Friday, 30 April 2010
The Colour of Money
Dir. Martin Scorsese
(1986 Touchstone Pictures)
The sequel to Newman's Hustler, Fast Eddie is back. It's 1980's and Newman has given up the game – now a whiskey dealer or something, he meets a talented player Vincent Lauria and decides to take him on the road – teaching him the tricks of the trade. Watching Scorsese's film, it's opera, it's trash, it's a wonderful celebration of the power of cinema. I'm sure a line that is used far too often, but here all the elements are at work to show you how wonderful film can be. The opening credits follow a line of smoke as Scorsese breaks down the rules of nine ball pool. It's mesmerising and beautiful seeing the smoke dance – only on film can you observe such beauty. Michael Ballhaus' camera work is outstanding weaving through pools halls to the likes of Clapton and Palmer. There's a truly magical moment when Vincent and Fast Eddie enter a pool hall on the road at the beginning of their journey to Atlanta, Clapton's 'It's in the way that use it', crescendos as the camera glides through the hall, it brought a tear my eye – it was perfection – the kinetic energy and excitement I had watching the scene. When we get to the Atlanta the camera pulls the most impressive tilt from the ceiling down onto Newman – the choreography and ingenuity is incredible. The final scene as Newman and Cruise rack up, the lights around the bar, dim down, climaxing the film, the photography is as much a wonderful character as Fast Eddie in the film. And Schoonmaker doesn't do a bad job with the editing either, unsurprisingly there are wonderful pool montages.
Richard Price is a good writer see Clockers and The Wire if you don't believe me. Here in The Colour of Money it's fast talking throughout. The whole Vincent 'I'm a jealous guy with my girlfriend' doesn't work and the stand off's with Newman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio don't sit well. But the reason is more to do with Cruise's performance, here - he's a kid, but not a hungry a kid, more a spoilt brat kid. His character transition arc whatever you want to call it, happens at a flick of switch, come the end he's suddenly turned into a hustler to rival Fast Eddie – it doesn't work and it's because of Cruise's acting – nothing else. Maybe Cruise's performance is made all the more weak when your in contention with Newman, Fast Eddie second time round is vintage, Newman is truly stellar in his put downs, his attire, his white Cadillac and pool play. Cruise aside enjoy Scorsese celebrating cinema; Newman reprising arguably his most loved role and Ballhaus' photgraphy, and rock n' roll.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Dir. Billy Corben
A documentary about guys who move cocaine from Columbia to Miami. Even though these individuals were just drivers – you get the idea they still managed to have a good time. The film on one level works incredibly well with its dynamic use of archive, you really feel you're experiencing the dangers and excess of Mickey Munday and Jon Roberts. But more a criticism of the documentary's approach – the talking head interviews which are constant throughout felt a little stagnant. The set up's were so bland and generic, these characters were a lot more interesting and deserved something more than a garden tree interview – why couldn't they take us on a journey? I would have liked a bit more of engagement from both the film makers and the subjects. When Griselda Blanco pops up, the god mother who is in a nutshell psychotic evil woman – who kills more people than an American fighter drone - I began to loose interest. Much like The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002) the archive is the film's greatest strength. Cocaine Cowboys covers a lot of ground and you do get the guys story but more overview and not so much detail. That said, it still gives insight, explaining that they used to load a car's trunk with gear and then put the car on a tow truck and then get a tow truck driver to drive the truck – denying all knowledge of the drugs in the car if they were ever found - illustrates that these guys were conducting a tight operation, more details in this vein would have made a better film. I loved how when the credits roll, it's revealed Jon Roberts had been on run from the law for 6 years..no mention was made in his interview – which is emblematic to the rest of the film - more detail and engagement could have delved further into the adventures of these cocaine cowboys.
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Dir. George Roy Hill
(19173 Universal Pictures)
Newman and the gang re-team for more glory.
