L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

I haven’t seen L.A. Confidential since 1998 or so, whenever the laserdisc came out. Before the film came out–I saw it in the theaters of course, being a big Russell Crowe fan back then–I read James Ellroy’s book. So, obviously, the film cuts a lot and I don’t remember the book very well, except that it took place over a long period of time. I don’t think it was that good, but you did get to know the characters… You don’t in L.A. Confidential: The Movie. Instead, you get to know and care when the filmmakers tell you to care. It’s Oscar-bait. As I started watching it, I thought it would be okay Oscar-bait, but it really isn’t. For a few reasons.

First, since I’ll be on and on about it if I don’t get it out of the way: Kim Basinger. 1) She does not look like Veronica Lake, she does not resemble Veronica Lake, never in a million years would I think she does. According to IMDb, Izabella Scorupco turned down the role and she owes me dinner for the thirty minutes or so of Basinger “acting” I just had to endure. 2) Kim Basinger is awful. The number of films, probably starting with Batman, that she has hurt or ruined with her aforementioned “acting” probably equals the number of films she has “acted” in. I sort of remember once saying Nine 1/2 Weeks was her only reasonable acting job. Since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I won’t make such a claim. However, after seeing her “talents” on display in L.A. Confidential, I doubt I’d be able to reinforce said claim.

There: a paragraph for Basinger’s bad acting. Does Guy Pearce get a whole paragraph? Maybe. He is not good. His character needs to be good. The audience needs to identify with him, not against him. We aren’t suppose to think cops beating the shit out of and murdering innocent (or misdemeanor-committing) people is okay. Does that mean Pearce is actually so good that I’m just upset because he was so good–he was supposed to appear unlikable, correct? No, he was terrible. The scenes between him and Basinger at the end were awful. Not to mention how terrible their actual sex scene was. That was a special kind of awful. Made me want to stick pencils in my ears to break the drums.

However–and I’m breaking up the crap with some pearls–Russell Crowe is good. He has very little do. Most of his scenes are with Basinger and so he had no one to work with, but he still shines through. His character is decent and deserving of a better film. However, L.A. Confidential has got to be one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances. Since Spacey has turned into such an embarrassing Oscar-whore (sort of like Crowe), I’d forgotten how good he could be. If L.A. Confidential had been about Spacey’s redemption… Oh, one can only dream. The film also has David Straithairn and underuses him, which is an incredible affront to the species.

No, the problem with the film, why it doesn’t achieve or overcome the awful acting, is the writing. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson kept a couple parts of the book (I think, the Nite Owl murders seem to be how I remember), tossed the rest, but kept scenes from the book and lines of dialogue. Scenes and lines that mean nothing without the rest of the book. Or they didn’t keep the rhyming parts. So, the film deceives. In the middle, until about the 90 minute mark, it still seems like something good could come of all this stuff. A period cop movie called The Nite Owl Murders could have been amazing, but this film isn’t a cop movie. It’s not noir or neo-noir or anything like that. It’s Oscar-bait and, as Oscar-bait goes, I suppose it’s on par for 1997. If I remember correctly, 1997 was actually a good year, it was just that a bunch of shit was popular… as it goes. Gattaca, for instance, was from 1997. Comparing the two films is an incredible insult to Gattaca and possibly the whole idea of art in general.

I watched the DVD (my laserdisc is probably long gone–I rented the DVD for a buck and quarter and the laser cost $32 from Ken Crane’s). There are some audio looping problems, but I don’t think it’s the disc, because I noticed the mouths didn’t match the dialogue. Maybe there’s a good version of it out there somewhere, in the Warner vaults or something, but I really doubt it….

One last thing about 1997. I just saw that it’s the year Air Force One came out. I’ve never pinpointed, specifically, the downfall of American popular cinema. I can tell you when it was good, when it was better than it is now, and when everything was shit. But is there a turning point? I think it might be Air Force One–you had the previously reliable Harrison Ford in a complete piece of garbage. Petersen was already done, so I’m not putting anything on him, so I think I’ll hang it all on Ford whoring himself for money–in Air Force One. With a few blips–and pretty insignificant ones–his career has been downhill from that specific film. So it’s all his fault. I guess. None of this rant had anything to do with L.A. Confidential….

Okay, I’m done. (Damn Izabella Scorupco. Somebody ought to make her sit down and watch Basinger epic The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Peter Honess; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), David Strathairn (Pierce Morehouse Patchett), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Ron Rifkin (Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase) and Paolo Seganti (Johnny Stompanato).


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Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

So, why when making a sequel to a successful film, do film companies do it on the cheap? This practice is getting uncommon in the US (except direct-to-video sequels), but was prevalent in the 1970s–each Planet of the Apes film made more money and had a drastically lower budget. It’s like the company is assuming they’ll make some money no matter what, so why bother? Azumi 2 does the double injustice of having incredibly shitty villains too. It’s not just the “comic book,” ninja super-villains, the special effects of their powers are awful….

