Friday, December 31, 2010

Attack

Europe, World War 2. Jack Palance is a brave lieutenant in conflict with the cowardly captain Eddie Albert. Also starring Lee Marvin, Buddy Ebsen and Richard Jaeckel, directed by Robert Aldrich.

So, who would win in a fight between Palance and Marvin? I think I'd put my money on Palance. You never know with a guy who starts doing pushups when he receives his Oscar. Unfortunately, we don't find out in this film. Made in 56, enough time had apparently passed that not all American soldiers must be shown to be heroes. The film is based on a play and has a definite theatrical quality - sometimes it's psychodrama is verging into parody. It's just a bit hard to believe in Albert as the captain, that he would make it that far without being discharged for incompetance, which also makes it a bit hard to believe in the film.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

And another page



This is a page from the fourth story in my next book, Athos in America.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lee Marvin


Moving on: Lee Marvin, starting with The Killers. Except the title and the opening of the resignated man not running from the men who have come to kill him, the film has absolutely nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway's short story. Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager are the killers, John Cassavetes the victim, Angie Dickinson (before she became a blonde) the femme fatale and as the bad guy... Ronald Reagan!

As with the original film - by Robert Siodmak, made in 46, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner - the story of why Cassavetes doesn't run is told in flashbacks. This version of the film feels more dated than the original, though. The back projections during the racing scenes don't help. The dialogues between Cassavetes and Dickinson are not even near anything real people would say. That's okay, but they don't reach that level of twisted poetry either that you find in the best of these films. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the disc and I was unable to watch the last five minutes of the film. Anyway, most of all it made me want to rewatch the original. And Angie, you should have stayed a brunette!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Sting

Paul Newman and Robert Redford are grifters playing the big con on ruthless gangster Robert Shaw. Directed by George Roy Hill.

How many times have I seen this film? I don't know. Many times. Even though you know how it's going to end, it's one of the most entertaining films ever made. You can still enjoy the perfect script, the music and the seamless recreation of Chicago in the 30s. And were Newman and Redford moviestars or what? Maybe the most magical thing about the film is that after the big success of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid they tried to recapture lightning in a bottle, with the same two main actors and director, and... they succeeded! How often does that happen? Not often. You follow?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Verdict

Paul Newman is an alcoholic ambulance chaser who gets one last chance to redeem himself. Also starring James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Jack Warden, written by David Mamet, directed by Sidney Lumet.

Newman aged pretty gracefully on screen. This is probably one of his best performances, the one he should have gotten an Oscar for. Rampling is at her most mysterious. The film was shot during the winter; it always adds something when you can see the breath of the actors. About one third into the film you start thinking that of course Newman is going to win the case, and probably the girl as well - you already know how it's going to end, but actually, the film avoids the easy Hollywood happy ending and rather goes in a more interesting direction, ending with a question.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman is a sent to jail where he's working on a chain gang. Also starring George Kennedy and lots of familiar faces from American film and tv, including Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton, directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

-What we got here is a failure to communicate.
-Oh yeah? What's the problem?
-You, jerk face. You think this movie is any good?
-Yes, it's one of the classic anti Establishment films from the late 60s / early 70s. It reminded me of both Papillon and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
-Is it as good as those films?
-Yes, I think so. It's got the two famous scenes, the woman doing the carwash infront of the chain gang and the one with Newman eating 50 eggs. Those are real movie moments. And there can be something strangely uplifting about prison movies, about how the spirit can't be broken.
-You're full of shit!
-Says who?
-Says me, that's who!
-Oh, yeah?!
-Yeah!!

etc.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Hustler

Paul Newman is a pool hustler shacking up with alcoholic student Piper Laurie. Also starring George C Scott and Jackie Gleason, directed by Robert Rossen.

