Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #125-130

Friends of Eddie Coyle
#125. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973, Yates)

Relentlessly melancholic film where chess pieces are moved through quiet back-dealings and dialogue exchanges infused with ever-maneuvering fatalism. Peter Yates’ camera gets deep into the grubby everydayness parts of Boston and its surrounding towns. Having lived in Boston during graduate school, seeing and recognizing the location work here was a high point. The camera acts as eavesdropper, always cautiously close to the proceedings. We see all relevant players and how they connect to each other and we’re never given a true access point. Because of this the film took a while to get into. But as it progressed, I found myself engaged. Robert Mitchum does some of his best work but my personal favorite was Steven Keats as gunrunner Jackie Brown (obviously Tarantino is a fan), with his neon green ride and considerable street instinct.

The Driver
#126. The Driver (1978, Hill)

Walter Hill takes the stripped-down moral code, business-only characters and sparse dialogue of Jean-Pierre Melville and marries it into American crime films. Here is an instance of ‘using Melville as a prototype of cool to build off of’ which I mentioned in my thoughts on Le Cercle Rouge. The characters don’t have names; they are defined by their predominant role within the narrative; ‘The Driver’, ‘The Detective’, ‘The Player’. Dialogue is minimal, especially on Ryan O’Neal’s end, who speaks only when it’s essential and even then in as few words as possible. These characters seem to exist only within this scenario; Adjani’s character is the only one who talks about her past, or anything personality-driven, albeit briefly. These people are fused into a world where the rules are laid out. We respect The Driver because he never breaks his code within the lawless criminal world. We don’t respect The Detective because he does break his code, that being the law that he works for.

O’Neal basically replicates that Melville idea of ideal cool, which would then be replicated and slightly modified by, to name an obvious example, Ryan Gosling in Drive (as well as much of the film). Someone who is stoic, who never sweats, knows the score, and is always in control even when he’s not. It’s a type of masculine fantasy that always has a level of masturbatory wish fulfillment to it, yes with Melville too. But! it’s a preferred mode of idealized masculine cool over other oppositional hothead macho types. Though Hill tries to push Isabelle Adjani into the uncomfortable femme fatale role, I found myself saying ‘good on her’, as I tend to do when the women we’re supposed to see as bottom of the barrel for daring to betray men go on and do just that.

The Driver’s makeup is a bit less interesting than its whole. Far and away my favorite parts are the car chase scenes, full of skidding and squealing tire with front-view and rear-view shots from the cars involved. The street lights look like floating orbs and the gleam of the road give the visuals a finishing shine. Few things satisfy me more than a great cinematic car chase. The Driver has a couple of them.

127. Thief (1981, Mann)

1980’s American filmmaking gets an early peak with one of the most electrifying debuts ever made. Where The Driver and Le Cercle Rouge are atmosphere-driven studies in the controlled ‘cool’ of masculinity within criminal activity, Thief comes striking out from the opposite direction. It is the character study of Frank, ex-convict hothead and maker of his own destiny. His dream life exists in crumply collage form. In prison he was forced to attain a state of mind where time didn’t exist, where investment in one’s own life disappears. Now he wants a wife, children, a wealthy lifestyle. When he’s got those he’ll retire. But he’s spent enough time in prison and has to make up for lost time. He’s going to hightail his success through sped-up propositions and heisting skills learned in the cooler thanks to surrogate papa Willie Nelson. Its all over for Frank the minute he compromises his code, his independence.

There are so many things to talk about with Thief. Like the title supports, Thief defines and introduces Frank by his criminal occupation. The brand of heist work depicted in the film strives above all for authenticity and the hard-edged industrial machinery that parallels Frank’s rough-and-tough masculine nature.

I can quickly get bored/unnerved of studies in hotheadedness, mainly because there are countless films that explore this type of man and at a certain point it just gets tiresome. For a girl like me, dick measuring gets extremely uncool and boring immediately if there’s nothing to support it. And to be sure I wasn’t exactly a fan of Frank. But the minute understanding of his psychology and the fact that this is without a doubt James Caan’s best performance makes it work.

Michael Mann streaks the canvas with nightlights establishing his now well-known aesthetic right off the bat. He takes the glowing orbs and gleaming streets of Walter Hill’s nighttime and pushes it into an abstract realm where streetlights become fuzzy blurs and streets are always wet so light and color bounces off of the frame creating endless mixing pools. There is so much going on in his nighttime compositions and I spent a lot of time simply looking at the textures Mann was able to create.

