^^^ What, no time for "Boardwalk Empire"? Alfred Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS (1946)
on DVD for the first time. Incredible, just freaking incredible; easily one of the best Hitchcock movies I've seen. I was totally taken aback to see Ingrid Bergman, the definition of class & beauty, not only doing the role of a 'loose woman' early in "Notorious" but also pulling it off convincingly. Then, topping that, I get Cary Grant playing a government stooge whose feelings for Alicia he keeps close to his chest as he both seeks to manipulate her but also steer her toward the 'right' decision, either for him (not take the assignment to spy on old flame Sebastian) or for country (go ahead and sleep with the enemy) as a mole inside a Brazilian nest of German war criminals. And then, as the cherry on top, Claude Rains delivers in Alexander Sebastian a multi-dimensional villain (complete with Leopoldine Konstantin as Hitch's typical mother-as-boss devil guiding her son) whose affection for the leading lady might be greater and more sincere than the movie's hero. This is one seriously f***ed-up love triangle where, whether they intend to or not (and often times they do), the men in love with Alicia hurt her and she hurts them back in an effort to get a rise out of Devlin ('you can add Sebastian to my list of playmates'
) or just to survive (when Alicia puts the key back in Sebastian's key chain I felt both hurt for him and anxious for her). Hitchcock's movies always have strong relationships driving a protagonist's quest or pushing the narrative forward, and in "Notorious" the elements that bring Grant, Bergman and Sebastian together aren't as intriguing or compelling as the fact their characters' love affairs are front and center throughout its running time. And this is a '46 Hitchcock thriller featuring an American drunkard whose German father was jailed for treason infiltrating on-the-run Nazi's in Rio De Janeiro!
"Notorious'" spy plot and the McGuffin (really, uranium sand?
) may be secondary to the drama and repressed romance between Devlin-Alicia-Sebastian, but just because the story is playing second-fiddle doesn't mean the plot mechanisms that screenwriter Ben Hecht and Hitch came up with (the long tracking shot from ceiling to key-on-fist close-up, Alicia's slow poisoning, the tension between Sebastian and his fellow German conspirators, the censor-thumbing lengthy kiss sequence, etc.) aren't well executed and perfect backdrop for his post-War World II fantasy with more than a connection with then-contemporary headlines. Watching the movie again with the Drew Casper commentary track (the man sounds possessed by his love and devotion to both Hitch and this particular masterpiece; his fawning is a little OTT but doesn't cross the line into ridicule) I enjoyed "Notorious" even more. It's both typical Hitchcock and unlike any other Hitchcock movie I've seen (haven't seen "Rebecca" or "Spellbound" yet), an intimate love triangle surrounded by intrigue and danger out of a pulp novel that nevertheless comes across as classy and righteous. At first the ending stunned me with its suddenness, but thinking about it and then seeing it again it fits that I would leave "Notorious" feeling as sorry for Sebastian as I was happy for Devlin and Alicia.
Rewatched THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) on DVD
with the Gene Barry/Ann Robinson commentary track. God (if he/she/it exists) bless Ann Robinson, she really seems to have liked and embraced this movie early on as a science fiction classic. All the interesting facts, trivia notes and interesting personal comments about the movie come from her (Gene rarely says anything and when he does it sounds generic) making me wish Ann had joined Joe Dante and the historians on the 2nd commentary track. The film is still a fun trip on repeat viewing, especially the now-rare sight on movies of military and science men trusting each other completely and working side-by-side for the common good of humanity. SFX and color photography are neat, too, even if the Technicolor process occasionally yields an out-of-focus or color-waving shot here or there.Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) on Criterion Blu-ray
. Showed this to my sister and brother-in-law on their 55" HDTV to break-in their new Blu-ray player. Even though I gave them more show-off mainstream BD choices ("The Social Network," "Beauty and the Beast," "Avatar," etc.) they took a chance on "Night..." and ended up loving it even though there was some sniping at the Mrz. Cooper-Powell singing standoff as awkward. Despite their occasional snarky remarks (which I've come to accept as the norm when trying to expose civilians to classic B&W movies they don't watch regularly) my sister shouted she couldn't stand the tension when Powell and the kids were in the basement (that's before the chase up the stairs!) and they were both amused/poe'd by the Spoons going from Harry's best friends (Icey) to the folks leading the lynch mob with rope & ax in hand. Me? I was in tears at the end and during the 'Leaning' singing standoff, enjoying the joy of both watching a really good movie and sharing Laughton's cinematic vision with people whom I love that hadn't been exposed to it.EQUINOX (1970) on Criterion DVD
for the first time. Even though it was rough-looking and badly-acted there was a soft spot in my heart for Dennis Muren's original '67 version of "Equinox... Journey Into the Supernatural," a love letter from then-young film enthusiasts to special effects on creature features. The version of "Equinox" that 90% of those that saw it back in the day, produced/re-written/re-edited by Jack Woods and Jack H. Harris, sacrifices the innocence and 'charm' of the original for a more pedestrian plot involving an actual human foe (director Jack Woods as a ranger), some gratuitous demonic possessions and lots more of what the original version already had too much of: endless, pointless talking. The only aspect that the revised "Equinox" beats its predecessor at is saving the bulk of the SFX shots for the climactic 2nd half of the movie (instead of dolling them out throughout its meager running time). While this slicker "Equinox" holds together a little better plot wise (and looks even more like the blueprint for the fist "Evil Dead" movie) the atrocious ADR and easy-to-spot difference between the original and extra scenes (with the same cast of actors) result in a nastier, less fawning and more depressing 'creature feature' than what "Equinox" started life as. Woods and Harris sound convinced they improved on the original in their commentary track; it's the fly (IMO) of an otherwise tasty soup of recollections, memories and fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Criterion gives us both versions of "Equinox" to choose from, and I'm firmly on the side of Team Muren.LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: THE ROLLING STONES (1973/2010) on DVD
for the first time. I love old concert movies that were shot like this (by Rollin Binzer) back in 1972 during the Texas swing of the Stone's Exile on Main Street tour: no crane shots, no fluff, grainy film stock and up-close & personal shots of talented musicians performing their hearts out. I'm not a Rolling Stones fan (like a few of their songs) but even I was impressed by the sheer star power and virtuoso stage presence that Jagger, Richards, Taylor, Watts, Wyman and even a young Ian Stewart (secondary piano) bring to their performance. And as someone else I was watching this concert with pointed out, Mick Jagger's 'package' when he's wearing anatomically-correct pants during a few songs should have received second billing.
