16 Blocks (2006, Richard Donner)

Bruce Willis has had more comebacks–commercial and artistic–than any actor I can think of… Pulp Fiction was artistic, Die Hard: With a Vengeance was a commercial one, The Sixth Sense was both (his performance any way), and he’s due. (I just realized, the trips tend to come with comedic ventures). 16 Blocks is probably not his best performance–though he’s excellent–but it is the first sign he’s going to age gracefully. Willis’s generation of actor–and even the one before his, if Harrison Ford is any indication–has been rather uncomfortable with the whole aging process. It’s always these fifty year-olds with three year-old babies. None of those perks for Willis in this film. He’s fat and slow and, even when he gets going, he never really moves fast.

The film is far from perfect–it’s got an intense set-up and the first forty-five minutes were incredibly smart, the film kept the audience in the dark, letting the actors do their work. It’s not quite a real-time film, which is good, since those never really work out, but there’s too much thrown into the film… too much construction. Richard Wenk writes good dialogue and good characters, but he runs out of situations. He also plays three major tricks on the audience, all but one are expected, but the film’s so affable it’s impossible to get upset with it.

Mos Def contributes a lot to the affability and he and Willis are great together, with Willis actually doing different work than he usually does in his buddy films. David Morse, of course, turns in the best performance. Watching this guy chew gum is amazing….

There’s also the playful tone Donner takes with the film. Donner knows how to make a film entertaining and never takes 16 Blocks off track. The editing is good and the cinematography is great–so good I thought I’d recognize the name, but did not. It’s a lower budget film for Donner, who–I think–put together the financing himself, and it’s a practice he should stick with. He knows what he’s doing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Richard Wenk; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Steven Mirkovich; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Arv Greywal; produced by Avi Lerner, Randall Emmett, John Thompson, Arnold Rifkin and Jim Van Wyck; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bruce Willis (Jack Mosley), Mos Def (Eddie Bunker), David Morse (Frank Nugent), Cylk Cozart (Jimmy Mulvey) and David Zayas (Robert Torres).


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The Bad Sleep Well (1960, Kurosawa Akira)

I had no idea it was Mifune Toshirô (nor did I get the Hamlet subtext).

Kurosawa mixes genres a lot with The Bad Sleep Well. It’s an incredibly romantic film, but not from the start. The start is a twenty minute wedding scene, all told from reporters’ points of view. It creates a distancing effect, it makes the narrative peculiar. It keeps the audience removed from the characters–in fact, the protagonist isn’t revealed until forty minutes into the film. I know what Mifune looks like, I’ve seen him in quite a few films, but since I wasn’t looking for him (another advantage to going into a film unaware), I let myself get caught up in what was going on.

The distancing–which continues into a police investigation into government corruption–isn’t off-putting. The film follows multiple characters around in a procedural manner Kurosawa used again in High and Low (to much less effect) and manages not to disengage the viewer. This device is successful because no one–not even the viewer–has inkling of what’s going on until a very specific point in the film. It’s not a short, 150 minutes, and this point happens reasonably early… forty-three minutes in or so.

The film develops awkwardly. Significant events occur and the film doesn’t stop. It keeps going after these impossible situations, resolving them, building on them. Besides it not being much like Hamlet, I think it didn’t occur to me it might even be Hamlet because of the feeling. It’s an incredibly tender film and playful film and I’ve never thought of Hamlet as tender or playful. The Bad Sleep Well probably has more feeling in it then any Kurosawa film I’ve seen.

It’s a great film and a perfect example of why writing about great films isn’t any fun. I mean, I don’t have anything to bitch about and its quality wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of exciting to have seen it, found it (the Criterion DVD only came out a couple months ago, meaning it’s not one of Kurosawa’s best known works in the U.S.), but I really shouldn’t have been expecting anything but a great film. It’s just been too long since I’ve seen Kurosawa in his prime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Kurosawa Akira; written by Oguni Hideo, Hisoita Eijiro, Kurosawa, Kikushima Ryuzo and Hashimoto Shinobu; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; music by Sato Masaru; production designer, Muraki Yoshiro; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Kurosawa; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Koichinishi), Koto Tokeshi (Itkaura), Mori Mosayuki (Iwabuchi), Shimura Tokashi (Moriyama), Nishimura Akira (Shiroi), Fujiwara Kamatari (Wada), Kogawa Kyoka (Keiko) and Mihashi Tatsuya (Tatsuo).


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Jade (1995, William Friedkin), the director’s cut

Jade not only ended David Caruso’s leading man career, it also ended Chazz Palminteri’s mid-1990s upswing, and probably slowed down Linda Fiorentino’s post-Last Seduction career as it started (she never had a lead in a major studio production). Amusingly, when Paramount started making the film, back in 1995, they had no idea who to cast in the female lead, so they asked film critics, who, of course, were raving about Fiorentino at the time. All three of these actors–at times–do a lot of good work in Jade, but the film’s so poorly written, so poorly produced (by Robert Evans of all people, in his comeback attempt), it’s all for nothing.

The story could have been an update on Manhattan Melodrama, the love triangle with civic complications, but instead, Joe Eszterhas recycles Basic Instinct. There’s a lot of recycling going on in Jade–Friedkin fills it with chase scenes (I’d totally forgotten he’d done The French Connection, I thought it was Frankenheimer… I guess a good script does help, doesn’t it?) and James Horner recycles a lot of his older material in the score, including the end title from Aliens, which is cute since Michael Biehn is in Jade. Except Biehn turns in one of his incredibly bad performances. It’s hard to believe he was ever good (in Aliens) and I wonder if the continued exposure to Friedkin (starting in 1988) ruined his acting. Seeing Jade, it’s certainly a possibility.