The use of daytime and nighttime are used as a battleground for Frank’s hopes and realities. We begin with a lot of nighttime scenes but once Frank starts to fill in those missing domestic pieces, getting closer to what he wants his life to be, the film shifts to mostly daytime. By the end when it all (as it must go) slips through his fingers, he is dragged back into the alleys, the seedy dark. We end in the middle at ground zero. At night in a domestic setting; Leo’s house. With the only way men like this know how to settle scores; with firearms and bloodshed.

So with a neo-noir film about a guy like Frank made by Michael Mann of course the woman is a mere appendage. Something to acquire. Luckily, though this is her role, that objectifying is used to make a point about Frank’s psychology, by acknowledging the quickened and put-upon circumstances, which is at least better than this being the case without it serving any other means. And Tuesday Weld’s Jessie does get to participate in arguably the film’s highlight. That remarkable mammoth of a diner scene.

The Tangerine Dream score (one of about a billion things Drive lifts from this film but that’s not news to anybody) gives everything a hypnotic New Wave underscored hum. In a scene like the final heist, where close-ups of molten bliss combine with the electronic score and a hyper-attention to the process of thievery, Thief enters a separate standalone realm outside of its own story.

Body Heat
#128. Body Heat (1981, Kasdan)

The quintessential postmodern noir in its direct inspiration from certified classic Double Indemnity and taking sexual foreplay through wordplay into the bedroom for some longtime coming release. The best femme fatale populated noirs where sexual tension provided energetic fuel still surpass the steaminess we see in Body Heat. But Body Heat is still damn steamy (those wind chimes! Hurt breaking through the door! Turner just standing there!) and writer/director Lawrence Kasdan even gives the sex a backdrop of Florida heat wave. There’s a washed out glow to the visuals whether drenched in sun, fog, or sweat.

It would just be a well-executed salacious throwback if not for William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. Hurt is the perfect womanizing stooge. You even feel kind of bad for him…actually, no you don’t. Kathleen Turner, in her film debut (!), husks it up. You get it. You just get it. She sells Matty’s supposed sincerity, her one-of-a-kind lure. The ambiguous ending is a highlight and it was nice to see a to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils end to the femme fatale for once. I’m still waiting to see a film told from the woman’s point-of-view that actually commends or at least complexifies their decision to dupe and manipulate sad sacks as opposed to simply representing the ultimate threat for men. But this was still a nice update. Matty is fabulous.

Body Heat is solid all-around. I added it to the end of my neo-noir set once I realized none of my choices took on femme fatale-driven noir. Plus, seeing Body Heat had been a long time coming anyhow.

#128. The Love Goddesses (1965, Turell)

A really basic introduction to the types of women in American film’s various phases up through 1965. Lots of generalizations and clips that go on for far too long, this was interesting but flat.

Frances Ha
#130. Frances Ha (2013, Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach revisits the comical sharpness of his roots and the result is a youthful and delectable collaboration with new squeeze Greta Gerwig. Baumbach is an all-time favorite director of mine, and though I’m a massive fan of his more polarizing works, it’s nice to see that Gerwig’s involvement brings him around full circle to the Kicking and Screaming quarterlife crisis territory. More specifically, this one is about the intricacies and intimacies of female friendship and the slow emergence of self-aware maturity. And it ties the two together beautifully.

There are very few films, in the grand scheme of things, that are actually about the complex nature of intimate female friendship. All of us women have these friends in our lives; it’s a singular thing full of competitiveness, comfort, self-comparison, support, undying love and memories. Frances’ world basically starts to fall apart once her best friend moves out and the splinter effect takes hold. She’s too busy talking about getting her life together, judging her own life solely through the context of Sophie’s and unwilling to compromise herself in her own deluded fashion. It’s a tough thing to make a living as an artist, yes even if you come from a white middle-class place of privilege. As one character astutely and accurately points out, pursuing the arts in NYC to begin with is only an option for the rich (the reveal that Benji is writing a spec script for Gremlins 3 had me in near-tears). Frances has to realize that you do what you can when you can do it and that it takes time. Everyone else around you who says they have their shit together are putting on a show.

Frances Ha has a makeshift flighty structure completely coated in French New Wave sensibilities. It’s comprised of equal parts full scenes and montage where exchanges and moments are pared down to their minimum for maximum effect. It paints a fairy tale-like picture where the underlying sadness of it all can be overcome because let’s face it, the only thing holding her back from putting her best foot forward is herself. She makes some poor decisions along the way in order to live in the past and retain a sense of control but they are ill-advised. Has there been a more pitiful Paris excursion in film?

Greta Gerwig is the fuel, driving it forward in facial tics, dopey interactions, awkward overcompensation and a sunny infectious energy. If you aren’t a fan, boy oh boy are you out of luck. She is this film. The reliably static camera keeps on her as we watch Frances try and commit to moments.

