Heart Blackened

Once again I find myself wandering Koreatown, begging for kimchi, and what should I come upon but a Korean double-feature! Well, not really, it’s just that I got there at the last showing of Blackened Heart which was followed immediately by A Special Lady so why not, I ask myself, why not see both of them?

No damned reason whatsoever.

Blackened Heart is a murder mystery/thriller wherein a very rich older man has an affair with an aging popstar whom his daughter absolutely hates. So, when he proposes marriage, and she turns up a sex tape with the popstar on it, the two fight and the man’s fiancee ends up gruesomely crushed in a garage. Crushed by the daughter’s car. Which she is subsequently seen driving erratically all over the city and later pulled out of in a semi-conscious state.

In short, a man’s fiancee is murdered and his daughter is the number one suspect.

Asian inscrutability figures big here. Even they don’t know what they’re feeling.

I'm pretty sure. It's been three years.

The daughter on the left, her evil stepmom on the right.

The father hires the best lawyers money can buy, and then replace them with a fledgling lawyer who is a friend of his daughter. The team wants her to plea bargain to 20 years while the friend is willing to believe that the daughter is innocent, so are his motivations to get her off or is he maneuvering for some other, nefarious purpose. He does a lot of maneuvering here, and seldom lets his emotions show. Ultimately, this turns out to be his movie, even when more time is spent on scrappy young lawyer chick Choi.

And, scrappy young lawyer chick Choi is scrappy indeed. She manages, with the help of her equally scrappy roommate, to uncover video footage of the incident after a mysterious third party smashes into a store to get same. And when things look like they’re going to go south, she Does The Right Thing leading to the Big Reveal at the end of the second act.

But wait, it’s the end of the second act, so the Big Reveal is actually just a double-bluff reverso! The Koreans love the double-bluff reverso, as I noted in my previous Korean outing. And just like Memoir of a Murderer, the double-bluff here is expertly done, twisting back around to a more logical, believable conclusion, revealed early in the third act.

Is this photo doctored?

Never mind the inscrutability of the actor, WTH is going on with Snow White? Is this an evil stepmother reference?

But wait! It’s early in the third act, so what’s left of the movie? Well, when an American movie would’ve ended (“monster’s dead, movie’s over”, as we say) this movie goes on for another, I don’t know, 20 minutes? There are no more twists left, it’s all basically exposition of a done-deal: How the whole shebang was pulled off. I was inclined to get bored, in my American way, because, hey, I know what happened, no need to belabor the point, but the last few minutes raised from a simple thriller to a fine drama. (Even moreso than Memoir.)

Min-sik Choi (best known for Oldboy) turns in an amazing performance, after over an hour-and-a-half of showing next to no emotion at all. You get to see his motivations, and all the of the questions raised are answered without much in the way of dialogue, but merely in how he treats people. Magnificent and moving, and (as noted) unexpected after 90-100 minutes of everyone acting around him.

I liked it. But then, I realized, I’ve never seen a Korean movie I didn’t like. At least not in the theater.

So modern!

I kind of love this boat.

Here was a really Korean thing I enjoyed, too: Tae-san (Choi) is taking his fiancee Yuna (the improbably named Ha Nee Lee, “Honey Lee”) out to propose to her and he’s got this beautiful personal yacht, small enough that he can pilot yet big enough for an amazingly appointed downstairs cabin, and he has the cabin appointed with expensive flowers and I think there’s some pricey champagne involved. As a gift he gives her a watch worth $500,000—this becomes a major plot point.

Then, as they’re basking in the glory of their future union, he gets out the styrofoam cups and they have ramen.

Now, I’m sure it was the nicest possible ramen, but I found that amazingly charming nonetheless.

Recommended, as are all Korean films.

It was a set up! But by whom and why?

Shin-Hye Park looking bereft. Did she win the case or lose it?


The Florida Project

We had been trying—and failing!—to get into the L.A. Israel Film Festival for days, only to find it being sold out again-and-again. This stings because the past couple years have fallen off in quality and this year might be as good as the crowds indicate. It also might just represent better marketing, since we learned later that some of the other outlets were nearly empty. (If we’d known that at the time, we’d’ve gone there.) Anyway, this night, I believe, we tried two different films and just gave up and went to see The Florida Project.


Wasted lives.

From the poster and from the initial scenes, I immediately wondered if this had been directed by the guy who did Tangerine and Starlet, and I just now looked it up to discover that yes, it was. While still fairly seamy, it’s lacks the former’s slightly hidden and the latter’s hardcore sex scenes, and benefits greatly from being done from the perspective of a little girl, Moonnee, who is learning to be a hellacious drain on society from her mother, Halley, who is a professional hellacious drain on society.

