Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000, Dominic Sena), the director’s cut

I just watched the recent–let’s see what they’re calling it–director’s cut. A director’s cut without director’s audio commentary. It features nine extra minutes, the most noticeable being a few shots where you see tit. Before DVDs, directors’ cuts meant something (even if they weren’t exactly the director’s cut). Blade Runner and Touch of Evil meant something. Maybe not so much with Touch of Evil, actually. The recent directors’ cuts or extended versions often mean very little. They change the route over the topography, without changing the starting or ending point.

From this particular director, before Gone in Sixty Seconds, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. He made Kalifornia–which is great–then disappeared. After Sixty Seconds, he made Swordfish (a Bruckheimer knock-off, who knew such a thing could exist) and then… disappeared. He’s not a young turk either, he was 51 when he made Gone in Sixty Seconds, which makes sense more for Kalifornia (it had a sure, adult feel to it). Still, I thought this director’s cut might mean something….

Gone in Sixty Seconds has a number of great ingredients. It has a story rife with human conflict–responsible brother saves numb-skulled brother–in addition to the best-ever Bruckheimer cast: Delroy Lindo, Will Patton, Robert Duvall, Vinnie Jones, Chi McBride, Frances Fisher. Giovanni Ribisi is fantastic, back when he got work. Cage holds it all together in one of his “big movie star” roles, never counting the paycheck in his head, as visible in his other Bruckheimer collaborations (The Rock and Con Air). Angelina Jolie is mediocre more often than bad (though I didn’t realize her lips were so big in this one, so I guess the image is punk rock collagen) and the less said about Christopher Ecceleston the better. And for most of the movie, it works.

And I’m not even talking about the multiple false endings. The film, from the opening credits, establishes itself as a family drama. Sure, a big budget, Bruckheimer family drama, but one none the less. Then, all of a sudden, the family drama disappears. If it was replaced by the set pieces, the car thefts and such, I’d understand. But it isn’t. It isn’t even replaced by the Jolie/Cage romance subplot (which doesn’t work–she looks like his kid). It just disappears. Luckily, the film falls back on Delroy Lindo to hold up the rest of it and he does. Except when it relies on Will Patton and Robert Duvall, who are also very good people to depend on.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Dominic Sena; screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, based on the film by H.B. Halicki; director of photography, Paul Cameron; edited by Tom Muldoon and Chris Lebenzon; music by Trevor Rabin; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Stenson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Memphis Raines), Giovanni Ribisi (Kip Raines), Angelina Jolie (Sara Wayland), T.J. Cross (Mirror Man), William Lee Scott (Toby), Scott Caan (Tumbler), James Duval (Freb), Will Patton (Atley Jackson), Delroy Lindo (Detective Roland Castlebeck), Robert Duvall (Otto Halliwell), Christopher Eccleston (Raymond Calitri), Chi McBride (Donny Astricky), Timothy Olyphant (Detective Drycoff), Grace Zabriskie (Helen Raines) and Master P (Johnny B.).


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How to Steal a Million (1966, William Wyler)

I think I might hate ‘cute.’ Or at least the pseudo-realistic ‘cute’ that permeated film through the 1950s and 1960s, when the films became so much about enjoying the actors’ charisma, there was no sense of any reality to the films’ situations and conflicts. In that way, How to Steal a Million is an interesting companion to Sneakers. Sneakers is still a real film, How to Steal a Million is not….

The film’s mildly charming–Audrey Hepburn’s in it, after all–but the first half is too long. The second half, which switches focus to Peter O’Toole is better, but probably only because it contains the heist scene (the heist genre has since learned, when doing ‘cute,’ have a heist at the beginning too, to set high expectations for the final caper). I suppose what’s most wrong with the film is William Wyler. He feels like he’s doing a light comedy and knows it. The film hasn’t got anything to say about… anything. It’s either treading water or paying for scotch. As it comes right after The Collector in his filmography, it almost looks like it has to be scotch money.

I’ve seen the film before, years and years ago, and I remembered it being a lot better. I’d forgotten Wyler directed it, however, which is hardly a good sign. The most stunning thing about the film is probably that Hepburn was thirty-seven when she made it. The only sign of her age might be the eye-shadow… and I suppose it did make me want to watch Wait Until Dark again. Blond-haired, blue-eyed O’Toole leaves no impression….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by George Bradshaw; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Robert Swink; music by John Williams, production designer, Alexandre Trauner; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Audrey Hepburn (Nicole), Peter O’Toole (Simon Dermott), Eli Wallach (Davis Leland), Hugh Griffith (Bonnet), Charles Boyer (DeSolnay), Fernand Gravey (Grammont) and Marcel Dalio (Senor Paravideo).


