Saturday, July 31, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Big Steal

The Big Steal
directed by Don Siegel

This is often listed as a film noir. I didn't see it that way. I thought it was just a run of the mill action movie with a few twists. 
The director would later go on to helm a number of Clint Eastwood films as well as the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Big Steal has its fair share of snappy dialogue. "Don't ask questions just take it and like it!" stands out but this is not a noir film. 
It's a crime drama but even more than that it's just a chase drama with the requisite number of double crosses. 
Perhaps at the time of this release car chases were considered more exciting than they would later become but a great deal of this film is consumed by car chases. After the first few I could have done without any more. As usual in these films there's a hypercompetent woman who is (initially) cold.
She and the hero have some witty repartee while they are trying to decide if they like each other, trust each other, and if they should, well you know. US Army Lieutenant Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum) loses the $300,000 battalion payroll to a robbery set up by smooth crook Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). Unfortunately for Duke his superior officer, Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix) thinks that the robbery went down too easily and that Halliday had to be involved.

Society and Violent Women

We are told that there is never any excuse for violence against women. Okay. But what about when women initiate violence against other people? Do the targets of that violence have the right to defend themselves? 
Two recent incidents made me think about women and violence in a way different than the common narrative. In the first incident a large young woman who is apparently well over 200 pounds attacked two elderly beauty shop owners who combined together probably don't weigh as much as the woman. And the attacker's apparent reason for the assault was simply that she didn't have the money to pay for the items she wanted. 
CLEVELAND — A woman caught on camera brutally attacking a couple on July 23 at their beauty supply store on Lorain Road has been arrested, according to a spokesperson for the Cleveland Division of Police. Ebony Afzal, 25, of Cleveland, was arrested Thursday for felonious assault, a second-degree felony, according to court documents.
Afzal is accused of beating the couple, who owns Chic Beauty Supply on Lorain Road, over what is said to be an $11.85 transaction. Their son David Jo told News 5 Cleveland that it all started when Afzal allegedly tried to pay for the items with pre-paid credit card when it got declined.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Florida Project

The Florida Project
directed by Sean Baker
This is a bittersweet 2017 slice of life drama which oddly enough I just watched. Well. If you haven't seen it you should see it. 
It's probably the best film I've seen this year. 
Impressively many of the film's cast were inexperienced or first time actors. The Florida Project walks the same side of the street as Sunlight Jr. in that the director wants to teach us about poverty, homelessness, and some other critical related issues but this isn't a heavy handed didactic film. 
I think that people opposed to what I presume are the director's political leanings can watch this film and reach totally different conclusions. Baker doesn't beat anyone over the head with a point of view. You can watch this film and leave with all of your previous political or economic ideas intact or even strengthened by the events in this film. Or you can just enjoy it as an entertaining snapshot of how some people live. That's up to you.
Watching this movie I recalled that in her poem Nikki-Rosa, the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote that 
"if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in "

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Movie Reviews: Hard Eight

Hard Eight
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
This 1996 neo-noir film was Anderson's debut. Anderson later went on to direct such films as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood among others. 
Hard Eight also has a good cast of actors that viewers will recognize from their ubiquitous character work. 
The movie also includes other actors who weren't quite megastars at the time but would certainly soon be recognized as such. The viewer can make up his or her own mind as to whether there is a message to this film or not. Hard Eight put me in mind initially of some of the classic films noir of the forties and fifties. 
There are secrets being held by many of the characters in this film. Few of the people depicted are what could be considered morally good but the film doesn't judge. Many of them are in desperate straits. In life, all of us can fall short of perfection. 
Some people try to be good, others don't care and a few of us take steps to move to the opposite side. This movie does perhaps have some things to say about obligations, debt, family, redemption, and forgiveness--or at least I thought so.