This movie concerns one summer when the largely unsupervised Moonnee and her pals go on many adventures, though nothing like The Goonies. The movie opens with Moonnee and best-pal Scooty spitting on a car that turns out to be owned by Jancey’s grandmother (Stacy), and on Jancey, too. Stacy takes umbrage to this and demands that Halley have the kids clean up the car but when Jancey joins in, too, the event turns less punishment and more game, with everyone involved becoming friends.

All of these people live in motels. You can’t live in a motel, though, so they have to move every so often. Moonnee and her mom live in a hotel run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe, and this is one of those reviews that drive the spell-checker nuts), and he has a gimmick where he swaps his miscreants out for another hotel’s miscreants on a periodic basis.

Capitalism produces so much wealth, it can burn it and never notice.

There’s an amazing amount of capital on display here. Can you count it all?

Moonee’s a practiced pan-handler, a vandal and ultimately an arsonist, which ends up estranging Halley from Scooty’s mom (Ashley), which is a pity since she’s been mooching off Ashley (who packages up food for them from her waitressing job). Ultimately Halley turns to prostitution (when her contraband perfume sales land her afoul of the law, and she’s got two strikes already) but she can’t even do that straight, pilfering from her johns whilst servicing them. (And then denying to Ashley that a photo ad showing her many, many tattoos is her.)

Anyway, in tradition of Sean Baker films, we’ve got some likable characters with some really unlikable traits. Ashley is clueless and rudderless and a low-level criminal, but she does love her daughter. Oh, she’s also irresponsible, vindictive and physically violent. One can’t help but think the only thing worse for Moonnee is whatever the nice people at Child Protective Services have in mind for her.

Moonnee herself is cute and charming, though that comes off as ominous given Halley’s trajectory.

Not to get Scrooge-y here but: Don’t we pay taxes for this sort of thing? Is it really so much to ask that the incredibly expensive school system and welfare programs produce good citizens? I guess so. It’s almost like governments aren’t good at that sort of thing.

The Boy and I liked it all right but obviously this is a low-budget slice-of-life, and a slice from the sort of life most people would probably like to avoid. All around good performances, Oscar-worthy from Willem Dafoe. A nice ending when one wasn’t actually expected.

Kinda picturesque, tho'.

In the ruins of the Florida swamplands…

My Life As A Dog (1987)

Swedish director Lasse Hallestrom’s career path has taken him from directing ABBA videos through an odd, but not quite “indie” path of movies including quirky films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Cider House Rules. But one thing that seems to be apparent: The guys like dogs. And he likes making movies about dogs. And his best movies, by and large, are movies centered around dogs: Hachi: A Dog’s TaleMy Dog: An Unconditional Love Story and this year’s A Dog’s Purpose (which I wanted to see but couldn’t get to). But it all started with this 1987 film, My Life as a Dog.

The divorces do, though.

Those quickie under-the-bridge marriages never work out.

Nominated for two big Oscars—best picture and best director—despite being in Swedish, which it lost to Bernardo Bertolucci’s weirdly overrated The Last Emperor. 1987 wasn’t a shining year for the Oscars, which inexplicably featured Broadcast News and Fatal Attraction in the Best Picture category, as well as John Boorman’s Hope and Glory and Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck.

Ignored this year were Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, De Palma’s Untouchables, and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, to say nothing of all the crowd-pleasers like Dirty Dancing, Lethal Weapon, RobocopPredator, and cult-classics like Raising Arizona and Evil Dead II. Only Princess Bride and Full Metal Jacket rank high enough to be on the IMDB top #250. Why bring all this up? A few reasons:

  1. The Academy just went to hell in the ’70s. By the ’80s, it no longer knew what a great movie was. Maybe not even a good movie.
  2. Despite that, 1987 had more than its share of movies that are still reliable at pulling in audiences.
  3. I don’t really have that much to say about My Life as a Dog.

Sometimes you see a film that’s highly regarded and you say “Huh.” Like, you just don’t get it. This wasn’t quite like that: It’s a good movie. It’s a slice-of-life/coming-of-age type story about a young boy, Ingemar, and his troubled relationship with his valitudinarian mother. His father is, allegedly, in the tropics somewhere picking bananas. Ingemar’s a bit of a weirdo with a penchant for causing trouble, and he and his brother end up in all kinds of scrapes that stress their probably dying mother out. So the two are separated and sent to live with different relatives.


What’s Swedish for “bildungsroman”?

The older brother goes to a more staid family that doesn’t think much of Ingemar at all. (Ingemar’s aunt vociferously objects to his presence, in fact.) Ingemar goes to his father’s brother’s home in Småland instead, and his uncle being a bit of a weirdo, too, the two hit it off rather famously. This little town presents the movie with its best vignettes: Ingemar learning to box and play soccer when the best athlete is a girl named Saga (who disguises herself as a boy); the Småland glassworks in which he endears himself to Berit (an Anita Ekberg-like beauty whom his uncle lusts after); her “chaperoning” of same as the local sculptor uses her as a subject for his big project; his uncle’s building of a “summer house” which is essentially an elaborate shack (man-cave-like) but just over his property line on someone else’s land; his uncle’s love of tormenting his wife with the Swedish interpretation of “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”; Saga’s transition from tomboy to young woman and the subsequent channeling of her aggression; and so on.

