Category Archives: ★★★★

Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Martin Scorsese)

What to say about Bringing Out the Dead… I remember now why 1999 was the hardest year to make a top ten list for–and I hadn’t even seen Wonderland at that point. Whatever. It’s the best. It’s certainly Scorsese’s best work in the 1990s, puts the rest to a kind of shame (it’s odd, then, that Scorsese doesn’t like the film, or maybe not).

I remember hearing a few things (one echoed by IMDb when I looked it up for running time) back when it came out. 1) nothing happens. The answer to that is ‘to hell with anything happening.’ 2) it’s too Catholic. The answer to that is ‘what are you talking about?’ I can’t remember why Bringing Out the Dead was so critically beloved, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t even know that it should have been–isn’t it sort of degrading for those who laud floaters to laud greatness?

I hate writing about great films. I absolutely hate it. Don’t rent this film. Buy it.

Interesting, movielens just told me that I’d give it 1½, which is the first time movielens has been so wrong (that I can’t remember, but I’m not linking to it, so I must be pissed). I’ve rated 836 films at movielens and the recommendations tend to be spot-on, frighteningly so sometimes. But Bringing Out the Dead throws a wrench in the works, apparently. Bringing Out the Dead is a desert island film, I realized while watching it. It’s not enough to say it’s great or that I love it, but it’s a film that I cannot do without. Which makes watching it tonight even the more odd. I was sitting at dinner and all of a sudden I decided I had to watch the film, which I probably haven’t seen since the DVD came out in 1999, but maybe I didn’t even watch the DVD then. I may have only seen this film once. Which is a tragedy. It’s such a tragedy I’m starting sentences with ‘which.’ What the hell? Go and buy it. They’ve got them for $7.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Joe Connelly; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Scott Rudin and Barbara De Fina; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Frank), Patricia Arquette (Mary), John Goodman (Larry), Ving Rhames (Marcus), Tom Sizemore (Walls), Marc Anthony (Noel), Cliff Curtis (Cy Coates), Mary Beth Hurt (hospital worker) and Aida Turturro (nurse).


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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

Layers. Star Trek II has a lot of layers. I couldn’t decide if, as a sequel, it had the time to work so many layers in (it runs two hours). It’s the human heart, in conflict with itself, others, and its environment. There’s so much going on and some of it is purely cinematic. The Star Trek films, for a while anyway, were the only “science fiction” films to show space with any sense of wonderment, post-2001. Star Trek II‘s layers are incredibly aided by the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the situation. But the audience doesn’t need to know too much, only the general specifics one would get if he or she asked another person about the TV show. And the other person wouldn’t have needed to see it, maybe only heard of it. Star Trek II establishes itself very quickly.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Shatner lately, not just on “Boston Legal,” but in the fan-edit of Star Trek V last week, and it’s incredible how good he is in this film. Not incredible because he’s bad today, but incredible because it’s such a good performance. Star Trek and Shatner have both been devalued in modernity–Shatner because he lets himself be and Star Trek because of the new TV shows. Star Trek II would be best appreciated by someone unconcerned with a grand sense of “continuity,” because watching or reading with such a concern immediately makes the reader totally full of it. The toilet is overflowing in fact. Star Trek II is about what it does to you in two hours and it does a lot. It propels you through a range of emotions–I’ve seen the film six or seven times since I was six and it effected me more this time, when I was watching it most critically, than ever before. Nicholas Meyer directs a tight film. He doesn’t have a lot of sets, but all of them make a lasting impression. Besides the set design and the cinematography–you can watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture to see how else the same sets can be shot–there’s James Horner’s music. It’s as effective as the pieces Kubrick picked for 2001, it really is….

I read somewhere, a few months ago, that most people identify themselves as–generally–Star Trek fans. I imagine it’s that the geeks have taken over popular culture (Lord of the Rings), leaving intelligent folks almost nothing in the mainstream… since, what, 2000? Being a fan of something in no way means it’s good–quality doesn’t enter into it, since “fans” frequently argue that art is subjective. Well, Star Trek II is sort of an innocent victim in all this hubbub. It is, objectively, excellent (I think 1982 is probably the only year three “sci-fi” movies, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, and The Thing are in the top ten). Unfortunately, its excellence is assumed to be subjective (remember, the even number Star Trek films are the good ones?), doing the film an incredible disservice. It’s an achievement in filmic storytelling, nothing else.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, based on a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards and the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by William P. Dornisch; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph R. Jennings; produced by Robert Sallin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh), Leonard Nimoy (Captain Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Judson Earney Scott (Joachim Weiss), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ike Eisenmann (Midshipman Peter Preston), John Vargas (Jedda) and John Winston (Cmdr. Kyle).


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Hail the Conquering Hero (1944, Preston Sturges)

Well.

I’m trying to think about how to talk about Hail the Conquering Hero. It shouldn’t so difficult. The film is great, better than I remembered it, but it’s never easy to talk about great films. I mean, how many words can you pull out of your ass for something you love? You want to share things you love and defecate on the things that deserve it. Hail the Conquering Hero deserves reverence.

Still, there are a few specifics I can comment on. And not Sturges so much. Yes, he constructed an almost perfect film in 96 or so minutes. The structure of a film’s interesting and helps you talk about it if you have to think about how the film succeeds or fails. I’m not doing that here. Yes, there are the great moments of comedy, the wonderful small character relationships between supporting characters that’s seemingly a lost art, there’s lots of stuff….

But, I noticed two things in particular, watching Hail the Conquering Hero today. First, William Demarest is amazing in this film. I know the name and the face, but he’s never stuck out before. For the first hour or so of the film, you can just watch Demarest. Sturges also does a great job directing group scenes. Anyway, the other big particular is Ella Raines. She’s great in this film. I’m a fan of hers anyway, but I don’t remember any of her other performances being quite this good. Maybe they are, maybe I’m just forgetting… Eddie Bracken, as the lead, is good too, but he’s ideal for the role. He doesn’t do any work. There are some good supporting performances that I’m not going to look up on IMDb too. Raines just has a few really good scenes in this one and it pissed me off that I was so surprised.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Preston Sturges; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Werner R. Heymann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eddie Bracken (Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith), Ella Raines (Libby), Raymond Walburn (Mayor Everett D. Noble), William Demarest (Sgt. Heppelfinger), Franklin Pangborn (Committee Chairman), Elizabeth Patterson (Libby’s Aunt), Georgia Caine (Mrs. Truesmith), Al Bridge (Political Boss), Freddie Steele (Bugsy), Bill Edwards (Forrest Noble), Harry Hayden (Doc Bissell), Jimmy Conlin (Judge Dennis) and Jimmie Dundee (Cpl. Candida).


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Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).


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