Irma Vep – Another in the fine tradition of indie movies about making indie movies. This one stars TINAB favorite Maggie Cheung as Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung, in France to play the lead in the remake of the classic silent serial Les Vampires. Directed by Louis Feuillade (pronounced, if I remember my French correctly, “Foo-yad”) in 1915, Les Vampires is the story of a criminal gang headed by mysterious female Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire, naturally). I’ve yet to see the serial, but it’s on the list. I understand a pretty good DVD edition of it was released last year. Anyway, director Olivier Assayas, who was married to Cheung for a few years after the making of this movie, has made a fine, funny little movie here. It’s not as crazy or as over the top or as flat-out funny as it’s American genre counterpart, Tom DiCillo’s Living In Oblivion (#25, 1995), but it make up for it with a very cool, subtle cleverness. Playing the film’s director is Antoine Doinel himself, jean-Pierre Léaud, who’s always nice to see. The #13 film of 1996.
In Harm’s Way – Otto Preminger’s surprisingly dull movie about Pearl Harbor and its aftermath has a great cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Dana Andrews, Slim Pickens, Carroll O’Connor, Larry Hagman, George Kennedy and Henry Fonda. But after the initial bombing, which is very exciting and well-done, the film descends into family melodrama and middle-aged romance as Wayne and Neal start some kind of relationship. It’s got some good parts, but they’re buried by the excessive length. The #14 film of 1965.
The Cowboys – One of the later John Wayne movies is this Mark Rydell film about an aging rancher who has to hire a bunch of kids to help drive his cattle because all the adults have run off in search of gold. Rydell would later direct The Rose, On Golden Pond (#14, 1981) and For The Boys, so this’d most likely be his best film. It’s one of Wayne’s best performances too, much better than his award-winning scenery chewing in True Grit (#6, 1969). It’s a fun little coming of age Western, helped by some pretty good supporting performances by Collen Dewhurst, Bruce Dern and future soap opera superstar (soaperstar?) A Martinez. The #7 film of 1972.
Shaft – I saw the two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft In Africa many years ago, but I never actually watched all of this first one. Anyway, Richard Roundtree plays a black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks. It’s interesting for it’s translation of film noir conventions (and I do mean conventions) into an early 70s Black Power milieu. Also interesting is that of the two women he sleeps with, Shaft is very nice to the black girl and cruel and misogynistic to the white one. I don’t know quite what to make of that, but it’s there. The #8 film of 1971.
For Me And My Gal – The most lackluster Busby Berkeley film I’ve seen stars Judy Garland and Gene Kelly (in his film debut, no less) as a couple of vaudevillians who don’t and then, of course, do like each other. There’s some interesting bits, of course, with these principals there can’t help but be good parts, but the whole doesn’t add up to much more than decent.
Cabin In The Sky – More interesting is this early Vincente Minelli film, his first as a credited director. It’s a musical with an all-black cast from a time when such things were not done on a mainstream level (1943, a mere 4 years after the execrable Gone With The Wind). The film stars Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (from the Jack Benny Show), a gambler who gets himself shot, but before he can be carried off to Hell, his wife prays real hard and gets him a 6 month reprieve. Over that time, the forces of evil do everything they can to corrupt him, including sicking Georgia Brown (played by Lena Horne) on him. Also feature Louis Armstrong, as a trumpeter, of course.
His Kind Of Woman – This truly weird pseudo-film noir was directed by John Farrow (Mia’s dad) and stars Robert Mitchum as a gambler who gets bribed to go to Mexico. There, he hooks up with Jane Russell, the girlfriend of a slumming Hollywood action star (Vincent Price). Eventually, he gets kidnapped by a gangster and learns that he was lured to Mexico so said gangster, played by Raymond Burr, what to have Mitchum’s face surgically implanted on his own so he can return to the US. It’s even stranger than it sounds, when Price’s certainly not straight actor loading up on guns and enlisting the Mexican townspeople in a quest to rescue Mitchum from Burr’s clutches, it becomes perhaps the most bizarre noir I’ve ever seen. Good stuff.
Track Of The Cat – This William Wellman film stars Robert Mitchum as the handiest member of a snowed in pioneer ranch family who has to hunt down an evil mountain lion that’s killing his cattle. Wellman designed the color film such that
it would appear black and white with only flashes of red for dramatic emphasis (mostly bloody). When the film is following Mitchum’s cat hunt, it’s great, cool-looking and very tense. It’s the family melodrama that dominates the last two thirds of the film that is really rather boring. An odd decision to mix a theatrical-style drama (think lesser Strindberg or Chekov in a pioneer setting) with a man vs. nature action story, and it doesn’t exactly work, but is still a fine film and worth seeing. The screenplay’s by AI Bezzerides, who wrote the great Kiss Me Deadly, along with They Drive By Night and Thieves’ Highway.
Waking Life – Richard Linklater’s animation experiment is wildly pretentious, even more so than his classic second film Slacker (#7, 1991), a personal favorite of mine. Wiley Wiggins plays the lead, a guy stuck in a dream that he can’t manage to wake up from. In his dream, he encounters any number of characters who expound on random philosophical and political notions to him. Your enjoyment of the film will be entirely dependent on your tolerance for such ramblings. I expected to find the animation annoying, but instead was thoroughly entertained by the changing nature of it, the way it becomes more and less abstract as the dream rolls along. The #9 film of 2001.
A Foreign Affair – Even a brilliant director has to make a mediocre film once in a while, and this is his. A paean to post-war Berlin, it’s clear this was a labor of nostalgia for Wilder and star Marlene Dietrich, refugees from the Nazis both. Jean Arthur plays a congresswoman in Berlin to inspect the nature of the Occupation. There she’s incensed to learn that her GIs are fraternizing with the local Germans. Her guide, played quite badly by John Lund, in order to cover his own romance with Dietrich, one of those unsavory Germans, begins to romance her as well. A love triangle ensues, but not an especially interesting one.