It's hard not to enjoy this film when you watch the Butch Cassidy team again. Redford and Newman, Chicago, the cons and plays all carry a wonderful exuberance. The story can be explained by the insert titles which appear throughout the film, with my prologue: Newman and Redford orchestrate a con what follows : the players...the set up...the hook...the tale...the wire...the shut-out...the sting... the titles do feel a little Bugsy Malone. Why does Roy Hill have to clarify what is just about to unfold in front of my eyes. It's unnecessary and takes a little of the magic away from the story. Newman as Henry Gondorff is memorable (when is Newman not memorable?), he's here for the ride and loves the con. His game of poker with Robert Shaw, three nines, to his three jacks is a brilliantly engineered scene in the hustle and bravado of a grifter. Newman playing drunk and slapping on gin as aftershave is a nice touch. Redford is equally impressive - in one of the opening scenes he gambles and looses $6000 – he doesn't even seem to care. Redford is dashing in his pin stripe suit and always on the run from a pig by the name of Snyder. Dodging trouble whereever he goes jumping over rooftops, dustbins and railway lines, is slightly repetitive. On repetitiveness...there were a lot of dissolves which felt 1970's - if they weren't pioneering I felt they were meant to be pioneering and I didn't like it. David Ward's script verges in places on a tedious farce, Robert Shaw as the villain and his gulliblity or rather appetite for accepting the con is a bit pantomine-esque. But in other places Ward keeps the audience guessing, the FBI and the final scene work well. A fun ride.
The Manchurian Candidate
Dir. John Frankenheimer
(1962 United Artits)
East meets West in Frankenheimer's game of solitaire.
A cold-war political thriller with Frank Sinatra. Seeing Frankenheimer's milieu on Cold War politics back in '62 must have been pretty harrowing; the battle of ideologies East v.s West – there really is a hatred in the political rhetoric on screen. Sergeant Raymond Shaw, played by Laurence Harvy, returns from Korea, a war hero, medal of honour in hand. We learn in Korea he was captured along with the rest of his platoon and taken to Manchuria and the story unravels that Shaw has been brainwashed by communists. Everything about the film is cold, yes it's a Cold War, but there are no relationships, it's hard to identify with any of the characters – with Frankenheimer's ambition - it's all war and politics. Military and Presidential iconography peppers every scene and there's no let up, as Frakenheimer strives to illustrate the extremes and similarities of East and West ideology. Sinatra doesn't disappoint, there's a great scene when he's in a cabinet war room looking at a slide show of communists – smoke fills the air and there's a wonderful energy and pace. And he also gives a nice meet and greet with Janet Leigh on the train. But I found Laurence Harvy just incredibly eccentric and alienating as this communist sleeper agent – and Angel Lansbury as his mother was surreal. Maybe that was point – maybe my musings sound convoluted – confusion reigned in Frankenheimer's labyrinth of Pink's and Washington hawks.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
Dir. Troy Duffy
A hollow rehash of it's predecessor.
Back with the MacManus brothers is a painful watch second time round. The film is riddled with problems: no story, no Willem Defoe, a surreal performance from Peter Fonda bringing new deplorable depths to Italian accents. The pace feels laboured and at over two hours long, you are itching for the film to end. I could not tell you the plot – even for a suitcase full of money, a gun to my head, I still couldn't tell you. The best I can do: it's about the MacManus brothers returning to Boston. The Boondock Saints (1999) was very rock n'roll: beer, pizza, Rocco, Defoe and great gun montages lavished with spiralling guitar solos. Defoe as the detective was crazy. All Saints Day is turtle slow, the frames feel cheap – day time television is better. The brothers 10 years older, Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, look has been's, tubby and worn, not lean and mean as they were 10 years back. At least you can take from the film what bad acting is, here we have it in bucket loads each Thespian seems to be waiting for a prompt either with their dialogue or action- there is no spontaneity – every scene feels staged and directed. Surely Billy Connolly showed up just for his fee. The shoot outs are monotonous, guys shaking their hips and falling to ground when taking lead. We are always on a close up on guys emptying rounds – there is no dynamic camera moment, or attempts to heighten the tension/action or tell the story. A very tedious affair, stick with the MacManus brothers back in 1999 when justice was served with Irish swagger.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
Dir. Martin Ritt
(Twentieth Century Fox 1966)
A Newman western, it works, but it's not exciting, the plot dozes away. It literally is 6 people in a carriage, hitching a ride, getting from A – B in Death Valley country. Newman is John 'Hombre' Rusell, a white man who leaves his adoptive Apache community to live among 'civilised' people. Newman eulogises about his community but we don't see them suffer, we don't get to understand how these Indians live, the whole Apache thing appears on the surface.