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After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

The last time I had a Thin Man marathon–which must have been five years ago, maybe more (I had the LaserDisc set, so I’m trying to remember when I started concentrating more on DVD), I thought After the Thin Man, the second film in the series, was disappointing. Now I’m not having a marathon, just watching the film, and that opinion was wrong. It seems to have come from comparing it to the first film too much (specifically, the first film’s brevity). After the Thin Man is excellent and establishes a lot of good sequel mechanisms… ones I don’t think the other Thin Man sequels employed (as they became closer in pacing to MGM’s other film series).

Coming into the second film, the audience has a few expectations–the banter and the mystery. After the Thin Man concentrates on the banter first, dedicating almost the entire first act to catching up with Nick and Nora. Dashiell Hammett actually wrote the story for After the Thin Man, they weren’t just being nice and putting his name on it–I have a copy somewhere, but never read it. Hammett started the story differently, with a dying man showing up on their doorstep. The film’s measured pacing, however, reminds the audience just why they liked the first film so much.

Today, past being one of the Thin Man films, it gets no notice. Even the Thin Man series has fallen away (and I remember in the 1980s, when it was such a big deal when all the films came out on VHS). I suppose it’s worthy of a footnote in James Stewart’s filmography, but James Stewart’s not really popular anymore, is he? Films made before 1983, it seems, offer nothing to moviegoers today (that snide remark is based on George Lucas’s “rejiggering” of the original Star Wars films and Peter Jackson remaking King Kong because he didn’t think audiences today should have to watch black and white films). Home video companies dedication to releasing their classic product is probably the best, unexpected benefit of the DVD format (as I type, The Complete Thin Man collection is #69 on Amazon’s DVD sales chart). The format’s introducing new audiences (I hope) to good films.

As a Thin Man film, After the Thin Man has a lot of the classic set pieces–Nick and Nora sleeping all day, after some late night scrambled eggs, is the one I’m recalling most. I was also surprised how funny some of the scenes get… I laughed at a couple as much as I laughed at the last episode of “American Dad.”

I can’t say much else, since I don’t want to spoil anything, but the killer’s unveiling is some damn great acting….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from a story by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Robert Kern; music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora), James Stewart (David), Elissa Landi (Selma), Joseph Calleia (“Dancer”), Jessie Ralph (Aunt Katherine), Alan Marshall (Robert), Teddy Hart (Casper), Sam Levene (Abrams), Penny Singleton (Polly), William Law (Lum Kee), George Zucco (Dr. Kammer) and Paul Fix (Phil).


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Conversation Piece (1974, Luchino Visconti)

I adore broad, sweeping statements. Here goes: I do not think any film, of all the films I have seen (conservatively, a couple thousand, maybe three), has had a worst last thirty seconds than Conversation Piece. It’s so incredible, so incredibly bad, I can’t believe the cast and crew didn’t start giggling when a) reading the script, b) shooting the scene, c) editing the scene, and d) seeing the scene. It’s really that bad.

I could make some comment about Conversation Piece being worth seeing just for that ending, but that’s unfair to the rest of the film. Conversation Piece is really long. It’s only two hours, but it’s all people talking–and as a continuous scene, instead Visconti breaks it up with no transition, which disorientates the viewer for a bit at the beginning, but then he or she gets ready for these cuts. For a while, the pace of the film is fine, probably the first hour, but the second crawls by, since it’s not just the events that take place off screen, it’s the changes in the characters.

I’ve never seen Burt Lancaster and Visconti’s more famous collaboration, The Leopard (out of laziness, I have it somewhere), and I rented this film because of Lancaster. He’s reliable, if rarely exciting. Unfortunately, that reliability plays through in his character in Conversation Piece. Besides the bad flashback scenes, much of the film–except when Lancaster is alone with his de facto ward, played by Helmut Berger (who was in The Godfather, Part III and “Dynasty”!)–is Lancaster reacting to what’s going on around him. When he announces his personal revelation to the audience in the last ten minutes, the audience has known it the whole time–because, otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a story.

It’s not a bad film and–perplexingly–it couldn’t be any different, but I knew everything it was going to be about in the first fifteen minutes. Except the stupid last shot… no one could have guessed that one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Luchino Visconti; screenplay by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli and Visconti, based on a story by Medioli; director of photography, Pasqalino de Santis; edited by Ruggero Mastroianni; music by Franco Mannino; produced by Giovanni Bertolucci; released by Gaumont.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Professor), Silvana Mangano (Bianca Brumonti), Helmut Berger (Konrad), Claudia Marsani (Lietta), Stefano Patrizi (Stefano), Elvira Cortese (Erminia), Dominique Sanda (Mother) and Claudia Cardinale (Wife).


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