279. Back from Eternity (John Farrow, 1956).

Sort of an ur-version of The Flight of the Phoenix, set in a jungle rather than in a desert. Robert Ryan is good as the pilot. Anita Eckberg provides the eye candy. Rod Steiger chews the scenery. Gene Evans goes crazy. It's not a particularly great film, but it's entertaining. John Farrow was adept at these kinds of entertainments.

280. Once Upon a Honeymoon (Leo McCarey, 1942)

This starts as a screwball comedy. I mean, it's directed by Leo McCarey and stars Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, so it's screwball all the way, right? But after a screwball comedy set-up, it veers into very dark territory as Grant and Rogers embark on a tour of Europe as Rogers's husband (the always nefarious Walter Slezak) undermines government after government for the Nazis. In truth, it's a mix of elements that doesn't work very well. It's not funny enough to stand as a comedy (like, say, To Be or Not To Be) and the comedy undermines the serious overtones. Still, Grant was at the height of his abilities in this movie, and he shades effortlessly from charming and goofy to dark and serious. It's a tour de force looking for a better movie.

281. Boomerang (Elia Kazan, 1947)

Excellent courtroom drama in which a prosecutor goes against the grain and attempts to prove the man in the dock innocent of shooting a priest in the back of the head. This is one of those docudrama/film noir hybrids that Fox loved so much in the late forties, but there's a guiding political principle under the film, too, provided by director Elia Kazan. Dana Andrews is good in the lead. The supporting cast is a gallery of interesting faces, including Arthur Kennedy, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, and Jane Wyatt. It's nice to see this title make it to the shelves after Fox bungled its original DVD release.

And then on to the October Horror Movie Challenge.


Streebo said...

You're getting a late start on the challenge this year, Chris! You better get cracking!

Doug Turnbull said...

Boomerang was a good movie with strong performances by a great cast. Elia Kazan turns what could be a simple "police procedural" into a true noir colored in the grayness of moral ambiguity. Loved it.