Frances Ha is a reminder of how just purely satisfying Baumbach can be with his collaborative skills, relentless ear for dialogue and master of the art of modern social exchange. This would make an excellent double feature with Walking and Talking.

Two final notes: – Dean and Britta (!) show up again here and this time they have lines! I have to admit this was extremely distracting for me and I think I missed a lot of that long dinner scene because I was too busy gaping happily at the two of them. – I know we’re all justifiably fawning over the usage of “Modern Love” (though knowing there’s another usage featuring Denis Lavant out there makes me salivating for the latter), but can we stop for a second and appreciate the multiple usage of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner”?

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #118-124

Pirate Radio
#118. The Boat That Rocked (aka Pirate Radio) (2009, Curtis)

I watched the UK version of this film which added an extra twenty minutes. I don’t have one good thing to say about this film. Not a-one. OK, one. The soundtrack is impressively extensive, so much so that though there are the cliched cues it is also chockful of excellent tracks.

Everything else about this incomprehensible clusterfuck is a major miss. Here’s a hypothetical; say BBC wanted to make a show using the days of pirate radio as a backdrop. The writers comes up with a fun wacky boys club of a radio crew. They shoot an entire season. But the show never ends up airing. They decide to use the footage and make a film. But which footage to choose? The film is eventually constructed by picking scenes out of a hat and randomly splicing them together. The original material wasn’t funny or entertaining to begin with. Now, chopped to all hell, it’s damn near intolerable.

This isn’t the story behind what happened with The Boat That Rocked, but it sure feels like it in a nutshell. It has zero interest in actually portraying the days of pirate radio. Kenneth Branagh as a stuffy Brit who hates rock n’ roll fiends is pure caricature. OK fine. So history not a priority. That’s fine. Maybe our raunchy radio crew made up of great actors, and let’s not forget that lesbian punch-line of a character, can at least provide some semblance of joy? Nope. No go. I love a lot of these actors, but they’ve got nothing to work with. They can’t even stumble onto something funny. There’s no saving grace.

The portrayal of women is despicable. No attempt is made to make any of them into anything other than harpy objects, two-timers and screeching backstabbers. It is truly horrifying; the kind of blatant mean-spiritedness that irks me more than any other kind of onscreen sexism. Richard Curtis decides to employ a slightly shaky camera to illustrate that they are on a boat!!! The Boat That Rocked might be the most haphazard production I’ve seen in years. I can’t even construct an articulate review about it. All flames on the side of my face.

Behind the Candelabra
#119. Behind the Candelabra (2013, Soderbergh)

Undoubtedly my favorite Steven Soderbergh film in a very long time (since Traffic?). Behind the Candelabra is biographical, campy, comedic, showbizzy, heartwrenching, bizarre and poignant all at once. You could watch it once and latch onto one of its parallel modes of design. Watch it another time and give yourself over to a different thread. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon have seriously never been better. And Rob Lowe is going to haunt your nightmares.

The film takes the conventional rise-and-fall relationship trajectory and uses that structure to examine toxicity and devotion. These relationships that Liberace embarked on were genuine for him, yet completely artificial in their almost unconscious ritual cycle. Douglas lets us see a little slime underneath the bedazzle, just enough to really grey things up. Scott on the other hand is supposed to be extremely young. As in, 19. As in, they obviously took liberties with the casting. But I’m completely okay with this because it’s Matt Damon! This relationship is new for Scott.  Also genuine on one level, but subtly duplicitous in the perks of living the life and the downward spiral he allows himself to go on.

The glitz, cosmetic surgery, PR work and pills make up this fragile veneer where everyone is going big or going home in a constant effort to keep up a transparent lie in more ways than one. Oh, and kudos for Cheyenne Jackson who kills every second of his tiny role. On a final note, the Matt Damon eye candy on at ridiculously high levels. So get on that people.

Point Break
#120. Point Break (1990, Bigelow)

One reason why Point Break resonates through the years, besides the justified Hurt Locker-inspired tidal wave of Kathryn Bigelow love resulting in another filmography assessment, is the unparalleled way it brings together blasts of cheese with jolts of visceral power. That kind of fusion is also in the story which brings together surfing, spirituality, bank robberies, undercover cops, skydiving and male bonding in a way all its own.

That committed spirituality gives Point Break a complex perspective because of the way a search for serenity is linked to Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. The central friendship is deftly explored and while Reeves walks around with his pink surfboard and gives some pretty golden line readings, Patrick Swayze walks away with the film. His Bodhi is well-meaning but convoluted and desperate. He was written and performed with care, ambiguity and empathy. In other casting notes, Bigelow apparently pushed for Lori Petty. The writers were initially envisioning a thin blonde surfer chick. Instead Petty breaks out onto the scene, future cult icon stamping her presence with her brand of punk-rasp.