I guess I saw the first film in January, long ago enough that I started remembering it during Azumi 2 and some comparisons were inevitable. Like how much better a director the first film had… Azumi 2 is rather confused. It’s got some action, but not a lot. Too much of the silly super-ninjas, not enough regular ninjas. There’s no budget, so the characters spent all their time walking around the forest. I’m not sure if Japan has forest preserves, they must, but I mean like in the US. Azumi 2 could have been shot in Central Park or something, there’s so little variety. It’s a small movie, filled with small shots–Kaneko can’t get the camera off the ground and so the audience isn’t feeling anything grandiose. It’s not all Kaneko’s fault (I’ll get to what he does right in a minute). It’s the script. There’s a big warning sign for sequels–if the sequel is produced by the producer of the first film and said producer is writing the sequel, that’s a problem. It’s a big neon problem. It doesn’t help that Azumi 2‘s other screenwriter appears to write anime. Anime is… cartoons. Super-villains are okay in cartoons. Super-villains aren’t okay messing up Azumi 2.

With these moronic super-villains, one of these twits is dressed up like a raccoon or something (really), and they all have rubber chest-plates, you’d think that I wouldn’t have anything nice to say. Oh, these super-twits. Can’t act. All the good acting is from people from the first film (more in a second). First, a compliment for Kaneko, and probably the only friggin’ reason I’m giving this film a “1.” I haven’t yet. I hate kind of liking sequels to films I recommend. It’s a personal insult or something. All right, here it is… Azumi 2 does not mess around with dying people. People don’t just go quiet into that good night. They don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die. And Kaneko shows it to us–three or four times–and it hurts. There’s some real human conflict in these scenes, a real sensitivity, that’s totally foreign to the rest of the film. These scenes aren’t short either. I think one of them goes on for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of someone dying… alone, but not exactly, it’s a beautiful scene and it tears.

The acting, from a handful of people, is good. Ueto Aya, as Azumi, is good, though Kaneko doesn’t know how to shoot a bad-ass. In the scenes where people are saying she’s “just a pretty girl” or something, it’s shot from those characters’ perspectives, not from either hers or the third. The first film’s director knew how to shoot bad-ass. Kaneko just doesn’t and it hurts the stand-off scenes. Only a couple actors from the first film return, one’s good, one isn’t. The villains, super or not, are all pretty terrible. Some of the new good guys are okay, certainly okay enough to keep the film going–though the super-villains bring about some jaw-dropping. Who thought raccoon-boy was a good villain?

Azumi is based on a manga series that runs twenty-five volumes, but I doubt there’s an Azumi 3 on the horizon. Oddly, I just found that Azumi is going to be back next year… but on stage. Love that Google. I don’t know if I can recommend Azumi 2 to anyone, even folks who liked Azumi, though if you didn’t like Azumi, I don’t know if you could sit through the super-ninjas in Azumi 2, desperately waiting for a good moment. It’s not a terrible film (got the “1”), but it’s such a disappointment… what can you say? Don’t make cheap sequels or, if you do, hire someone who knows how to direct them.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shusuke; written by Yamamoto Mataichiro and Kawajiri Yoshiaki, based on the manga by Koyama Yu; director of photography, Sakamoto Yoshitaka; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; production designer, Inagaki Hisao; produced by Nakazawa Toshiaki and Yamamoto; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ueto Aya (Azumi), Ishigaki Yuma (Nagara), Kuriyama Chiaki (Kozue), Oguri Shun (Ginkaku), Shishido Kai (Hanzou), Kitamura Kazuki (Kanbei) and Hira Mikijiro (Sanada Masayuki).


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).


The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

When it comes to film noir, more than any other genre, I always wonder how some of these films got their sterling reputations….

The Killers isn’t too bad. It never gets as good as the opening, the adaptation of Hemingway’s actual story (it was a Nick Adams story in fact). The rest, with insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien explaining the killing, well… O’Brien is really good and so’s Sam Levene. It’s nice to see Levene in a full role, even if it is a sidekick role, it’s a central sidekick role. There’s a nice relationship between O’Brien and Levene and it makes the film seem a lot more innovative than it really is. Well, maybe innovative isn’t the right word. Special might be. Their relationship makes the film seem special. And the film isn’t special.

The failing is the concentration on one deception that has nothing to do with why Burt Lancaster accepts death in the beginning of the film. Oh, did I spoil it? I shouldn’t have, it’s kind of famous. There’s no pay-off with Lancaster. He’s around, but his character doesn’t do much. It’s impossible to feel anything for him, because we don’t get to see this man’s real struggle. The real struggle isn’t in the film, it’s in a five-year stretch the film ignores.

To some extent, I’m being harder on The Killers than it deserves. If I’d paid any attention to Movielens, I would have seen it didn’t predict a super-rating for the film, but The Killers is one of those films from my period of blind film snobbery. When it aired on TV, I knew someone recording it for three or four people. It was a big deal. Incidentally, Criterion’s release isn’t very good. I know it’s an older release, but film restoration–just the garden variety digital kinds–really makes it look terrible in comparison to current releases. I wanted The Killers to be good. Instead, it was a really, really long a hundred minutes. Really long. LONG.

But the Hemingway stuff… Great stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Anthony Veiller, based on a story by Ernest Hemingway; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Mark Hellinger; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Swede Andersen), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), Edmond O’Brien (Jim Reardon), Albert Dekker (Big Jim Colfax), Sam Levene (Lt. Sam Lubinsky), Vince Barnett (Charleston), Virginia Christine (Lilly Harmon Lubinsky), Charles D. Brown (Packy Robinson), Jack Lambert (Dum-Dum Clarke), Donald MacBride (R.S. Kenyon), Charles McGraw (Al), William Conrad (Max), Phil Brown (Nick Adams), Queenie Smith (Mary Ellen Daugherty), Jeff Corey (Blinky Franklin), Harry Hayden (George) and Bill Walker (Sam).


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