It's another great film, made the year before Hud, shot in black and white that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the poolhalls, rooming houses and bars the characters live in. Again, it's a pretty dark film. You constantly have the feeling it's not going to end well, and it doesn't. You never notice the camera moves or the editing, it's all about the story and the characters. It's the sort of invicible direction that you almost never find in movies these days, but rather have to go find in tv shows like The Wire or The Sopranos. Another great performance by Newman - cocky, but never obnoxious (Tom Cruise, I'm looking at you!). During the endcredits I noticed Jake LaMotta - The Raging Bull - had a small part in the film as a bartender.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hud

Paul Newman is Hud, a cowboy working on his father's farm somewhere in Texas. A case of foot and mouth-disease endangers their livelihood and widens a rift between father and son. Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, also starring Patricia Neal and directed by Martin Ritt.

The film takes place in the same world as The Last Picture Show, another novel by McMurtry. It might even be the same little town for all I know; there's a scene where Hud's father and nephew go to the movies. It's the kind of Godforsaken small town hole that can't be too fun to live in but that looks very cinematic on the screen. The film, shot in black and white, is quite dark. Newman plays a rather unappealing, selfish character - there's even a scene where he tries to force himself on Patricia Neal, the farm's housekeeper. It's a good performance by Newman. Films from this period - the film was made in 62 - are often quite interesting. They are sometimes more ambiguous than the classic Hollywood films from the 40s and the 50s but not yet as selfconscious and arty as the films that came later in the 60s by the new filmschool generation.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Paul Newman


Got some new Paul Newman films, and I will also rewatch some other ones. Starting with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, based on the Tennessee Williams play, also starring Elisabeth Taylor and Burl Ives, directed by Richard Brooks.

Paul Newman doesn't want to fuck Elisabeth Taylor. Already there the film is a bit hard to believe. This is even before the rest of the cast turns up and start calling each other things like Big Daddy and Sister Woman. Okay, he's Paul Newman and can get whoever he wants, but still... Taylor walks around in her underwear and Newman rather wants to get drunk? Oh yeah, that's right, he's got some daddy issues and also believes Taylor fooled around with Skipper, a football buddy. At the same time his brother, Gooper, tries to steal his inheritance. (Am I remembering these names correctly?) There's a lot of yelling and shouting, of course, and there's a nice bit with Newman's crutch as a symbol, but this seems to be a minor Tennessee Williams play.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lost World


This film doesn't really have anything to do with anything. I just felt like watching some junk. Good junk, I should say. I've seen this film on lists of bad sequels, but in my mind this is one of those rare cases where the sequel is actually better than the original. Jurassic Park I thought was a pretty awful film, with unappealing characters. Especially those two kids. You really sat there hoping the dinosaurs would get them. There's a kid in this film also, but on an annoyance scale from 1 to 10 she's only maybe around 3. The other actors do their job well enough, especially Jeff Goldblum. There are some great set pieces in the film. You can sort of feel the presence of the writer, though, moving the characters around. The CGI looks pretty convincing. Spielberg cheats a bit, having most of the film take place at night. Logically the scenes in San Diego should have been in the day time. If I have a problem with the film it's that you never really get "lost" in it. There are constantly shots that are so spielbergian that you can't help but notice them, you keep being pulled out of the film. And Spielberg being Spielberg, he of course insists on telling you exactly what you should feel at all times, never really leaving that part to the viewer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Watchmen


I found a used dvd of this film so I finally got to see it. It's interesting how Snyder gets the details right, but completely misses the spirit of the comic. The film is far too stylish, looking like one long rock video, and there is never a minute where you actually believe in the characters or see them as real people. It takes place in an alternative 80s, but should have had more of a 70s feel, like a Taxi Driver with super heroes, and with as little CGI as possible. I'm not a big fan of Greengrass's shakycam, but I think he would have been a much better director for this. Snyder treats the comic as if it was The Bible, being too faithful in the adaptation. The flamethrower at the end of the sexscene was already silly in the comic. The title sequence is the one place he shows some imagination, it's probably the best part of the film. Too bad it's the opening and that it only goes downhill from there. I don't mean to say that the comic was a masterpiece. At the time it was released I think I was mostly impressed with it's structure, the way it went back and forth in time. If anything, the film only accentuates how kind of ridiculous it was.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Selfpromotion


Cover for a small catalog of my illustration work, mid nineties.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Local Hero


Head of an American oil company Burt Lancaster sends Peter Riegert to Scotland to buy a small village that will be turned into an oil refinery. Written and directed by Bill Forsyth.

