Archive for September, 2008

2008

September 24, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
115 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Neil Burger [The Illusionist]

Sometimes Losing Your Way Home Means Finding Yourself

There isn’t much to this film. Three soldiers, injured in combat, take the same flight from Germany to New York City. They fall into easy conversation on the flight, discussing where they were stationed, why they’re going home, and for how long. Colee (Rachel McAdams) is naive and open and trusting, and does most of the talking. Cheever is played by Tim Robbins as a man whose career in the reserves has come to an end. He can’t wait to get home, see his family, and get reacquainted with the civilian world. TK (Michael Pena) is a macho soldier coming to grips with an injury to his manhood (literally), though he describes his wound as “upper thigh”.

A power outage means that each of their connecting flights has been canceled. The kindness of the guy at the Dollar Car Rental counter (You guys Army? I have one car left) means they are soon on their way in a rented minivan to see the country and to drive non-stop to St. Louis where Cheever will be home and the other two will catch flights to their final destinations.

There is nothing new or unique in this film, whatsoever. Cheever’s wife will chose his arrival to announce their divorce, his son will be proud of his acceptance to Stanford and in the next breath will say “they need $20,000 by next Saturday.” There will be a bar fight, car trouble, people blaming them for the conduct of the war, tears, hugs, romance, jail, and humor. They will all end up in Vegas because that’s where road trip movies end up these days.

I have nothing against road movies. In fact, I rather like the idea of being forced by circumstance to get to know other people while experiencing (or at least driving quickly past) the vastness of the US of A. But, even for a road trip film, this thing meanders all over the place. It aspires to be something bigger–the story of three people learning about the country they’re fighting and being wounded for. They don’t know about American Idol, or the way cocktail chatter often revolves around how bad a mistake Iraq was. They are told “thank you” on a half-dozen occasions, by people they come into contact with, though it seems people say it more out of a sense of duty or relief that it isn’t them in the fatigues, than any actual feelings of gratitude.

The three leads are more than up to the task. McAdams is fiery and beautiful and isn’t as unbelievable as you might imagine as a combat veteran. Robbins is normal and puts aside his usual smarter-than-thou persona to good use–although his marital meltdown seems out of place for his level-headed character. Pena is becoming a very good actor–he’s charismatic, bull-headed, and afraid his fiance will leave him when she learns of his “infirmity”.

But the script is a mess. There are situations that don’t really happen and then there are situations that everyone in the audience sees coming long before the characters do. Robbins hooks up at a BBQ for no other reason than comic effect. There is a preposterous scene involving a tornado (in New Mexico or Colorado, I think) when TK and Colee head off to the store for some powerbars, encounter ominous clouds, then rain, then hail, then they pull over to the side of the road. A tornado appears (ILM has nothing to worry here about effects-wise) but they still have time to have a discussion about getting out of the car and running to a conveniently located drainage pipe under the freeway where the two attractive leads can hold each other while the scary storm blows past. They then get in their car, which shows no proof of the near-fatal twister, and head back to a campground to pick up Cheever, never mentioning it again.

There’s a plot about a guitar handed down from Elvis Presley to Colee’s late boyfriend. Will she return it to his family or give it to Cheever for his son’s tuition? How will Cheever find the money? Will TK really run to Canada to avoid his third tour of duty? Why is there a scene in a Nevada jail?

None of this adds up to much. These three actors deserve much better.

5.2 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB
*** Ebert
** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli

The Lucky Ones @ Amazon

THE LUCKY ONES

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2008

September 23, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA / Italy
English / German / Italian
160 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller / War
Spike Lee [Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads; She’s Gotta Have It; School Daze; Do The Right Thing; Mo’ Better Blues; Jungle Fever; Malcolm X; Crooklyn; Girl 6; Get On The Bus; 4 Little Girls; He Got Game; Inside Man; When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts]

World War II Has Its Heroes And Its Miracles

This mess of a film was good for the first ten of its excruciatingly long 160-minute running time. Then it went downhill fast. And rather than redeem itself with the second half of its modern-day bookend, it just grew more preposterous, more preachy, more loud, and worst of all, more disjointed. It’s like ten films in one, none of which is related to any of the other nine. Comedy? History lesson? Romance? Film about honor? Is it about a long-held grudge? American Imperialism? 1940s lunch counter politics? I have no idea. But none of these different ideas are close to being clearly depicted on the screen. To say this film is disappointing is far too weak an analysis of its failures.