Newman's performance is minimalistic and apparently based on his research of an Indian who standing outside a general store, with one foot up against the shop front and both arms crossed, hours later when Newman passed by again, the Indian hadn't moved position. Newman's stillness maybe serves to hide all the suffering he's seen, maybe you can begin to grasp the horrors of the Appache community with Newman's lifeless character. But then Newman's performance is thrown back in our face when he decides to be the hero come the credits rolling. Richard Boone's Ciero Grimes plays a great villian, he really doesn't give a shit about people, an essential ingredient for a bad guy. The women are too eloquent here for this period, Diane Cilento, articulating her place in the world to any guy who will listen...is just cringeful. Death Valley looks nice, as everyone rides this stage coach, but it's never really explored – it's wide shot after wide of the coach meandering along a track. Newman's reserved demeanour, his solemn body movements suggest an interesting and complicated character, but everything here, the actors, the landscapes all seem a little squandered.
Dir. Jack Smight
(Warner Bros. 1966)
Harper, Newman is a private eye detective. In interviews Newman is quoted as saying he regarded, Lew Haper, as 'pretty close to me. I didn't have to do a lot of work for that.' The man never appears to work on screen, and there's no need; he oozes class. Yes, the famous opening credits, as Newman gets ready for work and re-uses the coffee filter – immediately makes Newman's character likable – we're on his side – he re-uses coffee filters – just like us....The opening is one of the few highlights of the writing, Goldman's script feels heavy and well very 'shagadelic baby', watching this is an education in what America was like in the '60's: Diners, beaten up old gas stations, and lots of road. The plot is a kidnapping in a rich family, it's all standard fare when it comes to hiring a private detective. The chase scenes seem remarkably wooden, Newman gagged by a BFG henchman escapes, 3 minutes of chase and then Newman dodges this meat-head on top of a high platform in a ship yard and he falls to his death, it's too easy – where's the struggle? Ship yards, and other interesting landscapes, usually with machinery give a lot of pretty frames; symmetry and composition is first class with Newman on the run, photography is courtesy of Conrad L. Hall
Harper's relationship with his ex-wife, Janet Leigh is brilliant, chastising her with phone calls and general all round-misogynist behaviour. Newman preys on her late one night, and has his way with her, in the morning he discards her and the fry up she's cooked, this leads Leigh to break the yokes in the eggs she's frying – a wonderful metaphor for Leigh's fertility. True to form, Stroher Martin pops up in the film, Stoher Martin is always in a Newman film, he heads up a cult as a cover for illegal immigrants and it's endemic of Harper's frazzled plot. Goldman and Newman go onto bigger and better things.
Sons of Cuba
Dir. Andrew Lang
(Windfall Films 2009)
Cuban boxing has a legacy, an austerity that breeds Olympic champions. Boxers who defect to America to become professionals are considered traitors, a boxer reaches the pinnacle of his career, or rather his life when he fights for Cuba. At the Havana boxing school, we see how Cuban boxing operates and Lang's film really illuminates the boxing mantra in Cuba and how it has earned it's reputation as the leading boxing nation. Following a group of 11 year olds, they train with a fearsome hunger to win, for the glory of la patria and to get their family out of poverty. Obsessing over weight and sparring full contact these boys commence their training at 4 30 am every morning. The national championships are on the horizon, and the club has to select only a small number from the club. The coach, Yosvani Bonachea Morgan, who treats the boxers as if they were his children, has to make the incredibly difficult selection. After he announces his selection, we see him crying in a bathroom, his back turned to camera, no-one loves or takes his boxing more seriously than Yosvani. The national championships do feel like a Rocky event, but I suppose it is – it's hard not be moved and drawn into the slow motion punches and route for our team, the Havana Boxing Club.
