Saturday, October 29, 2011

Movie Reviews-Trespass, Honey Dripper and more


The movie Trespass showed me a few things I already knew.
  • Nicole Kidman has a great pair of legs.
  • Nicolas Cage loves to overact.
  • It's a very bad idea to let strangers into your home.
Trespass emphasizes these three points over and over and over and over and over again. And then one more time just in case anyone who was really dim missed it. Trespass tells the story of the Miller family. It's barely worthwhile to list character names because you never for a moment forget that this is Kidman and Cage-for the reasons listed above. Anyway Mr. Miller (Cage) is a diamond broker. He and his family reside in a spacious mansion with state of the art security. He's on his cell phone 24-7 making deals. Miller is literally tethered to a secure briefcase from which at day's end he removes items which are carefully placed in a safe. 

Mr. Miller is so busy that he hasn't noticed that Mrs. Miller (Kidman) has made his favorite dinner and is wearing his favorite skintight black dress in anticipation of some spousal Miller Time later that night.  He declines her offer. He has business. She hints at divorce. Their daughter is an unpleasant teen who (against orders) sneaks out to party with her trampy and druggy friends once her bickering parents stop bothering her and start bickering again.
So initially Daughter Miller misses the fun. Before Mr. Miller can depart on business he foolishly buzzes in some people claiming to be police. Ahem. He NEVER SEES THE FACES of the supposed officers before he allows them in his house or even finds out what they really want. Right. If you lived in a million dollar home with surveillance up the kazoo because you carry diamonds and cash with you, you're just gonna let anyone who says he's a cop into your house.  And you have no guns, dogs, panic room or onsite security detail of your own. Smart move, that.

Of course the folks aren't cops. And what they want, besides listening to some shouting from Cage and watching Kidman's dress ride up, is the Millers' money and diamonds. But Mr. Miller isn't willing to give. Mrs. Miller may know one of the assailants. The criminals seem angrier with each other than they are with the Millers.

Joel Schumacher directed this. I probably wouldn't have watched this film if I had known he was the director. It is stylish but it's really a quite empty flick. This film has several instances where characters behave stupidly so that the story can continue. Your tolerance for this movie may depend on how much you enjoy Cage's shouting his lines or Kidman's increasingly manic characterization of a desperate housewife. Funny Games, which I need to get around to reviewing one of these days, was a much better take on the whole "home invasion" trope. 

In both subject matter and pacing this film is somewhat similar to Big Night and takes place in about the same time period. But rather than portray 1950's Italian-Americans in New Jersey trying to make a failing restaurant work it depicts 1950's African-Americans in Alabama trying to make a failing nightclub work. And it's also utterly different.

The early fifties was when the older blues and R&B of people like Charles Brown, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and others began to transition into the rock-n-roll of people like Ike Turner, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley. Director John Sayles brings that story to life as well as a few other subthemes. 

Honeydripper tells the story of one saloon/nightclub owner, a Mr. PineTop Purvis (Danny Glover) who runs his club (The Honeydripper) as an old school blues joint.  As might be expected from his name, Purvis is himself a talented blues pianist. His primary musical attraction is the singer Bertha Mae (real life blues/gospel artist Mable John) who belts out pre-war blues tunes. Unfortunately few people-especially younger people-want to hear that old timey stuff any more; Purvis has lost most of his customers to a  competing juke joint that offers modern R&B and jump blues via jukebox. Purvis' wife Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton) is a proud Christian woman who wants to make Purvis choose between her and the blues.

An young itinerant musician Sonny (real life Blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr.), arrives in town only to be immediately arrested by the genially racist sheriff Pugh (Stacy Keach) who accuses and convicts Sonny of vagrancy. As by coincidence it just happens to be harvest time Sonny is sentenced to pick cotton. During his VERY rare down time Sonny wanders into the Honeydripper where he tries to convince Purvis and his right hand man Maceo (Charles Dutton) that he can play his guitar-a homemade solidbody electric guitar. Skeptical of his skill and disbelieving of anything so crazy as an electric guitar the older men show him the door. And a protective Purvis warns Sonny away from his stepdaughter, China Doll (Yaya DaCosta).

Between organized crime extortion, bigotry and bank liens, Purvis is just about to lose the club. He calls in a few favors and arranges to have famous New Orleans guitarist Guitar Sam (a homage to real life Guitar Slim) appear for one big night where Purvis hopes to make enough to pay off all his debts. But for whatever reason Guitar Sam doesn't arrive. Desperate, Purvis starts to wonder if that nutty kid with the weird guitar can actually play...

This was a slow moving deliberate movie until the last 20 minutes. This was a good choice I think. The Sheriff's racism is downplayed a bit too much for my taste but that wasn't this film's focus. Keach plays it almost tongue in cheek. Vondie Curtis-Hall, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Thomas and real life musicians Keb Mo and Eddie Shaw also appear in this film. 