I need to preface a couple of things. You’ll see by the list of films of Lee’s that I’ve seen that I am a loyal and rabid fan of his. Malcolm X was an almost completely successful sweeping epic that captured 40 years of American history. Do The Right Thing expertly captured New York City race relations in 1989. His documentaries, 4 Little Girls and When The Levees Broke are proof that he can master the non-fiction realm as well. I didn’t mind School Daze or She’s Gotta Have It. Inside Man showed that he could do big budget as well as small. Crooklyn didn’t work for me so much. But Jungle Fever and it’s portrayal of both taboo love and Sam Jackson and Halle Berry as crackheads was pretty spectacular.

So I come from a position of wanting Lee to succeed, even when he plays outside his comfort zone in this case by trying to construct a film in three languages, with modern and 1940s elements, and bombastic war movie special effects. You want to give him props for trying. But then it gets worse and worse.

A gray-haired black man is watching a John Wayne WWII film on his television and says to no one in particular, “We fought for this country, too.” That’s how the film starts and it is typical Spike Lee. It’s almost like you have to go into this film never having read, heard, or seen any depictions of the African American experience in the 20th century. Of course black men fought in World War II (and every other war afterward), but would a man watching a late-night movie alone actually talk back to the screen? When he listens to old Benny Goodman records, does he say “We made music too”. Yes, I understand that portrayals of the brave black fighting men of the war are few and far between, but he starts the film by treating the audience as idiots.

The man works in a post office (which is confusing because during the war scenes there’s a guy named “Stamps”) and he goes through his assigned window tasks with little happiness or human interaction. A customer with an accent asks to mail something, the worker pulls out a German pistol, shoots the man point blank in front of horrified witnesses and then calmly closes his window and awaits arrest.

Enter John Turturro as a cop and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cub reporter. They will have a conversation scene shot as only Lee can, with fast-moving circling camera angles. A search of the man’s apartment turns up the head of a statue and we know it’s important because the cynical academic expert is rendered speechless when the head is unwrapped in front of him. We are hammered on the head over and over while watching this film. We get it: it’s a priceless artifact that was in a shopping bag in this guy’s closet. We will never see Turturro again and Levitt won’t return for more than two hours. A newspaper story ends up in Rome on the desk of John Leguizamo, who here plays some sort of Nazi-art collector who has a girlfriend who can’t get enough loving from him and before he can read the story he is jumped on by his hottie who causes the newspaper to fly out the window onto the table of a man enjoying a coffee at a street cafe. If that isn’t ridiculous enough, just wait 45 seconds because that’s how long it takes this man to stand up, read the article, and then–I’m not joking here–be so shocked by it that he pours his cup of coffee out in extra-slow-motion followed by the cup and then the saucer smashing on the cobblestone. Please re-read that scene. Man attacked by girlfriend throws paper out of window it lands on the one guy in all of Italy who knows the story of the statue, he stands up, spills his coffee, breaks the cup, and runs out of frame. What in the world is going on here?

We then flashback to the “Buffalo Soldiers” platoon as they bumble their way across a field. To say that they aren’t a tip-top fighting corps is an understatement. We see the same statue in a bag attached to an overweight, and seemingly borderline-retarded soldier named “Train”. But he’s the least of their problems. There are sobbing soldiers, loud soldiers, absent-minded soldiers–this is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They are being sent to cross a river in a suicide mission drawn up by their racist superior. (There are only a handful of white Americans in the film and just about all of them are virulent racists).

Fans of the late, great WIRE on HBO will want to know that not only is Omar Back! but Omar Scared! and then Omar Dead!