It’s a fine film. Very Swedish, if I can be permitted a grasp of that culture through the few movies that make it to our shores. There is this mix of morbidity with an oddly (to American sensibilities) light touch, as we saw with A Man Called Ove but also even in horror-ish movies like Let The Right One In. There are—in the older films, anyway—beautiful blonde Viking women who look a little bulky in clothes—and like platonic ideals of women out of them. There is almost always a stubbornness; perhaps the sort of stubbornness needed to survive 9-month-long winters.

Oh, maybe a coincidence but: pubescent sexuality. There’s a disturbing (and fake) bottomless shot of a 13-year-old castrati in Let The Right One In and there are real topless shots of Melinda Kinnaman at 13 or 14 here. These aren’t particularly prurient shots, but these sorts of things always raise questions in my mind—artistic, moral and legal questions—that go unanswered.

Poor pup.

A boy and—well, not HIS dog, but somebody’s dog.

Dogs? Surprisingly, perhaps, there’s only one dog in the movie, and he’s not in it much. It’s pretty clear, in fact, that he’s put down when the boys are first sent away. Saga later taunts Ingemar with that when he spurns her advances.

But Ingemar is in love with dogs. He’s obsessed with Laika, the poor mutt the Soviets put up in the satellite to terrify the world. Primarily, though, it seems that the issue is that Ingemar deals with stress in his life by turning into a dog. So, there’s that. It’s a little odd and perhaps not as endearing as one might hope.

Which maybe expresses The Boy and my reaction to the whole movie. It’s a good watch but seems like an odd choice to celebrate as a 30-year-anniversary.

Thor: Ragnarok

While we weary of superhero films, a good movie is a good movie, and with much trepidation we went off to see Taika Waititi’s latest film, Thor: Ragnarok. I lamented in the Hunt for the Wilderpeople review on Waititi’s being tapped for the next installment in the Thor franchise, because both Hunt and his earlier film (What We Do In The Shadows) were in my top five for the year, and I feared his quirky Kiwi-ness would be lost in the Marvel swamp.

Fear not! Even as we enjoyed this film, I came out of it with a pretty mean New Zealand accent, thanks to Korg, a rock-man who finds himself in jail with the demigod after he tried to “start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up”, voiced by Waititi and, I believe, at least partly written by him, though he has no writing credit on the film. But where most films wouldn’t have been clever enough to come up with that as a line, most of the ones that did would’ve made it just a gag where Waititi has Korg be a truly novel character: The mild-mannered revolutionary.

Chris Hemsworth has a light touch—seriously misused in Ghostbusters—that Waititi exploits to its fullest, giving us a nice break between the smash-em-up set pieces which were good but, honestly, who cares anymore, really? Some people say this cribbed from Guardians of the Galaxy but even if so, that’s not a bad thing. I think what the big commonality is not the space opera-ish feel (which both have, sure) but that the director is not going to let a chance pass for a character to become memorable. There’s a two-headed alien in the movie—no lines, no real story impact except he helps fight in the big end battle and we see at the end that he’s been killed. The Boy and I had the same reaction: We hated to see him go!

They gave him character even in the limited onscreen space he had, and we both picked up on that. And the movie is full of that both big and small, like having Jeff Goldblum be the quasi-villain who runs a space-gladiator-arena where Thor must fight his way to freedom. (This is set up as a big gag in the movie, and it’s utterly spoiled by the trailer, which ticked me off.)

It was especially great to see Waititi bring his fellow Kiwi, Rachel House (the grandma in Moana), along with him (from Wilderpeople) as the comically stern sidekick to Goldblum’s comically casual sadist. Even the appearance of Dr. Strange didn’t annoy me as much as I would think it might. He has a role in the Marvel universe of protecting earth from alien demigods, and his appearance is short and to-the-point, as are the other tie-ins with the Marvel universe. (Which, I would add, are something I was over before they were ever a thing.)

Cate Blanchett is the villainess Hela (Hela in the movie, but Helle in Norse mythology) and she felt a little typecast, basically, reprising any of her recent superpower sociopathic roles, like Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, the evil stepmother in Cinderella, or Carol in Carol. I didn’t really recognize her when she was on. It was mostly “Oh, that must be Cate Blanchett. She looks odd. Wait, maybe it’s not Cate Blanchett. But it sounds and acts like Cate Blanchett.” She’s mostly a foil for the climactic set piece, and she could’ve been done entirely CGI, like Clancy Brown’s Surture.