Made 27 years ago, the film today is slightly dated. Riegert describes himself as a telex man, and he doesn't walk around talking on cell phones during the first half of the film. Forsyth took the conflicts of USA/Europe, Big city/Small community, Technology/Nature and turned it into a gentle comedy. Lancaster is terrific in his role - older, but probably still able to beat you in armwrestling or drink you under the table. Mark Knopfler's music is perfect, as well. If there is a wrong step, it's the crazy psychiatrist in the Houston part who seems to belong in an other film.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Life As A Dog


Sweden, the 1950s. A boy is sent to live with his uncle in the countryside while his mother is ill from tuberculosis. Directed by Lasse Hallström.

It's a good film, carried in a large part by the seamless performance of Anton Glanzelius as the boy. You never get the impression that he is acting. The film is based on a book that I can only imagine is more or less autobiographical. There are details, like the scenes of the boy reading from a lingerie catalog for an old, bedridden man, that can't really be made up. It has to be true. In fact, the film perfectly captures the mystery and the sadness of being a kid. You can think on some of the things you did back then, and it's like it's some totally different person. Which it is, of course.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top Secret!


What phoney dog poo? Before Val Kilmer was Elvis in True Romance and Jim Morrison in The Doors he played rocker Nick Rivers in the much better film Top Secret! Also starring Lucy Gutteridge and Omar Sharif. Written and directed by Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker.

I saw Airplane! and Naked Gun some time ago, but I felt an emptiness in my life, something was missing, and I finally figured out what it was... Top Secret! I've tried everything: the embassy, the German government, the consulate. I even talked to the U.N. ambassador. It's no use, I just can't bring my wife to orgasm. The film is clearly influenced by the old parodies in Mad Magazine, with some jokes in the foreground, others in the background. Not every gag works, but at least two out of three. Favourites are hard to pick. The Swedish bookstore? The cow? The underwater barfight? It all sounds like some bad movie. It's not. It's one of the funniest films ever. It's got some great songs as well! And not by Mel Tormé. I know a little German. He's sitting over there.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A nice review...


of Low Moon on the Comics Journal site, to be found here: http://www.tcj.com/review/low-moon-2/

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another page...



... from the book I'm currently working one. It's page one from the third story. And yes, it's the return of the two main characters from "&", one of the stories in Low Moon, this time involved in some kidnapping scheme that naturally goes wrong. The book, to be called Athos in America, should be out by the end of next year, both in French and in English.

Married To The Mob


Michelle Pfeiffer is married to gangster Alec Baldwin who is killed by his boss Dean Stockwell. Moving to Manhattan to get away from her old life, she is followed by Stockwell and put under surveillance by FBI agent Matthew Modine. Also starring Chis Isaak in a small part and directed by Jonathan Demme.

This is the kind of small, quirky film that Demme was very good at. Something Wild is another one. Married To The Mob's story isn't that much to brag about - I can only imagine what some hack director would have done with it, but Demme rather goes for the small details, creating something with real charm, and never taking the film too seriously. The shootout at the end is right on the edge of parody. Pfeiffer and Modine are great together and Dean Stockwell, an underestimated actor, has a lot of fun in his part. It's too bad Demme seems to have lost his light touch after he made Silence of the Lambs, doing Important Message Films and when trying to return to his old roots making one of the worst movies ever, The Truth About Charlie, a remake of Charade.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Beetlejuice


Boring couple Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis die in an accident. They find themselves back in their old house that is now taken over by yuppiecouple Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara and their daughter Winona Ryder. Baldwin and Davis hire "bio-exorcist" Betelgeuse, Michael Keaton, to chase them out. Directed by Tim Burton.