Movie Reviews: The Bay

The Bay
directed by Barry Levinson
This older film is an found footage eco-horror movie that is similar to the Nick Cutter book The Troop, reviewed here. I think the The Troop is a better book than The Bay is a film. 
But The Bay is not a bad film. 
Because the conceit is that The Bay depicts real events that were all captured on film by less than state of art lighting and cameras, the movie does deliberately look less than high quality most of the time. But this is really smart for the film's premise, which is that multiple video and audio sources have been retrieved and are being leaked to the public as a somber warning. 
Events that may or may not be caused by climate change have been in the news lately-fires and water shortages out west, warming seas, lampreys and mussels in the Great Lakes, flooding in Germany, maybe even the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Once a system is broken or changed is that it can be difficult or even impossible to change it back. Humans can lack the knowledge to restore a delicate balance that Nature found for a given environment. 
Humans or animals eat foods that were not designed for them. Humans overuse antibiotics or pesticides and end up with lowered or no resistance to some very nasty critters and parasites.  Predators or pests are introduced into environments where they have no natural limit. Problems arise. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within
directed by Josh Ruben
This film is a horror-comedy-whodunnit-murder mystery. It also has a few sly commentaries on male: female relations, feminism, and confidence. I would describe it as Agatha Christie meets Hot Fuzz
There is some mayhem but generally speaking there is not THAT much onscreen bloody imagery. 
Although the two leads always sparkle when they are onscreen, like many such whodunnits, this film shines because of an ensemble cast and good writing. Werewolves Within is loosely based on a video game, but it certainly didn't feel or look like it. Special effects are few and far between and with one or two jarring exceptions, don't ever take the viewer out of the realm of suspended disbelief. 
I wish there were more movies like this. 
This was a low budget movie that didn't look low budget. Werewolves Within did not use that many jump cuts and other cheap horror movie tricks. There were plenty of zoom shots and visual gags though. The film quickly sets up the premise and lets the fun begin. 
The story is set in the small hamlet of Beaverfield, Vermont but it really could take place anywhere that is small, rural, and out of the way. Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) is a somewhat portly and far too nice forest ranger who has just been assigned to Beaverfield. Finn has also just been dumped by his girlfriend, a fact that he's having trouble processing.

Trees and Climate Change in Des Moines

Many of us have a preferred way of dealing with climate change. 
Some think the entire world population needs to shrink, or at least the population of THOSE people over there. 
Some people think that we must obtain all of our energy from renewable resources. Other people think that it's too late for anything other than moving back to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle right now! 
Some folks swear by veganism. Some people want to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Other people think that private homes are wasteful and we must all live in energy efficient apartment buildings. 
Some are fiercely hostile to private travel. They think that public transportation should not only be subsidized, but mandated. Some folks would ban air travel and outlaw vacations. 
Other people deny the existence of climate change. They also argue that if climate change exists it's (a) not our fault and/or (b) nothing we can do about at this late point anyway. 
People's ideal solutions (or lack thereof) tend to line up with their preferred social values, political ideologies, and economic interests.

Movie Reviews: Truck Turner

Truck Turner
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
If you happen to be in the mood to watch late Stax songwriter/musician/singer/producer/pianist and actor Isaac Hayes flex his muscles and beat up or shoot approximately half of the Los Angeles underworld then this is probably the movie for you. 
The film script was originally written by a Caucasian woman who did not have the Black underworld in mind when she created it. 
When the film company couldn't get the financing it wanted for a white actor in the title role, the film was reimagined as "blaxploitation". Hayes got the nod. By the standards of early seventies drive-in movies, this movie is not actually that bad. It's even humorous in some weird ways. 
Whereas Hayes is playing the expected heroic role of bounty hunter Mack "Truck" Turner who is always armed with a bass voice and a real big gun, the film throws the viewer a curveball by casting actress Nichelle Nichols, then best known as the classy well spoken Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, as a lewd, foul mouthed and very dangerous madam.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Movie Reviews: Thick As Thieves

Thick as Thieves
directed by Scott Sanders
This 1999 movie was directed by the same man who went on to direct Black Dynamite which also featured Michael Jai White.
Although the movie is not based on an Elmore Leonard book or a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie script it definitely is designed to put one in mind of some of the quirkiness often found in some of those creations. 
If you are familiar with movies like Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction, this movie will feel like a slightly toned down version of those films. 
It's not as violent or as explicit as those movies but Thick as Thieves does feature a number of self-consciously idiosyncratic characters, all of whom have their own interests and cool dialogue. If there's one thing that Thick as Thieves wants you to leave knowing, it's that hoodlums are people just like you or anybody else. They have different ambitions, goals, and desires.
This movie also has a few similarities to Michael Mann's Thief
With a few exceptions, this movie is more interested in looking good and finding the humor in outrageous scenarios than in being gritty or scary. This can make some of the violence, then, more shocking, when it does occur. This film tends more towards drama than action.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Movie Reviews: Nobody

Nobody
directed by Ilya Naishuller
There is a trope known as "Mugging the Monster" that is popular in various forms of art: visual, written, and musical. 
Usually this involves stupid or dangerous people insulting, messing with or (per trope) literally mugging someone who is far more dangerous, competent, and most importantly, malevolent, than they are. 
The monster proceeds to demonstrate to the unfortunate dummies how critical their mistake was and why they won't live long enough to regret it. The monster may kill, alter, maim or even eat the offenders.
This trope is older than dirt. In Greek mythology the human hunter Actaeon sees the goddess Artemis nude and considers assaulting her. Unworried, Artemis turns Actaeon into a stag who is then attacked and devoured by his own hounds. In the TV series Supernatural a man makes the mistake of bumping into Death. In The Legend of Wooley Swamp the musician Charlie Daniels sings of "white trash" who attacked and killed the old man Lucius Clay only to find revenge outlives death.
In The Terrible Old Man, H.P. Lovecraft wrote about three would be robbers who learn that the titular character can defend himself and isn't human. Has someone ever said or done something unpleasant to you without you making an immediate response. Maybe the person made a nasty joke at your expense. Maybe someone went out of his way to step on your blue suede shoes