Still, if you’re not completely sick of them, I’d probably recommend this as the superhero movie to see this year. (Keeping in mind that I’ve missed most of the others. Well, I wouldn’t say “missed”, Bob…)

Murder By Death (1976)

The Flower has a new favorite movie. It was challenging enough to explain when it was Gran Torino but now the conversations tend to go like this:

“Oh, yeah, Murder by Death is her new favorite movie. It’s a Neil Simon comedy/farce about detective stories.”
“What was her previous favorite?”
Silence of the Lambs.”

The phrase "whiskey-soaked" comes to mind.

Eileen Brennan is nonplussed.

Well, kids are weird, and my kids doubly so. But this was funny, and much like The Jerk, I found that I had underestimated how funny it was 40 years ago. Some of this was not getting the references, of course. And some of this was not really liking the ending, which is a common (but sort of nonsensical) complaint.

The story is that Lionel Twain (get it? and his address is “Two Two Twain”) invites the world’s five greatest detectives (and their sidekicks) to dinner and a murder. Someone will be murdered and whoever solves the mystery by dawn will receive one million dollars. (Two modest stacks of bills, actually.) The five detectives are, naturally, parodies of famous literary characters and the cast is amazing, even today.

Nick and Nora Charles (Dashiell Hammet characters) become Dick and Dora Charleston, played by David Niven and pre-dame Maggie Smith.

Hercule Poirot (courtesy of Agatha Christie) becomes Milo Perrier, played by James Coco. His sidekick is played by a 26-year-old James Cromwell!

Charlie Chan (Earl Derr Biggers) becomes Sydney Wang, played by Peter Sellers.

Sam Spade (Hammet again) becomes Sam Diamond, played by Peter Falk. Eileen Brennan is his dame, but he won’t take a fall for her, see?

As big as Niven was in the day, you'd think more people'd remember him!

Columbo at the table with Mrs. McGonnagall and a British guy who wasn’t alive to be in Harry Potter.

Miss Marple (Christie) becomes Jessica Marple, played by Elsa Lanchester with her nurse played by Estelle Winwood (she was 93 at the time).

In one of the hoariest, but also funniest, bits of the movie, Alec Guiness plays a blind butler and Nancy Walker a mute maid.

The thing about this film? It’s one of the hardest working films I’ve ever seen. The jokes fly fast and furious and unapologetically. Neil Simon was at the height of his powers. This was Robert Moore’s feature debut, being more of a TV guy (and he would only do two more features: this movie’s sequel and Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, which sort of signaled the beginning of the end for Simon).

It has its own logic.

A writer pretending to be an actor berates actors who are acting as proxies for writers.

There is a lot of dumb, dumb stuff here. There are fart jokes. There are sexual deviancy jokes galore but in a reflection of the times, when Maggie Smith asks what anyone would want a corpse for, David Niven just whispers in her ear and she giggle uncomfortably: “Oh, how tacky.” In other words, things were much more oblique in mainstream films back then, which I guess warrants a big “Duh!”. But at some point wouldn’t it have to flip back? Or are we doomed to Idiocracy‘s “Ass: The Movie”?

On the flip side, the movie is rife with literary references to locked room mysteries, vanishing people, and red herrings—this movie deserves special praise for the wonderful absurdity of its red herrings, as when James Coco leaves the room only to come back dressed in the dead butler’s clothes, which don’t fit him and all he says “Dont’ ask!” Of course it never goes anywhere, is never explained and is basically impossible.

The most successful cinematic references are in Peter Falk’s Humphrey Bogart impersonation, which is bang on, and so hilariously off-kilter, that the whole theater (which was packed) was in an uproar. The Flower, a huge Falk fan, was delighted and wants to see the sequel, The Cheap Detective. (That movie is, of course, nowhere near as good—but we’re basically BOLO for any Peter Falk films anyway.)

My basic guess is that I get more of the jokes, I’m less uptight (because you’d have to be to survive in 2018), and just emotionally in a better place (this release came at really bad point in my life), and that’s why I enjoyed it more this time. I was still a bit surprised though: The theater was packed and everybody was laughing a lot. Also, like The Jerk, everybody laughed at the “racist” parts. Nary a gasp to be heard when Falk-as-Bogart-as-Spade goes off on a (genuninely) racist tirade. That was the joke and despite what we hear, people still get those.

I think it may have been part of the title sequence.

I don’t normally use non-photos here but I love this Charles Addams cartoon of the cast.


The Long Goodbye (1973)

Of the November detective movies, I was the coolest on this Robert Altman film, The Long Goodbye. I tend to be about 50-50 on Altman, finding him either brilliant or boring depending on the movie (or my mood). And 1973 isn’t exactly in my favorite time period. And rather than Humphrey Bogart playing Marlowe we have…Elliot Gould. Yeah, I was pretty cool on it, but the kids were into it so off we went.