The Big Sleep
This is one of the greatest movies of all time, not just film noir. The Big Sleep was directed by Howard Hawks and based on a story by Raymond Chandler. It is also at some points almost impossible to follow. Supposedly when the screenwriters and director got confused about who actually committed a murder and whether or not a character was dead they called up Chandler, who after some thought, had to admit that he didn't know either.

So it is occasionally bewildering in the details. But the reason to watch it is to see one of the coolest actors of all time, Humphrey Bogart, at the top of his game with the woman he loved, Lauren Bacall. I mean these two are some really suave people..just suave. You can tell that they had a lot of fun acting in this movie. And of course some of this wasn't acting. This movie is famous for its convoluted story, Hawks' use of lighting and shade, the ominous sets, the gray morality and seedy environments but one of the things it's most famous for is the infamous "horseracing" conversation between detective Phillip Marlowe (Bogart) and Vivian Rutledge (Bacall). They are flirting, confronting and evaluating each other all at once.
Vivian: Tell me: What do you usually do when you're not working?
Marlowe: Oh, play the horses, fool around.
Vivian: No women?
Marlowe: I'm generally working on something most of the time.
Vivian: Could that be stretched to include me?
Marlowe: Well I like you. I've told you that before.
Vivian: I like hearing you say it. But you didn't do much about it.
Marlowe: Well, neither did you.
Vivian: Well, speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their hole-card is. What makes them run.
Marlowe: Find out mine?
Vivian: I think so.
Marlowe: Go ahead.
Vivian: I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.
Marlowe: You don't like to be rated yourself.
Vivian: I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?
Marlowe: Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but, uh...I don't know how - how far you can go.
Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle. Go ahead Marlowe, I like the way you work. In case you don't know it, you're doing all right.
Marlowe: There's one thing I can't figure out.
Vivian: What makes me run?
Marlowe: Uh-huh.
Vivian: I'll give you a little hint. Sugar won't work. It's been tried
This HAS to be heard to fully appreciate the humor, double-entendres and wit involved. I don't know how that got past the censors in 1946. Phillip Marlowe, a short hardbitten wiseacre detective, is hired by wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to stop the blackmail of Sternwood by  the gambler and gangster Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) to make Sternwood pay gambling debts. This blackmail is centered around Sternwood's younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), who is something of a sexpot. 

Sternwood also wants Marlowe to discover the whereabouts of his former employee Sean Regan, who recently disappeared and may have had a relationship with Carmen. Marlowe is watched and shadowed by Sternwood's eldest daughter, Vivian (Bacall) who has her own game to play and is quite capable of holding her own with Marlowe. Before the film is over the viewer is taken through a murky underworld of pornography, prostitution, drugs, aberrant (by the standards of the time) sexuality and murder. The film does all this with no nudity, no bad language and most violence off screen. It's all in the reflexes, as old Jack Burton might say. If you do decide to watch this do not under ANY circumstances see it in color. This MUST be seen in glorious B&W. Again, the interplay between Bogie and Bacall is just magnificent. 

Prank call     Trailer

Lair of the White Worm
What's Halloween without a cheesy cult horror movie? And The Lair of the White Worm, directed by Ken Russell, based on a short story by Bram Stoker, definitely fits the bill. This is a lush movie with lots of atmosphere, shock moments, hints of decadent sex and plenty of mordant humor. It really doesn't have a lot of gore.

It's only 90 minutes and moves quickly. A Scottish archaeology student named Angus -Peter Capaldi (and yes he does play bagpipes in a memorable scene) is working with his girlfriend/assistant Mary (Sammi Davis) in an excavation on a English Midlands property owned by Mary and her uptight sister Eve (Catherine Oxenberg). Angus finds a pre-Christian and possibly pre-Roman temple that appears to venerate some sort of snake god. He also finds an ancient reptilian skull which is not easily categorized.

The enigmatic Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) shows up at her estate again-she tongue in cheek claims to have been hibernating. She is very interested in what Angus has found. She also looks a lot like the previous Lady Marsh and the one before that as well.

There are plenty of local legends of how the ancestor of the current Lord D'Ampton (Hugh Grant) fought and killed a wyrm (Anglo-Saxon term for dragon) centuries ago in a cave that is not too far from Lady Marsh's home. The Trent sisters' father disappeared some time ago but suddenly his watch is found near the same cave. And the fossil vanishes from the Trent girls home. Suspicious, Angus and Lord D'ampton decide the time has come to see just what's in those caves and investigate just who (or what) Lady Marsh really is. This is a fun movie that is made more so by Russell's visual stylings, the English estate settings and Donohoe's lavish costumes and over the top performance.
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