This scene has all of the problems of the film in one place. 1) the music is appallingly loud. Not just a bit loud, but loud enough to not be able to hear what the characters are saying; It swells up for no reason as if the composer had no idea what scene he was writing for. This happens more than I’d like in all Spike Lee films, but in this case it took me right out of what was happening. It’s loud, then soft, with no corresponding reason depicted on the screen. 2) The man in charge of them is played by Detective Shane on The Shield, so we know he’ll be an incredible racist who will endanger his men, not believe they could succeed, and then court-marshal them on a trumped up charge. 3) Limbs are blown off and mortars explode in bloody slow-motion as if Lee is saying “look what I can do with a big budget and military advisers.” 4) But most artificially, is the fact that a loudspeaker truck is moved into position and we cut to a radio studio where an attractive, blonde German woman begins her propaganda war. Instead of Tokyo Rose, we get Axis Sally. I have no doubt that this was part of Germany’s strategy to have troops second-guess themselves. But it’s not that she’s speaking, it’s what she’s saying. She begins to give the soldiers (and viewers) a lesson in the African-American assimilation experience. She brings up lunch counters and job opportunities. She says that America will never treat black people equally, she encourages them to put down their weapons and change teams over to Germany. As if no one knew of the Final Solution or Hitler’s views on non-white people. She then switches to speaking more sexually–if you put down your weapons, German women will worship you because deep down they all want to sleep with a strong, black man. Not to mention, we have fried chicken and biscuits just like momma used to make. The words she says are absolutely ridiculous.

Some of the men succeed in crossing the river, radio back to base where the superior assumes that they’re mistaken or are lying, and orders an artillery strike on their very position, killing several of his own men. The ones that make it do so by sheer luck.

At an abandoned farm house they come into contact with an Italian boy who is injured and who may have special mystical powers. The big soldier says that the boy is the first white person he’s ever touched. The Italian boy calls him “Chocolate Giant” in Italian. They end up communicating with taps on each other’s shoulders. The Chocolate Giant, Train, is played in what appears to be an homage to Lenny from Of Mice And Men. The boy won’t let anyone else carry him, Train doesn’t let any harm come to him, and whoever stays close by the child somehow stays out of harm’s way.

The small group bumbles their way to an Italian village where they’re told they’re surrounded by the German army by the one person in the village fluent in English (she claims to have been a nanny) who also happens to be the one model-quality female for miles. Both leaders have their eyes on her, one is tacky and forward, the other is polite and respectful. Guess which one she sleeps with first.

Most will die, there will be honor and betrayal. The movie is all over the place. It’s the kind of film where one soldier says to the other “It’s a SNAFU–situation normal all fucked up.” So he says the acronym and then explains the acronym thereby setting aside the point of an acronym. Lee wants to give us a lesson at every turn, not a story. The woman will take off her shirt at the clothesline, pause as she sees the polite soldier is watching, taunt him with a “haven’t you seen a naked woman before?”, and then change her mind and bang the more aggressive soldier. But that’s not all. The guy comes out of the house pulling up his pants, the woman comes out wearing his helmet, smoking a cigarette, and holding his rifle. Then the two men have a fight over her honor. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more. An entire church full of people is led to a courtyard and told they have one minute to turn over an Italian freedom fighter, even though he’s not there. The priest begs the men to kill him and let the others go. He begins to lead his congregation in prayer. When it looks like the Germans are about to open fire, they hold a pistol up to the priests head. But before they kill him, he has time for a quick prayer about forgiveness which ends exactly when the slow motion bullet goes through his brain. Every character has time for a death-bed declaration or another story about racism or the futility of war.

Everything is obvious. The good guys, the bad guys, the good women, the bad women. Who’s a good soldier, who’s a racist, who’s a caring German, who’s a turncoat Italian.

There is at least one striking and perfect scene in the 160-minute running time. There is a flashback to a time before the soldiers are shipped out from America which takes place in the south. The men want ice cream and stop at a lunch counter where German prisoners are being fed lunch on their way to prison. The cracker owner threatens them with a gun and tells them to go around back if they want any food. The soldiers point out that the Germans are served inside and they’re the enemy. The racist says to his son “That’s how they need to be treated” or something. The soldiers drive away pissed. This incident is one of many that I’ve read about up through the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 60s where soldiers who are literally on their way to die for their country can’t even get a meal in the south. This is one instance of historical instruction that I’m glad Lee handled. Even though the owner is just this side of a characature, the scene rings true. As does a wordless scene when the jeep pulls a U-turn, heads back into the town, and the soldiers come charging in–rifles aimed–and demand their ice cream. The man can’t serve them quickly enough. We cut back to Italy and the four surviving men and the child are staring at the camera for a long, long time with a look of disgust on their faces as if they’re collectively remembering the ice cream incident at exactly the same time.