He doesn't eat one.

That 25 cent ham & cheese looks good, tho’.

It’s really good. It’s got the ’70s sleaze, of course, because, of course, it’s the ’70s, and Hollywood was visibly sleazy then. (It’s still sleazy but up until recently, they had hid it better.) Gould’s Marlowe manages to be a man of his time but sort of reluctantly so, as he maintains a platonic but friendly relationship with his neighbors (a bevy of hippie girls who eschew clothing and do “yoga”, whatever that is), a bemused but friendly relationship with assorted dim-witted gangster types, and a less friendly relationship with local police.

Impossible to imagine how we ended up with AIDS.

Look at the pretty disease vectors.

The story is that, one morning, at around 2AM after going out to get food for his cat (Morris! in one of his many great roles from the era), an old pal needs to flee to Mexico. Seems he’s had a fight with his wife and he wants to be out of town until she cools off. Turns out the next morning, though, that she is dead—murdered!—with him as the number one suspect.

While Marlowe defends him to the police, he gets rousted and kept in jail for a few days. He’s finally released when the old pal turns up dead by suicide, which is a virtual admission of guilt, right?

Meanwhile, he’s approached by the wife of a man who knew his old pal and saw his picture in the paper. She wants him to find her wayward husband, whom she suspects is at the local sanitarium. She figures he’s trustworthy and can get to the bottom of things, which he does, after wrestling with Henry Gibson’s evil Dr. Verringer. (Metaphorically speaking. They don’t actually wrestle.) But something don’t quite add up, and the connection between his old pal and his new client becomes increasingly…connected, leading to a typically noir-y conclusion.

They probably had to tell him to stop at his drawers.

And now, to make up for the hippie girls, guys getting naked. Yes, that’s Arnold.

Gould does good. He doesn’t have the ’40s toughness but he’s not a complete clown. He mutters in a way that’s very funny and highly reminiscent of Altman’s 1980 flick Popeye, except that it made me laugh here. Nina van Pallandt is the damsel-in-distress, and she really made me think “Wow, Altman has a type” because she felt so evocative of Greta Scacchi (The Player). Even though Scachhi is Italian and Pallandt Danish, Scachhi was playing an Icelandic girl and there’s just a similar feel to them.

Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove) does a good job as the unstable, alcoholic writer. Dan Blocker was the original actor Altman wanted, but he died before production and the movie is dedicated to him. Altman was allegedly resistant to Sterling Hayden doing the part but was eventually won over.

The whole movie has the typically Chandler-esque murkiness where it’s unclear why this happened or who did what to whom. Like, I feel like Verringer has a bigger and largely un-exposited hand in the ultimate fate of Sterling’s character. Leigh Brackett (The Empire Strikes Back) wrote the screenplay, however, and (as always with Chandler) you end up not really caring about plot details.

If you got good tools, you don't need a lot of them.

Even some of the blocking reminds me of “The Player”.

The movie opens and closes with a tinny, scratchy rendition of “Hooray for Hollywood” which is a little out of place. There’s nothing really Hollywood about the story, except for the location (Marlowe and Hippie Girls live in the Hollywood Hills). All the other music, however, is the song “The Long Goodbye”, written by John Williams (with lyrics by Johhny Mercer, who also wrote the lyrics for “Hooray for Hollywood”), all ambient and done in a variety of styles.

It’s a cute gag: It plays on the car radio through the credits. When Marlowe goes into the supermarket, it’s done in Muzak-style. There’s also an elevator version, a version done in a “soul” version, a jazz version, a version played by a mariachi band at a funeral, etc. etc. It’s cute.

It does give you a sense of the film, though: Altman eschews a lot of traditional film devices, like dramatic music at tense times. He does a lot of ambient conversation stuff that has an improvisational feel (and sometimes is improvisation). He used to say that actors thought he was brilliant because whenever they’d ask him about what a character should do or say, he’d respond with “Well, what do you think?” Anyway, you want to know that going in, which you probably do if you’ve ever seen an Altman film.

The kids all enjoyed it, though, and it won me over.

I don't think so!

Marlowe at the “Burbank Sanitarium”. Were “sanitariums” still a thing by 1973?

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)

If nothing else, venturing out to see a French movie allows us all to sing a beloved song (from “The Critic”):

We like French films
Pretentious boring French films
We like French films
Three tickets
S’il vous plait!

Weird, though. And SO French.

“It’s not boring and only a little pretentious!”

Three now, because The Flower will sometimes come with us, as she did in the case of this Jean Renoir classic from the ’30s, which is utterly delightful when it’s not horrifying.