You'll have to see the concert to know what I'm talking about. Norman Jewison's ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1979) on DVD
. It's been a long while since I've seen this, and the daily school of "Law & Order" (along with actual knowledge of how our judicial system really works over the past couple of decades) has dated this movie's manipulative satirical/dramatic plot more than its 70's disco score, polyester suites and shaggy hairdos. If judges aren't heartless hypocrites (John Forsythe) they're kind-but-suicidal maniacs (Jack Warden as comic-relief); criminals are either poor misunderstood souls (Tom Waites' McCullaugh, Robert Christian's Agee, etc.) or scum-of-the-earth nut jobs (Dominic Chianese); lawyers are either pathetically indifferent (Larry Bryggman), political opportunists (Craig T. Nelson's ADA) or just plain nuts (a scene-stealing Jeffrey Tambor). In the middle of this rigged-to-maximize-the-ending story walks Pacino, whose tears during his final summation (which I hadn't noticed before) go a long way to make one forgive some of the movie's earlier flaws (why would a defense attorney be allowed to play hostage negotiator with his client?) and sells the heartbreak that Kirkland feels inside as he chooses to throw his career away to save his soul. Like his work with John Cazale in "Dog Day Afternoon" I was surprised I hadn't noticed that Pacino and Lee Strasberg are reunited here five years after working together on "Godfather II." I used to think of "...And Justice For All" as the lawyer equivalent of "Network." Not anymore.
Watched SPEED RACER (2008) on Blu-ray
... again! If you're going to do a predictable sports movie/TV adaptation of an old TV show in which both the filmmakers and the audience know exactly how things are going to play out (including the hero's cliche' and miraculous last-minute-come-from-behind shot/score/race/lap/point), do it the way the Wachowskis did it in the final lap scene of "Speed Racer"
: go OTT but continue to ground your one-dimensional characters into whatever personal motivations drives them to pursue the things (silly and predictable as they might seem) that drives them. Seldom has a cartoony live-action Hollywood movie felt both so modern and yet so old-fashioned the way "Speed Racer" does. Yet another of a dozen reasons (including negative reviews that kept potential fans like myself from even going to the theater to see it, one of the biggest mistakes of my movie-going life) "Speed Racer" needs to be seen, preferably in high-def, by an audience that didn't know what they missed when they trusted the 2008 critical pillaging of a movie so sweet and square in its emotional center it betrays its own high-tech SFX fireworks.BABIES (2010) on Netflix HD Instant Watch
for the first time. After watching "Night of the Hunter" (see above) and tending to the needs of my crying eight-month old niece my sister and brother-in-law sat down with me at 2AM to watch this French documentary about four babies born and reared from birth to their first year of life in four different cities/cultures: Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo. Since we were sleep-deprived and goofy (plus the documentary has no narration) "Babies" was both interesting (the editing conveys better the obvious narrative of the have and have-not cultures rearing their young one's to similar results) and also supremely funny in a way that only people with newborns in their lives or an appreciation for the miracle of life (i.e. women) would appreciate. Seeing Mari (the Japanese baby) for an extended period of time having fits of frustration (which we called an 'on-camera existential crisis') was both laugh-out loud funny but also pretty dramatic. Don't get me started on the politically incorrect jokes we cracked about the Mongolian and African babies growing up resentful of the USA for the spoiled upbringing of our young one's (or of Mari asking for algebra texts after she's done with the abacus). Since "Babies" is a French documentary the San Francisco baby's upbringing must come across as exotic and foreign to the French as the Mongolian and Namibia babies seemed to us, American viewers. It's an Oprah-centric perspective of the world on display in "Babies" (we are all the same, beauty of life cuts across racial/society barriers, etc.) but it's done well-enough to be worth watching, IMO.