The shot is framed as if it were a snapshot of the common black soldier experience in WWII Europe. That experience, rather than just being shown to us by Lee, is then unfortunately hammered down on us when a character has to explain how torn up he is about fighting for a country in which he can’t even vote, while experiencing Europe where he feels more welcome than he does in his own country. The scene ends with the men moving out of frame one at a time. It’s pretty striking.

We know we’ll see the man who spilled the coffee, we know we have to be book-ended back to NYC in the 1980s to see what happens to our hero. But what we don’t expect, and what has no real purpose that I can tell, is a meeting on a Bahama beach. “Where Am I?” the character asks, seeming to forget that he just got off a plane whose ticket probably had the destination on it. “Someone wants to meet you.”

I want to commend Lee for trying such a sweeping story, with flashbacks, history, and three languages. But it fails on just about every level. A complete disappointment.

For a much better take on soldiers fighting and dying for a country that doesn’t think of them as equals, please see DAYS OF GLORY.

3.7 Metacritic
5.0 IMDB
*** Ebert
** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli
C- Gleiberman
C- Murray

Miracle at St. Anna @ Amazon

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA

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2000

September 21, 2008
Netflix DVD
Italy / USA
Italian / Sicilian / English / Latin
92 Minutes (USA Version) — December 25, 2000
Comedy / Drama / Romance / War
Giuseppe Tornatore [Cinema Paradiso]
Monica Bellucci [Bram Stoker's Dracula; Irreversible; The Matrix Reloaded]

An Intimate Portrait And An Epic Story Of The Courage We Discover, The Innocence We Surrender, And The Memories We Cherish…Forever.

In Sicily in the early 1940s, a beautiful woman, who loses her husband in the war, is the object of an adolescent’s day dreams.

From the man who brought us perhaps the most nostalgic film of all time, CINEMA PARADISO, a movie I love with all of my naive heart. Take a look at the tagline above. He tries to have lightening strike twice. “The memories we cherish forever”?

This lightweight story is about a small Italian fishing village as Mussolini rises to power just before World War II. A young teenager named Renato is our surrogate for this film. We will grow up with him and experience life in Italy with him. The film opens with him receiving a new bicycle which seems to be the entry fee into a group of older boys who hang out together. He follows them one day as they race to a seawall, sit on it, and wait. His questions are all answered as Malena walks out of her house, past the panting boys, towards the market. As she passes, we actually get to see Renato’s shorts get tighter.

The entire story revolves around a woman whose husband is fighting for the Italian army. This woman is so beautiful that the rest of the village goes completely bonkers. Rumors spread, men declare their love, women spit on her, boys climb trees to peer into her house, German occupiers pay to sleep with her–all while she pines for her beloved.

In order to pull off a story like this, the woman needs to be almost supernaturally beautiful. Beautiful enough to become the obsession not just of an adolescent boy (which is comparably easy), but the obsession of an entire region of Italy, as well as male and female viewers, alike. There are maybe five women on the planet who could inspire such a response. Monica Bellucci is absolutely one of them.

From the moment we see her sashaying by the group of boys, we are goners. She is a work of art. From that point on, there is not a single thing that happens in this unevenly toned film that seems out of place. A beautiful woman can make people do unbelievable things. I would say that Bellucci would probably lead any number of global villages to cease to function as societies were she to show up in one of her cleavage-baring dresses.

Beyond that, there isn’t much here. The character of the boy is a pretty realistic portrayal of someone who is protecting the thing he loves without telling the object of his affection. He spies on her, he dreams about her, he masturbates to her, she shows up in his daydreams as a teacher, or butcher, and he writes unsent letter to her declaring his love and that he’ll always be around to protect her. It’s probably a uniquely male thing to do, to create a fantasy world where you have a relationship with someone you’ve never spoken to, where you defend someone who doesn’t know your name, where you know that if she would just talk with you once, she’d be as convinced about your compatibility as you are. This is hard to portray on film, so it falls back on flashes of breasts and on the incredible face of Ms. Bellucci.

Because I am a straight male, I needed to do further research on Ms. Bellucci and was shocked and horrified to find that the version of MALENA that I saw on DVD, while rated R (deservedly), had more than ten minutes cut from it, including several more scenes of seduction and nudity. The horror!

