To Have and Have Not (1944)
Good but not great Howard Hawks feature (based ever so loosely on the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name) contains the first of four screen appearances by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The pair became high-profile lovers after meeting on this picture and enjoyment of the film will be almost entirely dependent upon one's opinion of the two leads. This viewer thinks they're both a bit too one note to hold everlasting interest, however the film wisely includes some very great supporting performances to round out the scenes. The film features the cinematic debut of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, who contributes a number of splendid musical moments (that are only occasionally soured by Bacall's deep-throated delivery). The best tune is "Hong Kong Blues" which is almost Dylan-esque in its rambling melody. The greatest performance in the film however is reserved for Hawks' stalwart Walter Brennan who plays Bogart's sidekick, a loyal rummy named Eddie, and imbues his character with a veneer of good-natured humor whilst simultaneously breaking your heart. Two years after the rabid success of To Have and Have Not Bogart and Bacall re-teamed with Hawks for the magnificent Raymond Chandler adaption The Big Sleep which is a superior film is every way.
Out of Sight (1998)
Just as Jackie Brown is the Tarantino film that even the director's detractors like, Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight is the film that skeptics such as myself can enjoy. Both films, released one year apart, share plenty in common and while it is a bit obvious and lazy to compare the two, I'm going to do it anyway. Besides both being adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels, even going so far as to share a supporting character played by Michael Keaton, the films also have an abiding taste for funky soul music and more importantly possess at their centers two of the best American romances of the 1990s. Jackie Brown's restrained and ultimately unconsummated relationship between Pam Grier and Robert Forster is a much more mature and rewarding pairing, whereas the star-crossed journey between George Clooney's career bank robber and Jennifer Lopez's federal agent is mostly about unbridled lust. Soderbergh however does a fantastic job depicting the interactions between the two leads, especially on the night they finally spend together, juxtaposing dialogue of a conversation earlier in the evening with images of them dancing and subsequently taking their clothes off. Clooney and Lopez capably sell their attraction even if they don't quite transcend it. Elsewhere in the picture Soderbergh tries to balance out the intensity of the love story with myriad comedic supporting turns, some that work (Don Cheadle's dumb but aspirational thug) and others that don't (Steve Zahn's shaggy stoner). Seen back-to-back, Jackie Brown is clearly the superior film. It is a deeper, more expansive picture with the sure-handedness of a genuine artist at the helm. But that's not to say that Out of Sight lacks merit. Oasis was incapable of a White Album but they sure had a couple really great songs.
Writer-director Rian Johnson's debut feature is a solid contemporary noir set among drug-running California teenagers. The slang-drenched dialogue is so stylized that it takes a good twenty minutes or so to grasp exactly what the characters are saying, but once one gets on its wavelength it becomes a rather rewarding experience. The noir tropes transplanted to the high school setting are clever and the film's occasional moments of humor are witty and refreshing. In particular, the traditional noir trope of the informant and police chief bargaining for information becomes an exchange between a kid with connections and the vice-principal. It works like a charm. Johnson also showcases a great eye for action, crafting a few kinetically visceral scenes that usually end up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt bloodied and bruised. Like quite a few first films, Brick can occasionally be too precocious for its own good, with its fair share of look-at-me moments. But when the camerawork, dialogue, and performances are all humming along in service to the story, the film works.