This is another case of a film that I used to like, but now discover to be slightly boring to rewatch. Again, I'm not sure if this is because I've seen it too many times or because I'm just getting too old to enjoy it. What really saves the film is Keaton, whose performance is a real tour de force. I wouldn't have minded a sequel to this film just to see more of him.

Burton is a pretty uneven director. I still think Ed Wood is his best film. Which he then followed up with Mars Attacks, probably his worst film. I'm not sure I agree with the opinion that he has sold out. I haven't seen Alice in Wonderland, but I thought Sweeney Todd was pretty good. As a whole, though, his recent films seem to have less heart than the early ones.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The eighties, part 2


Time to look at some more 80s classics, okay? Or "classics", possibly. I suddenly felt a bit nostalgic. Hey, we're all human. Starting with Streets Of Fire. I really enjoyed this film when it came out in 84. Singer Diane Lane is kidnapped by bad guy Willem Dafoe. Her ex Michael Paré comes back to town to kick some ass. Also starring Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan and in a small part, Bill Paxton. Directed by Walter Hill.

The film was called a rock and roll fable and takes place in some alternative 50s universe, but is basically a western. (Westerns in disguise is actually a good theme for some later series of films. I could rewatch Outland, Mad Max 2, Matewan and Assault on Precinct 13. Hmm... okay, making a note of that.) The hero arrives on a subway instead of a horse, there's a bar fight instead of a saloon fight, and the duel at the end is with sledgehammers instead of guns. The dialogues are just a collection of clichés. Paré has the right look for the hero, but turns out to be nothing more than a second rate Stallone. Moranis and Dafoe are fun in their parts. Diane Lane is cute, but doesn't get to do much. The music is a mix of Meatloafish rockopera and rockabilly. Basically, it's a stylish but pretty empty film. I maybe wish they had played it more straight and dialled down the clichés a bit. Still fun to watch, though.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Lost Weekend


Ray Milland is a selfdestructive alcoholic. Also starring Jane Wyman, directed by Billy Wilder.

The first Hollywood film about alcoholism, it must have been a shock to the audience in 1945. It's still a powerful film and less dated than I had feared. Only towards the end does it get a bit melodramatic. And the ending is maybe a bit too simple, where he just decides to stop drinking. But a less happy ending would probably have been impossible at the time it was made. I've always considered Ray Milland to be a bland actor, but he's pretty good here, showing how charming an alcoholic can be, lying to everybody and hiding bottles everywhere. Milland got an Oscar for his performance, but still ended up doing b-movies like The Thing With Two Heads in the seventies.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird


Gregory Peck is a Southern lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Based on the novel by Harper Lee, also starring Robert Duvall, directed by Robert Mulligan.

I've never read the novel, so my opinion is only based on the film. The story is told through the eyes of the lawyer's two kids. A lot depends on the kid actors. If they screw up, the whole film will fall apart. But they are wonderful, both of them giving very natural performances. Peck is also good, playing a sort of perfect dad. However, seen today you can't help but notice how very black and white the film is, not allowing any shades of gray. The man accusing the black man of raping his daughter is almost a caricature of an ignorant, racist hillbilly. Even his name, Ewell, is a bit too obvious. Is it really that easy to spot the face of evil?

New album

The first ten pages from my new album, written by Fabien Vehlmann and published by Glenat, can be found here: http://www.glenatbd.com/bd/l-ile-aux-100000-morts-9782723476799.htm

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ball of Fire

Gary Cooper is a professor working on an encyclopedia. He runs into nightclub singer Barbara Stanwyck while doing research on slang. There's also some gangsters involved, including Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea. There's also that guy from Casablanca and that guy from It's A Wonderful Life. Directed by Howard Hawks.

It's a funny film despite the silliness of the story, a sort of update of Snow White and the seven dwarves. Cooper is very good as a shy and stuffy professor and Stanwyck is, of course, perfect in her role. At almost two hours it's maybe a bit too long. The script is co-written by Billy Wilder, and it's interesting that it's a European, who hardly spoke any English when he arrived in the US, that is the one using American vernacular as basis for a comedy.