Lang's approach to the documentary is hands-off, no voice-over or crew in sight. The film is not observational however, there are various -generic in their set up- interviews, we have the familiar competition narrative, title inserts explaining things, and a sometimes laboured soundtrack. The edit feels very smooth, almost too smooth. That said, Lang achieves a wonderful balance in his film, showing these boys' passion and dedication for their boxing, with exploring the Cuban landscape and Castro. We see poverty, and the youth indoctrination of Castro's Cuba, yet it is never out of context of the Havana boxing school and its pupils, the politics never feels forced, it's only there to serve these boys' story. An incredibly powerful scene is when one of the boys visits his father, an Olympic champion boxer, who met Castro and is now living in abject poverty. His words 'sport is just a flickering moment', resonate as we see this man suffer. Lang in a q n a after the film said he would ease off the competition build up if he were to edit again – agreed - it's a little too much a ticking clock to the competition, 4 weeks to go, 3 weeks..The competition gives the film a narrative but the beauty of the documentary are the boys and Yosvani who are brutally honest and endearing in their interviews. Lang said the interviews were shot near the end of the film's shoot, this is clear to see, as there is a trust, and wonderful relationship between camera and subject.
Friday, 16 April 2010
Kings of Pastry
Dir. Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker
(Pennebaker Hegedus Films 2009)
We follow three chefs in their quest to earn a M.O.F, a three day cooking contest in Lyons, where the best crafts man in France are recognised. It's a French pastry competition but this isn't anything to do with croissants, there are 16 contestants, all could win the coveted M.O.F, but only a few will be selected by the judges. The prize? You earn the right to wear the collar of the Meilleus Ouvriers de France, the prestigious, blue, white and red collar, an unsurprising colour combination for a French cooking competition.
The three chefs we follow all have an obsession, honing their cooking, striving for perfection to perform at this competition and earn a M.O.F. Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, founder/teacher/ of a Chicago-based French pastry school is the main subject. He obsesses over this competition, refining his sugar sculptures, cakes, Fabergé eggs, etc. His business partner at the school Sébastien Canonne, has the coveted M.O.F and acts as his mentor. While watching Jacquy's preparation, his dedication repelled rather than inspired, the sheer volume of waste he churned out, chucking recipe after recipe...A hybrid of American excess and French obsession. Regis Lazard, a second-time finalist again was obsessed over the competition but came over as slightly more human and well nice. Then there was Philippe Rigollot, a pastry chef from Maison Pic, a chef with obvious talent.
The beauty in the film, is seeing the level of obsession and men striving for excellence, it serves as a fascinating story. Competition is always a well trodden rubric for documentary, it creates drama and gives a good narrative structure: preparation – competition – aftermath. Shot on DV with a cheesy French soundtrack, courtesy of Django Reinhardt, the film could be more you-tube than cinema, and yet Kings of Pastry carries a discerning charm. The most poignant/powerful scene is when Philippe Rigollot drops his prized sugar sculpture on the last day of competition. The man proceeds to have a mental breakdown, you see him suffer, hyperventilate, struggle and panic – surely he will not get a M.O.F. But no..Philippe gets back on his horse salvages the sculpture and continues the competition. This was a beautiful scene, a man confronted with disaster and not throwing in the towel – he earns a M.O.F – and his triumph over adversity is a wonderful lesson in never conceding defeat.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
'I'm addicted to chaos. Things in my life are going very smoothly. I'm not using anymore, but I need to get my hands dirty.'
I'm Dangerous with Love
Dir. Michel Negroponte
(Blackridge Productions, 2009)
This documentary follows a man called Dimitri, a reformed drug addict who now helps other addicts kick their addiction with his own brand of ibogaine therapy. Ibogaine is a psychoactive indoel alkaloid, in non-scientific terms: you vomit and hallucinate for up to several hours and miraculously somehow the ibogaine can remove a person's addiction – sometimes it doesn't work as the film shows.