Movie Reviews: The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle
directed by John Huston

How many heist movies have you watched where there is a snitch, a doomed love story, people hunted separately by cops or other crooks, a brainy mastermind who misses one tiny critical detail, or a crime caper plagued by greedy backstabbers? 
Chances are that many of those films can be directly or otherwise traced back to The Asphalt Jungle. 
I also enjoyed watching this 1950 film because it featured some leading actors with whom I was only familiar with from much later films as character actors, most notably Sterling Hayden from The Godfather (1972), and James Whitmore from Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Tora Tora Tora (1970) and this Miracle-Gro commercial
The Asphalt Jungle was also notable for being one of Marilyn Monroe's early roles. She really did wiggle when she walked. This is a typical film noir in that the so-called bad guys have all of the positive and negative traits found across humans in every job category. Some are loyal and trustworthy; others can't be trusted any farther than you could throw them. Some cops protect the innocent. 
Other police are more interested in bullying crooks or bringing down men who offend their personal ideas of moral behavior. Still others are totally corrupt and use their status to shake down bad guys.

Movie Reviews: The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting In Connecticut
directed by Peter Cornwell

This is another older film that claims to be based in part on some of the experiences of Ed and Lorraine Warren or stories that they heard. And that is about the only similarity it has to the much better, scarier, and more convincing The Conjuring. Imagine every single horror movie cliche that you've ever seen crammed into one film. Now imagine a plot that makes no sense. And just for good measure throw in a few performances by actors/actresses who seem to believe that they were in a different movie from the rest of the cast. 
Well you probably won't have much left. The problem with haunted house movies is that the plot needs to come up with some reason as to why the people impacted by the presence at a specific location just don't leave. Maybe there are serious financial considerations. 
Maybe the people in charge, usually the parents, don't believe in the supernatural. 
Maybe the people in charge have been infected by the supernatural and aren't willing to leave or let anyone else do so. Maybe someone has cut off contact with the outside world and so no one can leave. Cue evil laughter.
Maybe the presence has bonded with someone in the family and leaving would set it loose upon the rest of the world. Maybe the secret to destroying the entity can only be found in the home. Whatever the case may be the question of why don't the people just leave must be raised and addressed adequately. 

Cows Escape Slaughterhouse (Briefly)

I guess the cows decided to live free or die trying. They got to enjoy a final few moments of freedom before being slaughtered. I think that some day in the not too distant future that more people will look askance at the practice of slaughtering animals for food.
Last week the world watched and cheered as videos of 39 cows making a daring escape from a Pico Rivera slaughterhouse went viral. This weekend we learned that all but one of the 39 runaway cows have met their end after being returned to Manning Beef.
"People were rooting for the cows when they made their prison break. People said 'Gosh, if they had enough courage to break out and try and get freedom why not give it to them,'" said Robert Alaniz, spokesman for the city of Pico Rivera.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hey Hey Hey: Bill Cosby Conviction Overturned!

As you may have heard already Bill Cosby's rape conviction was thrown out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Bill Cosby was released from prison. 
He can not be retried. He is as free as a bird. 
The fundamental reason for the action by the Court was that the prosecutors violated Cosby's Fifth Amendment protections by offering a criminal non-prosecution agreement for statements that Cosby made in a civil deposition but then proceeded to use those very same statements in a criminal trial.  
In other words this was something similar to a parent telling their child that as long as the child tells the truth about who took the cookies from the cookie jar the parent won't get mad or punish the child. 
The child  allows as to how s/he might have taken some cookies from the jar, purely by accident with no ill will. The parent flies off the handle and grabs a belt, puts the child in timeout, or uses whatever other punishment is typical for that household.  It's not right.
Bill Cosby had his conviction for sexual assault overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday, a decision that will set free a man whose case had represented the first high-profile sexual assault trial to unfold in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.
Mr. Cosby had served three years of a three- to 10-year prison sentence at a maximum-security facility outside Philadelphia when the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Cosby, 83, had been denied a fair trial in 2018. In their 79-page opinion, the judges wrote that a “non-prosecution agreement” that had been struck with a previous prosecutor meant that Mr. Cosby should not have been charged in the case, and that he should be discharged. They barred a retrial in the case.