Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Lady from Shanghai

I'm not entirely sure how, but today I stumbled across an entry on Bright Lights Film Journal about the forgotten noir Blast of Silence. There were a couple other entries on movies like the Mike Hammer flick Kiss Me Deadly and a very unflattering review of L.A. Confidential. But, the one that really struck me was the one about The Lady From Shanghai. Author Jason Mark Scott gives a very thorough examination of one of Welles's early pictures. Scott again shines light on the many subtle things that made Welles one of, if not the, best director of all time. The only thing I would disagree with him on is his supposition that this was Welles's farewell to his wife Rita Hayworth and to Hollywood.

If you haven't watched The Lady From Shanghai, I recommend that you go out and find a copy right away. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some good noir and a good flick. Just try to tune out Welles's horrendous Irish accent. :)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Come Back Brimstone!

Because of this conversation with Gerald, I decided to check out Reaper (more on that another time). I also combed the imdb message boards for the late lamented Brimstone. For anyone who doesn't know, Brimstone was a late-90's TV show about a cop who made a deal with the devil to return 113 escaped souls to Hell in exchange for a second chance at life. Since it's been nearly 10 years since its cancellation and the fact that I found all the episodes online, I've pretty much gotten over my anger/sadness about its cancellation. Then I find a post about the possible episodes that would've been filmed if the show hadn't been canceled. ARRRRRGH!!

ep 14) RIVALS
Shut down a mere three hours into production, episode 14 pitted Stone with two dilemmas: an escaped damned Soul who is killing illegal immigrants and a beautiful kick-ass damned woman, late of the Irish Republican Army, who the Devil has brought back in order to test Stone. The Deal? Whoever sends this week's Damned Soul to Hell FIRST gets to stay on Earth and hunt the down the rest of the 113 - whoever fails gets a one-way ticket back to Eternal Damnation! Zeke wins, but not before getting somewhat PHYSICALLY involved with the IRA woman, who proves to be almost his match in every way, shape & form.
An episode with a BACKWARDS structure. A Reporter shows up on the scene just in time to witness Zeke sending a Damned Soul back to Hell, then tracks the story BACKWARDS in his attempt to find Stone and find out what's up...
ep 16) ANGEL
Stone tracks down what he THINKS is a Damned Soul, but turns out instead to be a Rogue Angel bored with heaven, desperate to taste everything life has to offer -- including Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and murder! Stone has to figure out how to trick the bad Angel into going back to Heaven -- with a little help from someone who ain't the Devil and prompts the Devil into yelling at the Heaven's: "He's working for me, not you!" Also in this episode, a mysterious woman shows up and starts asking questions about Zeke Stone -- it's ROSALYN!
Stone tracks another Damned Soul, but this time the Devil shows up and wants to tag along on Stone's investigation! This one's personal for ole' Lucifer, 'cause this is the one guy who never broke, the one guy who never begged for mercy, who did his time in Hell defiantly, always telling the Devil to F-off. Who is this tough-as-nails Damned Soul? None other than a meek, mild-mannered CLERK who looks like he wouldn't hurt a fly! Lots of darkly comic antics with Stone showing the Devil how to be a detective, etc. Also more on Roz tracking down the husband she was sure was dead... until now.
Stone tracks down a Damned Soul who turns out to be none other than one of his relatives, a beloved Uncle from Stone's childhood who claims that he was innocent, that Somebody Up There made a mistake! Stone embarks on a bizarre quest -- not to hunt down this week's Damned Soul -- but to try to clear him and find the real bad guy...
The Season Finale. Maxine finds out that Stone's birthday is coming up and tries to throw a party for her loneliest hotel guest. Problem is she can't find any friends or relatives, except those that claim Zeke Stone has been dead for 15 years! Plus the return of ASH, the return of Zeke's CAT and a stunning cliff-hanger: Max brings a a special, surprise guest to Zeke's Birthday Party -- a guest whose arrival was to serve as our season-ending finale -- his wife, ROZ!