Dimitri is one rock n' roll cowboy, being a reformed addict himself through ibogaine treatment, the man travels the country plying his ibogaine treatment. Of course his services come at price, and what he is doing is illegal in America, it's not a traditional 9-5. Dimitri is a fascinating character, a guy who seemed to party hard throughout 90s in some crazy psychedelic band, the man has also lost his girlfriend to heroine. This guy has seen a lot, the title quote are his words, and we the audience are taken on his journey, we meet different addicts Dimitri is treating; men, women, poor and poorer - all addicts, all suffering, all desperate for Dimitri's help. In Canada, Dimitri's treatment almost fucks up badly, we don't know want happens to one of Dimitri's patients, but he almost dies, whether it's cardiac arrest, withdrawal, we never know and Dimitri never knows. In the aftermath of this harrowing event, Dimtri goes to Africa to learn more about the origins of ibogaine, this is a fascinating journey as Dimtri takes part in some ibogaine ritual with a tribe – Dimitri suffers, it's harrowing, amusing and impressive. Dimitri is a confused a man, a ball of energy, he's obviously got a new addiction in helping treat addicts. The African journey, shows a commitment and fundamental belief Dimitri has in ibogaine – this you can't knock, and maybe you admire Dimitri a little for this.
Michel Negroponte provides a wonderfully sarcastic voice-over throughout film, he claims it's meant to add humour to the film's dark content, seeing a guy's heroine withdrawal I guess ain't Disney, but his voiceover really makes the whole experience of watching the film a little more uncomfortable. This isn't a criticism, the sarcasm, the epic journey we go on with Dimitri, really puts you on the edge of your seat as we watch this story unravel. Michel is obviously a committed film maker, spending four years filming Dimitri, travelling to Africa and becoming friends with his subject and even taking ibogaine to experience the hallucinogenic trip. There are similarities between Michel and Dimitri, two men committed to a cause, Michel making his film and Dimitri to his ibogaine. This film is a story about Dimitri and his commitment to spearheading an ibogaine movement not a fact finding mission into the scientific perils of ibogaine. Leaving the science out of it, the film is fascinating, wrong, uncomfortable and quite remarkable as Dimitri takes us with him.
Friday, 9 April 2010
Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
(Focus Features 2003)
21 Grams...It's all about the interconnectedness of the world. A butterfly flaps it's wings in Hong Kong and I feel that breeze in London. Alejandro González Iñárritu's take on a car crash is ambitious, as we see how this event effects the lives of three characters. Being Alejandro, a linear narrative is not suffice to tell this tragedy, all the scenes in the story get put in the washing machine, jumbled around and taken out, therefore we watch events in a non-linear order, which though undoubtedly premeditated feels more misconstrued than anything else. It's much like downloading a file from a bit torrent client, - digesting lots of little files from many sources and only getting the complete product, when the download is completed. In 21 Grams, there are lots of little scenes with the principal characters, then come the end, we've gone full circle, and all the scenes are given a context in this suburban tragedy.
Alejandro's approach to telling this story, papers over the cracks of this rather simplified tale. I didn't care for two of the principal characters, Naomi Watts screeches and snorts a lot powder after the horrific loss of her family and Penn plays a horribly creepy man who after a heart transplant wants to track down his donor. With Watt's character – there is not enough detail, in every scene she is either hitting the bottle, or clutching one of her child's toys in the bedroom. Perhaps Alejandro's approach to the narrative forced him to make every scene service the story, every scene was symbolic of Naomi's demise and it feels one-dimensional. I didn't like the doctors in the film, all were incredibly aggressive and candid with their patient advice, the gynaecologist at the beginning didn't seem like a very sensitive gynaecologist- aren't they meant to be? Bencio del Toro is brilliant as Jack Jordon, a born again ex – con. A scene when he arrives back to tell his girlfriend that he has just run over Watt's family is harrowing and really exemplifies this man's acting talents. Again there is more brilliance at the dinner table when his son hits his daughter, and Bencio gives his children a lesson in family values. The non-liner story telling allows there to be a lot inserts and pondering wide shots as we jump from one location to the next, and the pace feels laboured. Come the end of the film, I did not care what happened to Sean Penn or Watts and Penn's epilogue is tedious. Watch it for Bencio's performance and Bencio alone.
