28 December 2012

Cinematic Capsules: December 2012

The Killers (1964)

This post-noir from director Don Siegel is the second cinematic adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway short story. Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager play hitmen investigating the origin of their recently completed job. Marvin is troubled by the large pay-out and the fact that their victim, a school teacher for the blind, played by John Cassevetes, didn't try and fight or run for his life. Marvin and Gulager trace Cassevetes' life as a race car driver and the subsequent trouble he gets embroiled in after falling for Angie Dickinson's rich, thrill-seeking dame. The three leads, Marvin, Cassavetes, and Dickinson are all superb. Dickinson in particular deserves praise for selling her romance with the lowly racer. Deep down he (and the audience) know that she's no good but we all desperately want to believe her. The supporting cast, including Gulager and a villainous Ronald Reagan (in his final film role), are undeniably weak by comparison. The film's conceit of having each person the hitmen interrogate tell a long story about Cassevetes in flashback slows the pacing down and the film feels longer than its ninety minutes. But the film is entertaining enough and features a wonderful closing line from the tough-as-nails Marvin.

Tokyo Story (1953)

Recently topping this decade's Sight and Sound director's poll as the greatest film of all time, Yasujiro Ozu's elegantly elemental picture is unequivocally worthy of the esteemed accolade. Telling the story of an elderly couple travelling to the big city to see their self-absorbed progeny, the film quietly depicts the restrained resignation of two people who have become ignored and unappreciated. We get to intimately know this family's history as the parents are shuttled between one preoccupied child and another. Ozu's square and static compositions are subtly evocative, boxing people into their homes and lives. The performances are uniformly fantastic, with the work of Chishu Ryu as the thoughtful patriarch serving as the film's firm foundation. Watching Tokyo Story is an experience in cinematic revelation. The magic that Ozu weaves, telling a simple story with such a subtle style is a feat of much more monumental achievement than most highwire genre pictures. Tokyo Story is a captivating, beautifully meditative film full of sorrow and regret that is evermore emotionally effective for its outright refusal to cater to the manipulations of melodrama.    

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Not as well known as the bigger names in Universal's famed renaissance of cinematic horror but just as creepy, Erle C. Kenton's adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau stars the magnificent Charles Laughton as the titular doctor who lives in the remote tropics with his creations, a society of human/animal hybrids who attempt to forgo their baser instincts and become civilized. The rallying cry, "are we not men?" would be an inspiration for some art-damaged weirdos from Akron, Ohio who in the mid-seventies formed a band called DEVO and subsequently stole the phrase for their iconic debut album. The film has a number of classic horror elements that signify its place in the Universal lineage. There are some truly spooky shots of a horde of creatures running through the jungle, their outsized shadows climbing the walls of Moreau's compound. And it wouldn't be a Universal film without a crazed mob running with torches. From a technical standpoint, these scenes possess some subtly stunning camera work with a couple of really fluid crane shots looking down on the monster mob. The scariest element of the film however is Laughton, who plays Moreau as a civilized, sinister dandy. His Cheshire grin peaking out from the darkness is the greatest special effect in the film. He runs circles around the rest of the cast, who rarely elevate themselves beyond props. Bela Lugosi does a decent job as the hairy leader of the monsters though.


  1. Was this your first Ozu film?

    1. My second. I saw Good Morning about ten years ago. I just checked out its silent companion, I Was Born, But... today. I don't know when I'll get to it, though.

    2. It's much more fun than Tokyo Story.

      I'd recommend Late Spring and Early Summer next.

    3. Thanks for the tip. I've been avoiding the seasonal titles for awhile just because I can never keep track of which is which.

    4. They do tend to run together, but those two along with Tokyo Story form a loose trilogy around trying to get Setsuko Hara married called the "Noriko Trilogy". It's generally seen as the peak of Ozu's work.

      If you want to watch the ones we podcasted about, those were: Tokyo Chorus one of his earlier, silent films, Early Summer, and his final film, An Autumn Afternoon.

      Late Spring, An Autumn Afternoon and Early Summer are m three favorites of his films, though I've yet to see one I didn't like.