Original post here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Memorial Day by, Vince Flynn

I first stumbled across Vince Flynn in 1999 or 2000 with his first Mitch Rapp novel Transfer of Power. Rapp is set up as the CIA's top counter terrorist operative, but a bit of a hothead with a lone wolf streak. Seven books later, Rapp and Flynn are still going strong. I haven't read the sixth or seventh yet, but I just finished Memorial Day (the fifth) and it could be the best of the series since Transfer of Power.

Memorial Day starts out with Rapp interrogating a suspect at a CIA facility in Virginia. Information from this suspect leads to a raid on a meeting of top al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and the uncovering of a plot to set off a nuclear bomb in Washington, D.C. What follows is the expected: numerous twists and action set pieces in another page-turner from Flynn.

One thing Memorial Day has over the previous installments is the absence of Rapp's wife, Anna Riley. She was an intriguing character in Transfer of Power, her introduction, and it was interesting to see the relationship between her and Rapp grow in The Third Option. But, in the next two books of the series, her purpose seemed to just be a whiny, home front storyline for Rapp. By the end of Executive Power, the fourth Rapp book, I almost completely hated her character.

On to the more artistic side of things, Flynn sparkles yet again. There are long narrative passages throughout the book, but they further the plot instead of being a bunch of hooptedoodle. His pacing is top-notch as well. It was very easy for me to rip through about 100 pages in a sitting, so this 600 page book was finished in less than a week.

Memorial Day and the whole Rapp series are highly recommended. I'll probably order the sixth and seventh books, Consent to Kill and Acts of Treason, over the summer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

VT Shooting and Hope

It's been about a week since the shootings at Virginia Tech. I normally don't think much about news events such as this, but I came across something rather interesting. During times such as these, a lot of people turn to their churches for guidance and consolation. What I'm going to give you is a pair of prayers released from different Christian denominations. First is the prayer from the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod:

Gracious Father in heaven, You know the shock and sorrow that have resulted following the deaths of 33 students and faculty at Virginia Tech. We are helpless before the evil that afflicts us and therefore cry out to You for comfort, shelter, and protection. Mercifully embrace the frightened in Your love, empower the weak with Your strength, restrain the wicked by Your might, and preserve and comfort the righteous in Your grace, giving us Your peace and turning tragedy to triumph. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

And the second from the United Methodist Church:

The bullets ripped their flesh, and tear our souls, Lord God. Flashing from nowhere, unseen, unforeseen, perhaps unforeseeable, lives of promise ended, others mangled by hot steel and the shrapnel lodged in hearts too stunned to cry. How long, O Lord? How long? And for the shooter, Lord, Forgive. What break in heart, or mind, or flesh moved, possessed, demanded him to stalk these down like prey? We cringe, paralyzed before the mystery of evil. We open our mouths, and join the silence of the disbelieving. Hear us, Lord. Heal us, Lord. Grant them, and us, your peace. Amen.

Blogger Seth Zirkle examined both these prayers with the theology of the cross in mind. "A theology of the cross seeks the beauty of God's grace in the bloody agony of Christ's suffering. At the very least it recognizes that man ... is stained with his fallen nature and Christ's blood; it realizes that even in the face of suffering there is good. And not just any good, but Christ, the ultimate Good. Truly a development of Luther's Deus absconditus, his hidden God, a theology of the cross stands in stark contrast to a theology of glory which goes to the cross once and walks away on the road of the good life in Christ."

I would never have been as eloquent as that. Even as a Missouri Lutheran myself, I probably wouldn't have thought of looking at it through a theology of the cross if not for Seth's comments. What was most striking to me was the hope expressed by the Lutheran prayer contrasted with the near despair of the Methodist prayer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Genius of Film Noir

I came across an interesting article by critic Stanley Crouch the other day. It's all about the popularity of film noir in American culture. I'm happy to say I've seen most of the films he mentions. Here's a quick excerpt:

The huge screens in movie theaters provided lurid masks for the resentments that pulse within Americana. Our hatred of the upper class and of goody-two-shoes morality got plenty of play. So did our repulsive puritanical troubles with sexual attraction, our reluctant but ultimate belief in the righteousness of force, and our tendency to answer life's pervasive horrors with conspiracy theories.