Thursday, 8 April 2010
Dir. Gavin Hood
(Momentum Pictures 2005)
If ever there was a film that was a honey syrup, Tostsi is it. Tsotsi's path to redemption, after shooting a mother, and stealing her car with her baby in the back seat feels stilted, just a series of scenes and details, so come Oscar season we're in with a shout. The studio was just ticking a check-list of South African clichés and heart wrenching stories. The HIV posters are carefully placed in a lot of the wide shots. No surprise it's directed by a white man, Gavin Hood, because the camera really does feel at a distance, especially in the slums - but not voyeuristic and real, more MTV music video. Hood's previous profession before directing was law, interesting because, the film does feel like an extortion of the slums of Johannesburg, everything feels used in this story of reparation.
Yet the potential for this film to succeed is clear to see, who doesn't want to see a a young boy struggling to get by in Johannesburg, fighting to survive, - it's gripping. And there are moments.. when Tsotsi runs away from the car after seeing the baby, he runs through the night sky in the pouring rain, there is an energy, it's beautiful – but it's a rare moment.
Tsotsi's dialogue with a disabled coal miner at the train station before and after he is a changed man just feels false and is systemic of the whole film. Indeed our protagonist's transformation feels just wrong, turning form nasty street hoodlum to caring youth at the flick of a switch. A poor and uncomfortable film to watch, watch Shirley Adams instead. The film has no UK distribution, but next time you're in South Africa, watch it and see real life in Johannesburg.
Cool Hand Luke
Dir. Stuart Rossenberg
(Wanrer Bros. 1967)
Newman as cool hand Luke, the definitive rebel, the decorated war hero who won countless medals in the war (Korea?) and still came out a private. Trashing some parking meters, Luke is given two years with a chain gang. Cool Hand Luke is a brilliant story of one man not wanting to conform to society's rules, he has no agenda whether it's in prison, outside or with friends.
There are some fantastic shots, the opening montage, the chain gang working in the heat, the manual label looks elegant, the rhythms, the symmetry, make it more ballet than a hard day's graft, the reflections in aviators...Shot on Panavision 35 mm the colours are beautiful, the heat is burnt on the film, the brilliant blues of prison shirts, the dust – there is so much detail to enjoy.
The scene with Luke's mother paying him a visit, does feel familiar, it's only purpose to give us Newman's back story and yet come the news of her death Newman plays 'Plastic Jesus' on the guitar in such a way, it's hard not to be moved. Again there just feels to be such a wonderful honesty with Newman's performance, when he eats 'them eggs' you really believe he is eating 'them eggs'. People talk about Luke being an allegory for Christ, his prison number, 37, is a reference to Luke Chapter 1, Verse 37 in the New Testament, Newman donning a sacrificial pose after eating 'them eggs', the white robes.. The Jesus methodology isn't needed for Luke's character and journey to be a universal fable in one man not giving a shit what people say or do, and just riding and rebelling to his heart's content.
Sunday, 4 April 2010
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
(Universal Pictures, 1961)
Psycho...The shower scene..Bernie Hermann's striking score define Hitchcock's film. Yet it is the attention to detail that is most impressive. The film opens with a subtitle, we see the time, two-forty-three, Janet Leigh on her lunch break from work is having an affair. She's spent her whole lunch hour with John Garvin, she only has time to have affairs on her lunch break? Hitchcock is immediately forcing the audience to ask questions about the character. That is what film making is about, film makers need and should want their audience to ask questions about their characters. More random wonderful details.....The number 1 room at Norman Bates' motel, where Janet Leigh stays, the number 1 is in a shape of a dagger. The horizontal block that is the motel, and the vertical Gothic house, where 'mother' lives. The police officer who bears an uncanny resemblance to the T-1000. The stuffed animals in Bates' office, and the pictures of animals in Leigh's room – death surrounds the place. The wonderful staircase in the house, gives some great frames. The camera movement to the door, when Perkins carries 'mother' down the staircase. Perkins boyish smile and lovely eyes. Perkins eerie insistence on offering Leigh dinner. Never trust a man offering a woman food – why should he care about what she eats? The last shot with Perkins sitting against a wall – beautiful. The black and white looks phenomenal, great tonal range (wink wink, I must look at what stock used, tut-tut-snort-snort). See the BFI's print – now!