This 80 minute crime comedy-drama begins when a girl, Valentine, brings in a wounded man into a roadside inn. They are fleeing for Belgium—the Land of Freedom in 1936, I guess—when they have to stop because the man, the titular Lange, needs to rest from his wounds. The tavern denizens quickly realize that he is a fugitive and discuss turning him in when the girl comes out and confirms their suspicions: This is the wanted man. And all she asks is that they listen to the story before deciding whether to turn him in.

It’s a fine device, and it hinges on one premise: The movie must convince the audience that the crime is worthy of being excused, particularly if the fugitives do not get turned in.

What follows is a cute and creepily French story of a little publishing company that is run by a disreputable lout, Batala. Batala is both crooked as the day is long, swindling people and raping women, and completely devoid of creative talent, publishing the worst hacky material that (besides being bad) doesn’t really sell well. Messr. Lange is an idealistic dreamer who has written stories about the adventures of an American cowboy in Arizona (a place he’s never been, and situations that are comically fantastic) but Batala is not interested. As creative as Lange is, he’s also Batala’s polar opposite morally, refusing to even slightly pressure one of Valetine’s laundry girls who’s in love with another boy—a boy she assumes will no longer be interested in her because she’s pregnant with Batala’s child. (Did I mention that Batala is a rapist? And this is a comedy?)

"Seduction," they call it.

“She fainted! And I barely raped her!”

But while trying to swindle even more money out of some investors, Batala suddenly lights on the idea of shoehorning the investor’s product into Lange’s cowboy stories, though without telling Lange that he’s doing so. Lange gets his entirely innocent revenge when he neglects to pass on a message from one of Batala’s creditors and the crooked old man figures his jig is up. If Batala had had more time, he could’ve put them off, but since he doesn’t, he borrows as much money from everyone he can (including a girl he’s promised to marry) and flees town on the next train. The train crashes and Batale is listed as one of the victims (though the movie telegraphs something else is afoot).

Flash-forward a year and the little publishing company has taken off, mostly powered by the overwhelming popularity (with young French boys) of Lange’s cowboy stories which parallel the adventures of the actual company in a cute montage. The company itself has formed a cooperative (1936, remember, so we’re either socialists or fascists) and is doing well, down to where there’s interest in a movie about Arizona Jim.

Which is cute.

Monsieur Lange models Arizona Jim for the covers.

At this point, Batale returns. When the train crashed, he stole the clothes off a priest he had been talking to, and lived as said priest for a year while things cooled off. If he gets access to the money Arizona Jim is generating, he figures all will be forgiven and he can go back to terrorizing his staff and raping the girls from Valentine’s laundry. In a fit of pique, Lange shoots him, and this is his crime.

So, yeah, it’s a delightful movie except for a few bullet points:

  • Batala really seems to be a rapist. I mean, maybe you can put a gloss on it as extreme sexual harassment but he locks the door and physically imposes himself on (without striking) young women.
  • That’s bad enough, but they also all seem to be aware of this. Hell, Valentine sends the young girl to Batala’s office, when she has been a less than enthusiastic recipeint of his attentions.
  • None of the men do anything about this.
  • None of the men do anything about Batala, ever, until Messr. Lange, at the climactic moment.
  • The girl delivers Batala’s baby, but it’s stillborn, and when a religious old man says “It was part of the family,” everyone waits a beat, then laughs uproariously.
  • They laugh because the baby’s dead, see?
  • Apart from the villain, the only person with any agency is apparently Lange, and his only action is to be able to murder.

We’re American, of course, so maybe that’s just France: You can’t possibly stand up to anyone evil. You just have to keep working for them until you get so fed up you kill them. It’s weirdly infantile. But I would be far from the first noting that Europe in the 20th century was weirdly infantile. (And still is, really.)


“I couldn’t possibly expose your crimes or tear up the contract. My only option is MURDER!”

The Flower, who has been reading the Bible, and who has been hearing of the harassment in Hollywood keeps asking why there are no Levis around? (If you don’t recall your Bible—he said smugly having just read the passage in question—Levi and Simeon kill the men of an entire village and rape all the women when their sister Dinah is raped.) I’m not sure she got the customary message from that passage but I do sort of wonder myself where all the Levis are. (Jeans joke omitted.)

Not in France, for sure.

Jean Renoir, who directed the fabulous The Grand Illusion, kind of let us down here and mostly we came out confused. The very leftist sentiment of the film led to him making anti-Nazi films on behalf of communists and subsequently fleeing to America during WWII, where he directed This Land Is Mine with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. I’m guessing that’s a better film—or at least one we could relate to more.

She only wants to be raped by Henri!

Estelle (Nadia Sibirskaia) is confused because Lange (Rene Lefevre) doesn’t seem to want to rape her.

Cat People (1942)

See these eyes so green? I can stare for a thousand years. Colder than the moon. It’s been so long.