I am now firmly on the Bellucci bandwagon. To fans of hers I say, skip IRREVERSIBLE as you may never recover from what you see in it. I am also incredibly happy that she is roaring into her 40s as beautiful as ever.

The film, in a nutshell is about a woman so beautiful that a village goes bonkers. Don’t look for anything deeper than that.

* Halliwells — “Teenage fantasies of sexual success conflict with the realities of political failure and personal humiliation in this engaging fable that shows the influence of Fellini.”
5.4 Metacritic
7.4 IMDB
** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
B- Gleiberman

Malena @ Amazon

MALENA

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TELL NO ONE
2006

July 23, 2008
September 17, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
France
French
125 Minutes — July 2, 2008
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Guillaume Canet

Eight Years Ago, Alex’s Wife Was Murdered. Today…She E-mailed Him.

Can a murder-mystery be as spell-binding the second time? In this case, yes. Though there was a single plot point that I didn’t notice the first time, which I found to be illogical and impossible the second time. I promise you won’t notice it on the first viewing. Still one of my favorites of the year.

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TELL NO ONE is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 56. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:26 TELL NO ONE Discussion, Part 1
• Break
• 17:00 TELL NO ONE Discussion, Part 2
• Break
• 30:15 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 31:10 The Last Five®
• Break
• 53:45 Listener Feedback
• 1:01:30 Credits and Outtakes

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8.2 Metacritic
8.0 40 Critic Consensus
7.5 IMDB

Tell No One @ Amazon

TELL NO ONE

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2008

September 17, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / UK / France
English
96 Minutes — September 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Intelligence is relative.

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BURN AFTER READING is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 60. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 BURN AFTER READING Discussion
• Break
• 22:19 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:44 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:15 Fall TV Update/Show Notes
• 1:02:40 Credits and Outtake

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*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
** Phillips
C Schwarzbaum
6.2 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

BURN AFTER READING

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2007

September 14, 2008
Netflix
South Korea / USA
Korean / English
90 Minutes — April 11, 2008
Drama
Gina Kim

5.7 IMDB

NEVER FOREVER

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1996

September 14, 2008
DVD — Thank You Nazhat S.
USA
English / Spanish
91 Minutes — February 21, 1996
Adventure / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Wes Anderson [Rushmore; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou; Hotel Chevalier; The Darjeeling Limited]

They’re not criminals, but everybody’s got to have a dream.

Three young incompetents decide to embark on a life of crime.

* Halliwells — “Enjoyable and witty small-scale independent film that manages some original variations on a familiar theme.”
6.0 MC
7.2 IMDB

BOTTLE ROCKET

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GATE OF FLESH
1964

September 10, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese / English
90 Minutes — December 11, 1964
Drama
Seijun Suzuki [Shunpu Den]

Hard-to-categorize film that takes place in post-war Tokyo. A band of colorfully dressed hookers work a particular area of town, catering to American GIs and Japanese criminals. They have a simple code: no pimps and no sex without payment. Break this rule and the other women in the group will strip you, assault you, nearly torture you, cut off your hair, and dump you in view of the whole town. Woe to you who have sex for love. We follow one girl as she joins the gang and the profession. Everyone is trying to make ends meet after the war. Japan has an incredibly low sense of national pride–characters mention the surrender and failures of the army and emperor.

There isn’t much plot to speak of. Girls drink and steal and sell their wares. The film is dark and sultry–everyone is sweating all the time. It is also pretty sexy for an early 60s film. In addition, there are scenes to satisfy any number of fetishes, both Japanese and Universal. Girls are tied up and bound, whipped and caned, covered in milk. There are artsy sex scenes. And the “cleaning” of an entire cow with a knife while the girls look on intrigued. A black American priest is seduced and then kills himself. A gang leader has the obligatory scar down his cheek. There is a man who enters the women’s world (and warehouse) who ridicules the women while recuperating from his latest caper.

Not exactly recommendable, but not an ordeal either.

Criterion even seems to think that this is light, exploitation–there is no commentary on the disc.