'That wasn't no miss, Vargas. That was just to turn you 'round, so I don't have to shoot you in the back. Unless you'd rather run for it. '
Touch of Evil
Dir. Orson Welles
(Universal Pictures, 1958)
A town by the Mexican-American border, where the film starts with Miguel Vargas, played by NRA legend Charlton Heston, and Janet 'Psycho' Leigh having a night stroll and a kiss interrupted by a car bomb, police corruption, drugging and a few bar fights, Heston doesn't get his girl back until the end of the film. Was Welles playing the corrupt police captain, Quinlan, wanting to denounce his methods for framing his Mexican suspects, is Touch of Evil a political and moral fable? Possibly. Bazin has argued about Welles' cinema of ambiguity, 'in melodrama, one's sympathy is forcibly drawn to the villian'. Really? Welles' Quinlan is pretty repulsive, a corrupt official who gets his just deserve. But then so are the Mexicans, in fact it's hard to empathise with any character. There is ambiguity in Touch of Evil but maybe it's the slightly convoluted plot. Repeated viewing may help.
Repeated viewing is needed as there is much to admire in Welles' work. Russell Metty's photography is astounding. Every frame is meticulous. The barren landscapes of Mexico are beautiful, the car journeys have a dynamism, the low tilt ups in the interiors felt claustrophobic and uneasy, cranking up the tension, accompanied with accomplished internal frames. The image when we're in some police bureau and there are these massive filing cabinets is mesmerising. The prison scene, using the prison bars and shadow is wonderful, Metty really does adhere to the mantra of the camera helping tell the story. Every shot has a symmetry to it, every frame just feels right. Metty adds a wonderful use of depth to the frame, adding layers to it, sometimes your eyes just gaze into the frame – maybe this is why the plot got the better of me. Camera movements are a plenty; tight into say a glass of whisky and then tracking back and panning the whole interior of the room. It's majestic and nauseating at the same time, maybe there are one too many of these wonderful camera movements, but yes, the opening shot defines cinema. Forget Welles, this is a Metty master-class.
'I'm the best you ever seen, Fats. I'm the best there is. And even if you beat me, I'm still the best. '
Dir. Robert Rossen
(Twentieth Century Fox Films, 1961)
Newman's acting carries a self-confidence and un-resounding faith in his ability that defines the protagonist, 'Fast Eddie'. In The Hustler Newman doesn't act because he doesn't need to. The actor was the character, and yet Newman isn't brash or cocky with 'Fast Eddie', he's an endearing, complex, even vulnerable man. The Hustler follows Eddie Felson wanting to be better than a small time pool player, wanting more than anything else to win, and having a conviction to do so, transcending the pool halls, bars and bus stations. Eddie's epic forty hour battle with Minnesota Fats, played nicely by Jackie Gleason, is a beautiful and exhausting game of pool. Unsurprisingly there are some great images of balls twisting and curling into pockets. Sarah Packard, Eddie's girl, never really entices, she is always on the periphery, and I guess that was the way it was, nothing got in the way of Eddie's hustle. Watch Newman work.
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Dir. Robert Wise
A forthright biopic of the famed boxer Rocky Graziano. This is Rocky twenty years preceding Sly's efforts, indeed there are many comparisons or rather similarities to make between the two films. Wise's film is well written, the dialogue has a wonderful dry humour. All the characters feel real, yes it's nearer burlesque than seasoned Thespians, but surely that is what populates the Bronx and boxing gyms. Some critics have argued that Newman gives a mannered performance, a character with little depth; Newman does scratch is head a lot, loiter and spit, but he is simply brilliant. A scene that epitomises his performance; when drafted into the Army, Newman punches a high ranking officer in a showdown meeting in his office, Newman has this renegade energy that is captivating. Newman may rely on physical mannerisms, but this is exactly what defines Rocky Graziano's character, his performance feels incredibly honest. Of course we have the fairytale ending, it's clichéd, but satisfying. Forget Stallone, see Newman lean and raw in this triumphant endearing boxing fairytale.