Noir's popularity was inevitable. How could American audiences resist the combative stance of an unimpressed hero whose ethos could be reduced to: "Is that so?" How could they fail to be lured by all of the actresses cast as Venus' flytraps? Everything in film noir takes place at the bottom, in the sewers of sensibility. It holds that the force of the world is not only indifferent to, but obviously bigger than, the individual, which is why personal satisfaction, whether illegal or immoral, is the solution to the obligatory ride through an unavoidably brittle universe.
(Full article available on slate.com).

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Raines: Stone Dead

Since I was away this weekend, I didn't get a chance to see Raines until tonight. Another strong ep, in my opinion. We really got to see a bit more inside Raines instead of just his wisecracking exterior. The scenes with his murdered partner's son were especially touching. As for the mystery? I liked it. The whole "Jimmy's dead?" conversation cracked me up along with the pot smoking granny.

I may have to rewatch this episode to see if there are any, but there seem to be some subtle nods to the inspirations for this show in each episode. Just a couple I've noticed:

  • Double Indemnity poster in a victim's house
  • "Rick's Cafe American" neon sign
  • A Maltese Falcon sitting on the desk at the escort service of the first (?) episode.
  • A private detective named MacSweeny (from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest)
Anyone else see any?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Raines: Week 2

I watched Raines and Andy Barker again last night. I didn't like Barker as much as the first week. The fat guy running in slow-mo was pretty funny and so were Simon's lame-ass attempts to pick up Nicole. But overall, the murder was a bit pedestrian and it wasn't all that funny.

Raines, on the other hand, I enjoyed immensely. It brought a little more humor in than they had the first week, which I enjoyed. Madeline Stowe's psychiatrist seems to be a good foil for Raines because she sees through his crap and doesn't take it. I did figure out the mystery a bit before the end, but the tie-up still worked for me.

One bit of unintended humor in Raines: one scene where Officer Michelle Lance, played by Linda Park, translates some Spanish spoken by the victim's wife. Park played communications officer Hoshi Sato on Star Trek: Enterprise, who knew many languages.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Raines: Week 1

Last night I watched the premier of Raines. It is rare when a pilot blows me away, and Raines was no exception. It seemed wrapped up in the premise instead of the case Jeff Goldblum had to solve. That being said, it wasn't bad at all. If the series continues to combine the same type of humor as the last scene with Raines and his partner Charlie with the overall tone of the piece, it should continue to get better and better each week.

A bonus to eagle eyed Boomtown fans was a cameo by Bobby "Fearless" Smith as the detective who found the dead private detective. It's good to see creator Graham Yost give a hat tip to his brilliant but canceled TV series.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Raines (2006)

For some reason I'm getting really excited about next Thursday's premiere of Raines. Jeff Goldblum is always entertaining and one of the writers is Graham Yost, the man behind one of the greatest TV shows ever: Boomtown. NBC has put some good previews on their site. One of my favorites is here. Preview One sets up the story. Preview two actually had me laugh out loud.

I'll be watching!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ribbon of Dreams

I came across this article today written by one of my heroes, Orson Welles. I normally agree with what he says in regards to movies, but not this critique on the wide screen process. Yes, bigger is not always better. But a lot of good directors use the full frame to tell their story. Many directors cringe when they see clips of their films "panned and scanned". And I cringe with them.

However, this part of the article expresses Welles's eloquence on the matter of being an artist.
A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.

Distributors, naturally, are all of the opinion that poets don’t sell seats. They do not discern whence comes the very language of the cinema.

Without poets, the vocabulary of the film would be far too limited ever to make a true appeal to the public. The equivalent of a babble of infants would not sell many seats. If the cinema had never been fashioned by poetry, it would have remained no more than a mechanical curiosity, occasionally on view like a stuffed whale.

Everything that lives—and in consequence, everything commercially saleable—derives from the ability of the camera to see. It does not see naturally in place of an artist, it sees with him. The camera at such instants is far more than a registering apparatus; it is a means by which come to us messages from the other world and which let us into the great secret. This is the beginning of magic. But the charm cannot work unless the eye of the camera also is human....

I think this sentiment can be applied to anything creative: film, music, literature. Be a poet in your craft.