Back to the story, there is something really purely entertaining about Point Break but also arresting (like the on-foot chase scene) and often stunning (the surfing and skydiving scenes are breathtakingly shot and even oddly moving). It’s a preposterous film that goes beneath its potentially gimmicky plot to look at soft and hard masculinity and the search for peace through adrenaline while never being anything less than a complete scream.

#121. Blood (2013, Murphy)
Full Review on Cine Outsider:
I chose not to post this review on my site because although I’m very happy with the end result, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s mine because much external editing went into it. But of course I urge anyone to read it!

#122. Point Blank (1967, Boorman)

Lee Marvin, single-minded zombie in purgatory, is on a mission. He’s been double-crossed and he wants his $92,000. Point Blank is a  time-old tale of betrayal told with a sparse dream-fevered futile air. Walker isn’t a character but a blank slate. It’s not about the mission but its emptiness. Within the rabbit-hole grip of corporate crime, nobody ever sees money in the unbreakable daylight streaks of L.A.

Tangibles like the monochromatic color schemes and Walker’s single-mindedness collide with bursts of kaleidoscopic rainbows and a sustained feeling of Alain Resnais-lite deja vu. No wonder John Boorman’s French New Wave-cum-Antonioni inspired sensibilities didn’t come off with audiences in 1967. Characters rarely face each other, most often talking into the vast open space before them.

Boorman predates a ton of formal techniques later to be defined within the American New Wave; precision-like zoom, asynchronous sound, fully utilized lenses, playing with time through editing and acutely thoughtful and highly stylized composition. The opening credits alone are a series of Lee Marvin poses, memorable in silhouette  and hulking mass. Boorman was ahead of his time within American cinema with Point Blank and it still comes off with a burst of fresh experimental energy almost half a century later. I found engaged to the hilt by this film. Another new favorite (I have a lot of those). As it moves back and forth through time and as memory, ennui, and listless violence bleed into each other, the elliptical Point Blank captures you in its suspended atmosphere of free association. Neo-noir as innovative existential tone poem.

A New Leaf
#123. A New Leaf (1971, May)

A riotously dark screwball comedy that marked the beginning of Elaine May’s contentious relationship with studios due to perfectionism and an apparent inability to ever finish her work at any stage. This aside, A New Leaf is one of the funniest films I’ve seen, finding its humor through an unabashed commitment to perspective of Walter Matthau’s potential fall from wealth. It’s my favorite performance from Matthau, a perverted distillation of long extinct class customs. The joke is that he hasn’t built a life around his wealth; his wealth is his life.

When Elaine May enters as bespectacled oblivious waif Henrietta the joy comes from seeing these two characters clash. Their repartee is different from the banter game-play of various screwball twosomes.  First of all, May isn’t aware of said clash; from her perspective she is simply stumbling into a perfect match. The clash exists, oh does it exist for Matthau, but he has to do everything in his power to hide this conflict of interest towards her. Where she sees Prince Charming, we see a man seething from within, pulsating with repulsion, just waiting until he can off her. A New Leaf does its best to veer away from sincerity which could threaten to undo the somehow lovably nasty streak Matthau leads with throughout. May writes her dialogue with such a matter-of-fact drollness that on first glance belies its instant quotability and staying power. But there’s just enough redemption at hand for it to earn its conclusion without the film betraying itself.

– The ‘I’m poor’ montage took me completely by surprise and had me crying and howling with laughter more than anything I’ve seen in years. ‘Goodbye’

#124. Le Cercle Rouge (1970, Melville)

Jean-Pierre Melville is someone whose films I’ll always look at with the detached appreciation of a lover of film; not necessarily with a comes-from-within feeling of vitality. Although who the hell knows. I remember really being very fond of Bob Le Flambeur when I saw it long ago. As for Le Samourai; I need to see it again. I don’t trust my opinions on anything when I was 17.

So that detached appreciation comes in many forms and Le Cercle Rouge kept my interest throughout. It has Melville’s reliable stark sleekness, that essence of Parisian cool where its down-to-business at all times. Careful visuals and the use of cinematic space phase out the need for words. Alain Delon remains a physical representation up against those cool blue surroundings (with touches of forest greens) at every turn. Melville uses him as a statuesque icon, transferring his indelible persona to a state of poker-faced steadiness. Le Cercle Rouge in particular is stripped down to a skeletal story, uncluttered by character development or plot detours. It’s a prototype of cool that countless filmmakers would alter build off of. Characters slowly but surely make their way towards that fictional red circle, collaborating through an innate unspoken pull to each other and their heist.