I watched Jade because I remembered it a few weeks ago. Friedkin did a director’s cut for cable and VHS, which Paramount did not release on DVD, and I got it off eBay for a couple bucks. I remember when it came out–I probably saw it at a Suncoast, the release was so long ago I still went to Suncoast–the director’s cut was an improvement over the original version, which I had seen in the theater. Well, if the director’s cut truly is an improvement, the original must be really terrible. Besides Biehn, Angie Everhart turns up for a few minutes, starting her assault on the sanctity of acting, but Donna Murphy is really good. She and Caruso should do a family drama or something.

The last tidbit of Jade trivia I have is about the home video presentation. I wasn’t going to get it, but I remember talking to a Ken Crane’s LaserDisc operator on the phone about the laserdisc. Friedkin had Paramount release it pan and scan only–just like the VHS, just like the DVD. Now, Jade was not matted for theatrical release, so, apparently, Friedkin is a big supporter of pan and scan for the film (but none of the others in his oeuvre, even his eating tree classic, The Guardian, is available widescreen). Eszterhas amusingly blames the whole mess on Friedkin, who he says only got the directing gig because his wife was running Paramount at the time. It’s a load of crap–Eszterhas has never written a good line in his life–but it’s rare to see such hacks acting against each other to create a piece of garbage… all of it ruining some of Fiorentino’s best work… potentially best work… she was really good–unspeakably wonderful–for like a minute… in fifteen second sequences….

I can’t believe I just watched Jade. More, I can’t believe I just watched the whole thing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Augie Hess; music by James Horner; production designer, Alex Tavoularis; produced by Robert Evans, Craig Baumgarten and Gary Adelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Caruso (David Corelli), Linda Fiorentino (Trina Gavin), Chazz Palminteri (Matt Gavin), Richard Crenna (Gov. Lew Edwards), Michael Biehn (Bob Hargrove), Donna Murphy (Karen Heller), Ken King (Petey Vesko), Holt McCallany (Bill Barrett), David Hunt (Pat Callendar), Angie Everhart (Patrice Jacinto), Kevin Tighe (Dist. Atty. Arnold Clifford) and Robin Thomas (Mr. Green).


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Bright Victory (1951, Mark Robson)

Mark Robson made some great films. I first saw Bright Victory before I knew who he was (I think Victory was probably my first Robson, actually). I saw it on AMC in 1997 probably. Julie Adams is in it and maybe I had AMC flagged for Julie Adams movies somehow. I can’t remember if they had a website. Somehow, I saw the film. It was probably my first Arthur Kennedy film too. Kennedy’s one of those actors who’s fallen through the cracks. He never did a disaster movie or a guest on “The Love Boat.” He’s a fantastic actor and Bright Victory offers him a great role.

It’s World War II and Kennedy is blinded. Unfortunately, even though he’s the protagonist, he’s not altogether likable. He’s a Southern bigot who can’t wait to get home to marry in to money. From the title, it’s obviously Bright Victory does not end badly for Kennedy’s character. I could ramble about Bright Victory, I just realized, so I’m going to need to rein it in. First, the film’s from 1951 and a 1951 film making the lead out to be a jerk for being a bigot is a rarity. Robson had done another film about race relations (Home of the Brave), but Bright Victory is a Universal-International picture, not a smaller studio like that one. I remember, in 1997, I had never seen the issue discussed in this filmic era. Since, I’ve seen some films cover it, but never so straightforwardly.

The script, by Robert Buckner, stays with Kennedy for most of the film. The rare deviations–once for the culmination of another blind soldier’s story arc and then for a scene with the fiancée, played by Adams–don’t stick out. The film’s constructed with a roaming eye. Since Kennedy’s learning how to be blind, so is the audience. The roaming eye doesn’t stop with that usefulness, however, it goes on to become the film’s most interesting presentation principle. Bright Victory features a few scenes–three I can think of–where the characters talk to each other, but never let the audience know what’s going on. Both the characters know, but we do not. That device is never used–it’s probably one of the particularities I noticed about Bright Victory back when I first saw it.

Last, I need to go over the actors. This post is already one of the longest I’ve done–I haven’t seen Victory since the first time, probably, so I could go on and on. Peggy Dow stars as the rival love interest. She has a few particularly great scenes. James Edwards is Kennedy’s friend, again, has some great scenes. Jim Backus (from “Gilligan’s Island”) shows up and does well–Backus was a great 1950s character actor. Will Geer plays Kennedy’s father and the two have a wonderful scene together, elucidating how Kennedy’s blindness has changed their relationship. When I finished the film, I realized it managed to posit Kennedy could not have made his personal achievements without the blindness, but did never became melodramatic, contrived, or hackneyed.

TCM has the film now–they’ve played it twice–and you can even vote for a DVD release on their website (even though it’s a Universal title). It’s absolutely fantastic, just like much of Robson’s work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Robert Buckner, based on a novel by Baynard Kendrick; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Russell Schoengarth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Buckner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Arthur Kennedy (Larry Nevins), Peggy Dow (Judy Greene), Julie Adams (Chris Paterson), John Hudson (Corporal John Flagg), James Edwards (Joe Morgan), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Nevins), Richard Egan (Sgt. John Masterson), Jim Backus (Bill Grayson) and Will Geer (Mr. Nevins).


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