As David Bowie sang. But that was for the remake of the 1942 classic Cat People, done by the always creepy Paul Schrader and starring the equally creepy Nastassja Kinski (daughter of the apex creep, Klaus Kinski) and Malcolm McDowell. Actually Nastassja and Malcolm probably aren’t as creepy as Schrader. Maybe only Klaus and Paul are on the same levels, creep-wise. But Nastasaja and Malcolm are actors, and they were actors working for creepy people at a time when creepiness was coming down from the all-time Creep High of the ’70s. And they turned this shall-we-say-“difficult” story of sexual repression into one of incest, which was forgotten almost as soon as it was released—leaving only a memorably chilling Bowie song in its wake.

Back to the topic of today’s movie-going venture, to wit, the 1942 film which is pretty damn edgy for its complete inability to be explicit.

Cats only need apply.

TFW you can’t reach the doorknob and the litter box is on the other side.

Simone Simon plays Irena, a Serbian immigrant in New York who has “no friends” when she meets the glib and handsome Oliver (Kent Smith) who charms her pants off—almost. Taking a fancy to the odd Irena, he woos and pursue and becomes absolutely smitten with her while she, slowly, becomes taken with him. It is through this process that we learn of her dark family history. This is dealt with rather circuitously in the movie, but I’m just gonna spell it out here because otherwise you can kinda find yourself going “Huh?” a lot.

Basically, Irena is part of a Serbian tribe that turns into panthers, but only when they have sex. (This is where the incest in the ’82 version comes into play, presumably, but that film is just straight up muddled as opposed to the 1942 version’s coy avoidance of censorship.) Oliver is a modern New Yorker—synonymous in every era with “know-it-all who gets himself into trouble because he’s a know-it-all”—and naturally considers Irena’s history a fairytale designed to keep young Balkan women chaste. So he pursues aggressively and even gets her to marry him.

But as the marriage wears on and there’s no connubial bliss (and not even Manhattan’s finest Freudians can help!), he begins to weary of her antics, finding her increasingly less charming as the days pass. Meanwhile, Oliver’s office “chum” Alice, while a decent enough sort to not push her affections on a married man, is increasingly looking like a more attractive partner on a number of levels. Irena, having a female’s uncanny sense of competition even before any males of the species are aware of it, was already suspicious of the whole relationship.

Unless you don't like being used as a scratching post.

Literally nothing could go wrong here.

In a classic moment, when Oliver’s deciding to leave Irena, he says something to the effect of, “The thing is, I’ve never had any trouble in my life. I don’t know if I’m unhappy because I’ve never been unhappy before.” Realizing that he prefers his old life of zero trouble and unhappiness, he rather casually tosses Irena to the side.

Guys, amirite?

(See, that’s a callback to The Mummy review.)


Irene visits with one of NYC’s many Raw Meat vendors.

Of course, part of what makes this whole movie work is its acute awareness of all the limitations placed on it. They can’t really spell any of this stuff out, on the social level. They can’t show any cat persons because, c’mon, it’s 1942 and low-budget and even the ’80s version didn’t really do a good job with the whole were-panther thing. So it’s all done with shadows and implications and dramatic lighting, and director Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton would become the stuff of legend for how successful this approach was. (The story of the film’s making was inspirational to the Kirk Douglas chapter of the 5-Oscar winning The Bad and the Beautiful.)

Like The Mummy, this was more low-key and moody than shocky and schlocky, but it’s one of those films (at a scant 73 minutes) you can watch again and again and appreciate more every time you see it.

Cole Porter, right?

o/~Lovely to look at, deadly to hold~\o

The Mummy (1932)

Swan Lake, Op. 20 by Tchaikovsky. It was used in Dracula (and Drácula) and also Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), but nowhere is it used as extensively as it is in the 1932 Boris Karloff Universal classic monster pic, The Mummy. (Though it’s used rather touchingly in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, making me think he had used a public domain version of the tune in one of his pictures but I don’t remember a specific place and can’t locate it after a two-minute search.

Shot not actually from the movie.

Just take the I-5 to the I-115 and get off where it says “DOOMED!”

Ed Wood should have used it. He used a ton of public domain music. (Here’s what I think happened: Tim Burton used it for showing Johnny Depp watching the footage of Martin Landau who was recreating Lugosi’s scene in what would become Plan 9. Wow.)

Anyway, it’s very suited for The Mummy, which is the most tragically romantic of ’30s horror flicks, as our ill-fated “monster” Imhotep, who has suffered 3,500 years of agony to be reunited with his true love Ankh-es-en-amon. While he’s been holed up in a smelly sarcophagus, she’s been cavorting through history, living life again and again only to emerge as a scantily clad flapper in 1932. And, frankly, she’s got mixed feelings about this whole “five minutes of agony for an eternity of love” business.