7.3 IMDB

Gate of Flesh – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

GATE OF FLESH

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2000

September 6, 2008
Netflix Roku Download
USA
English
75 Minutes
Documentary
Vicky Funari & Julia Query

A bit long, even at a brisk 75 minutes. Story of strip club and their efforts to unionize against the wishes of the pretty-progressive-thinking female management. Only in San Francisco. Basically a labor struggle with boobs as an added attraction.

6.2 Metacritic
6.5 IMDB

LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE!

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2008

September 3, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 3
USA
English / French
97 Minutes — August 1, 2008
Drama
Courtney Hunt

Hardly a false note. Very well done story of two mothers and what they have to do to provide for their families.

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FROZEN RIVER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 59. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 FROZEN RIVER DISCUSSION
• Break
• 26:10 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 26:48 The Last Five®
• Break
• 41:31 Listener Last Fives® (Jordan and Branden)
• Break
• 1:02:36 Show Notes
• 1:03:10 Credits and Outtakes

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**** Ebert
B Tobias
8.2 Metacritic
7.2 40 Critic Consensus
7.0 IMDB

FROZEN RIVER

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1951

September 1, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
USA
English
111 Minutes — June 29, 1951
Drama / Film Noir
Billy Wilder [The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; The Seven Year Itch; The Spirit Of St. Louis; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
#580 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The version of the list I used is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

In order to prolong the sensation and boost newspaper sales, a self-seeking journalist delays the rescue of a man trapped in a cave.

This was suggested by David Simon who was doing interview after interview about the final season of the Almighty WIRE. That show dealt with an eager Baltimore Sun reporter who began bending the truth a bit in order to be noticed by either the New York Times or the Pulitzer committee.

This film stars a young, handsome, and strong Kirk Douglas as an out-of-work reporter who lands in New Mexico after a series of firings from other papers. He is bitter about living in the middle of nowhere until he stumbles upon the story of a man trapped in a cave while collecting Indian artifacts. Sensing his big break, he enlists the help of the less-than-worrisome wife, the crooked County Sheriff, and the dense engineer. Told that the man could be rescued in 18 hours, Douglas gets all to agree to drill from a much higher place, thus taking about a week to free him. The man is rugged and tough, what could go wrong? The Sheriff helps Douglas keep the story exclusive and before you know it, the area surrounding the diner, hotel, and cave are overrun by onlookers, all paying an entry fee to wait out the rescue. Some say that the phrase “media circus” was invented after this film as a carnival complete with ferris wheel and other attractions pulls into the parking area near the mountain.

It is amazing how relevant this film still is. Douglas isn’t a bad guy–he just knows the value of a good story. The film has no heroes. No one on the right side. The man in the cave was collecting sacred artifacts. His wife sees her chance to get out of the tiny, dusty town and back to the big city where her personality would be more welcome. The Sheriff is crooked in both elections and in never paying a check. The engineer is spineless. Even the crowd itself is there for the festival atmosphere, the excitement, and the chance that either the man will be pulled out alive, or his body will be taken out if he dies. Either way, what a show!

The landscape is filmed spectacularly. There are sweeping vistas from the top of the mountain. A long pan shot reveals an endless line of cars heading towards the action. At one point a train stops just across the street and passengers hop off and literally run towards the cave opening.

Douglas is fantastic. We see him grovel for the job, accepting lower pay than he’s used to just for the work. Later we see his chest swell with pride as the onlookers (and a microphone-wielding TV announcer) applaud and cheer him as he heads back into the cave to speak with the frightened trapped man.

Very impressive.

“One of Billy Wilder’s masterworks, in which he was in a serious mood, exposing the sensationalism of the tabloid press. Wilder’s target was not merely the press, radio, and television, but also its readers, listeners, and viewers who enjoyed nothing so much as a dramatic disaster. Time has confirmed that it is an incisive, compelling melodrama.” — Halliwell’s Top 1000 #352

“Unrelentingly cynical (yet mostly believable) tale of how the reporter exploits the “human interest story” for his own benefit — and how the potential tragedy turns into a three-ring circus — has a peculiarly contemporary ring to it. Biting and extremely well acted.” — Leonard Maltin 2007 Movie Guide.

*** Halliwell’s
*** Maltin
7.2 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB

Ace in the Hole – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

ACE IN THE HOLE

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Written by Michael W. Cummins