Chicks, amirite?

Great headdress, though.

“Is eternal life gonna be, like, icky?”

It is somewhat challenging, in the modern era, to view Imhotep as a villain—at least, in my experience, on the small screen. Karloff is the only presence that carries through and you just wanna grab Helen/Ankh-es-en-amon by the shoulders and shake her. “You’ve got Boris Karloff here and you’re interested in foppish dandy David Manners?” Manners played opposite Lugosi in Dracula as well, to similar reactions (from me) and, if scurrilous Internet rumors are to be believed, really was gay. Which is neither here nor there, I suppose.

The makeup is still astounding. Not so much the mummy wrappings as the layer upon layer of wrinkled skin that makes Imhotep look 3-and-a-half thousand years old. Despite the limiting effect on his movement, Karloff still manages to project an air of menace—he comes off a bit more sinister on the big screen, I think, and the “ask” he has of Ankh-es-en-amon looks a lot more unholy—and German emigré Karl Freund (in his debut American feature) manages to create a suitable “weird” atmosphere, if not a grab-you-by-the-short-hairs kind of experience.

It’s short: Maybe too short. An extensive reincarnation scene showing Ankh-es-en-amon throughout the ages was cut. The whole thing comes in at about 1:15, which means that, on a double-bill with Cat People, it was hardly longer than an average movie today—about the same as one superhero film.

Which was okay, because it was late—The Flower and I decided to catch the later shows after handing out candy.

Tanning with Tana!

The Mummy is here to warn you about the curse of TANNING TOO MUCH.

A Special Lady

Last time I went to Koreatown while The Flower hung out with her friends, I managed to get there just in time to score a double-feature: A Special Lady and A Blackened Heart. While the latter was a mystery thriller with a heavily dramatic third act, this was more of a straight-up gangster action flick except that the main character is a woman, and for all the preposterousness of certain aspects of it, it was very true to the main character and the limitations she would have. Allow me to elucidate.

OR maybe that's what makes her so special.

This may not be her natural hair.

Na is the right-hand woman of Big Gangster guy. When the movie opens she’s running a brothel where many important men are having much sex (rather graphically, I might add) with many beautiful Korean hookers who are all in the pay of Big Gangnam. They’re also all being filmed, because duh. (This actually was a sticking point for me: I couldn’t figure out why all these Important Guys would go to the Known Brothel, except that the girls were really cute. They must not have known—in fact, the Big Bad Cop couldn’t have known or he wouldn’t have done what he did—but there’s a distinct implication that this is an open secret—to the extent it’s secret at all.)

Anyway, Na’s son is coming into town from his private school, where he’s been kicked out again. Oh, and he doesn’t know he’s Na’s son. He knows he’s the son of Big Gangnam, though. He doesn’t think much of his mother, not knowing she’s his mother.

They may be yo momma.

Which is why you should always be respectful to random hos.

The gist is: Big Gangnam is pulling a Big Scheme to Control All The Things; meanwhile, his right-hand man (not woman) Lim wants to expand the business to include drugs and guns, something which Big Gangnam refuses to do, arguing that it leads only to chaos. Also, Lim is hot for Na, and doesn’t realize that she has a son with Big Gangnam. And there’s a cop, too. He seems like a good guy cop but quickly turns out to be very, very bad. He wants to take down Big Gangnam, but only because BG has dirt on him. This creates the atmosphere for an alliance between Bad Cop and Lim.

"The Simpsons" used to be very funny.

Bad cops, bad cops, whatchoo gonna do?


So, this is a pretty bog-standard gangster melodrama, as noted, except that the main character is the Special Lady in question, and rather refreshingly she’s allowed to be, y’know, a woman. That is to say, she’s allowed to care about her son even when he treats her horribly disrespectfully. She’s allowed to care about other women she sees going down a path similar to the one she regrets. She’s allowed to be a badass without being superpowered and invincible.

Or the Benny Hill take-off for a different tone.

They didn’t break out into “House of the Rising Sun”…but they could’ve.

The last, in particular, is something you don’t see much in American movies. Na gets into fights with men and, generally speaking, they beat the hell out of her. Because that’s usually what happens when men fight women. But she’s smart, and she knows her limitations, so she often comes up with alternate ways of dealing with the violence directed at her. Often these plans don’t work, but you end up admiring the hell out of her for trying, and admiring the movie for letting her be imperfect.

The ending sort of drops the ball as far as that goes, but only long enough to get her to her big dramatic moment. One tends to feel that the movie earned its moment of stretching hard, literal truths because it saves that stretch to build to the narrative goal.

I liked it. It’s probably on a par with a good American action movie, but the novelty of the approach raised it above the fold for me. Even as the second film of a double-feature I was not bored or tired, which is a good sign.

I may be misremembering that.

She brings her own dry ice!