50 stiffs in 2010: tony curtis, 50 fantastic films: sweet smell of success
September 30, 2010, 3:46 pm
Filed under: 50 fantastic films, 50 stiffs in 2010

tony curtis, actor. born: new york city (1925 – 2010)

tony curtis, probably not appreciate by most critics as the fine actor he could often be, died today. while best known and loved for his appearance with marilyn monroe and jack lemmon in the great and acerbic director billy wilder’s comic “some like it hot”, the real highlight of his carreer came earlier, in 1957, when he played sidney falco to burt lancaster’s j.j. hunsecker in the great film noir flick “sweet smell of success”.

sweet smell of success (1957), director: alexander mackendrick, born: boston (1912 -1993)

we don’t have time to do justice to curtis’ best film but “sweet smell of success” is a hell of a good watch. it is about a gossip columnist (lancaster), based on the real and evil walter winchell, and a press agent (curtis). the film was not a success due to several reasons: one, curtis was playing against his usual pretty boy persona, and two, theaters were nervous about showing a film that so thinly disguised lancaster, who was obviously playing the powerful newsman winchell. it was a hell of a good film noir, and although both the film and curtis were not recognized for the effort upon release, it has since be re-evaluated and considered one of america’s great, although not overly well known movies. it is out on dvd, and the steller criterion collection is rumored to soon be releasing it in a restored bluray edition. check tony curtis out at his best. lancaster is no slouch in “sweet smell” either, but then he is one of america’s truly great actors. and to put it mildly, he is devastating here. rent it from netflicks tonight!


50 fantastic films: laurel canyon (2002)
August 28, 2010, 8:37 am
Filed under: 50 fantastic films

laurel canyon director: lisa cholodenko (2002) with frances macdormand and christian bale.

went walking down to franklin street, by way of the shakespeare bridge that crosses over a lush small valley tucked in the low hills below the higher hollywood hills on the way to the los felix theater to see lisa choldenko’s current film “the kids are all right”. cholodenko is comfortable telling lazy tales about the los angeles aging hippy class. the drama is low key, her style is too. not a flashy director that usually catches pictomat’s eye, but one that seems unerring in her portrayal of the small foibles and missteps that people often fall in to.

such was the case in her previous film “laurel canyon” where frances macdormand played a record producer in her 50’s that lived life slighty closer to the edges than her visiting son, christian bale. after having just seen lucinda williams we could almost imagine macdormand’s character based on her and several 1970’s singer/songwriters who did live in laurel canyon only a few miles from the theater we now sat watching cholodenko’s latest domestic drama. “laurel canyon” was an exceptional film in that it used macdormot as a sexy, knowing, and at times perhaps reckless character that her coen brother husband doesn’t seem to see in her.

in “laurel canyon” macdormot seduces both the lead singer of a brit band she is producing, but also invites her son’s girlfriend into the cozy little threesome, with no understanding of the conflicts that might occur. it is a small, tight little movie that focuses on the l.a. music scene, and the untidiness of human behavior. it flew in and out of the theaters in 2002, but deserved more attention than it received. the same could be said for her current effort. we left the theater with l.a. under our feet and its movies whirling in our head. vermont avenue where the theater is located is now a lot like our little hood in pdx. lots of restaurants, little shops and bookstores. we walked back and looked up to the hollywood hills with it’s many canyons, famous and tucked away, but frank lloyd wright’s huge cast block, and disintegrating ennis-brown house loomed large and unstable directly above vermont, facing the city like a huge aztec ruin. we hummed joni mitchell’s “ladies of the canyon” on our walk home.

50 fantastic films
July 16, 2010, 8:49 pm
Filed under: 50 fantastic films

“memento” (u.s. 2000), director: christopher nolan, born london, england (1970), with guy pearce

director christopher nolan has only made seven films. his first, “the following” is rarely shown. he hit the big time with this arthouse puzzle “memento”, his sophomore effort.

christopher nolan’s name is all over the place today, because his expensive summer blockbuster “inception” opens to somewhat good reviews. pictomat feels that nolan’s promising career went downhill as he chased the fortune and fame of hollywood by signing on to direct the two last batman movies (which did, in fact, make him a fortune). however, in the process of gaining fortune, nolan sold his soul to the devil.

before that big devil sale, nolan made this inexpensive and quirky little film with the excellent mr. pearce, as a guy who has no memory and a heap of trouble following him. the story is told backwards, which makes it all the more fascinating, and unlike any film before it. if you can think another film using this intriguing structure, let pictomat know. because the film is dependent upon surprise, the plot won’t be revealed here.

instead of plunking twelve bucks down to see nolan’s “inception” (which pictomat has yet to see), get thee to netflics and put the really fine “memento” in your queue. if “inception” redeems nolan, pictomat will be the first to let you know.

50 fantastic films
July 14, 2010, 2:17 am
Filed under: 50 fantastic films

“chinatown” (u.s. 1974), director: roman polanski, born paris, france (1933), with jack nicholson and faye dunaway

it certainly is not fortuitous that pictomat decided to pick this film, “chinatown”, today as one of the 50 fantastic films. when choosing “the grifters” another neo-noir film a few days ago, pictomat promised the very best neo-noir film would be posted someday in the future. pictomat can think of no better day than today to unvail that film. today the swiss government finally decided not to extradite director roman polanski to los angeles. polanski, 79, one of the greatest living directors, is a free man after 9 months in prison and house arrest. pictomat will not get into the myriad of reasons polanski should never have been imprisoned in switzerland at california’s request in the first place, so …

… instead let’s talk about why “chinatown” is probably one of the tightest hollywood films to ever be written. this script by robert towne is frequently said to be one of the finest scripts to come out of hollywood. it was so perfect that polanski and towne only wrangled over one piece of plot. polanski’s pessimistic view of the world led him to make a change in their disputed ending. polanski had plenty of reasons to have a rather dark view of the world. though born in paris, he grew up in poland, and as a child somehow walked back to france to escape the nazis take over of his country. the director’s early life, accentuated by the brutal death of his wife sharon tate by the manson family, quite naturally gave him a suspicious view of human behavior. his previous films, “knife in the water”, “repulsion”, “rosemary’s baby” and “macbeth”, showed his penchant for films with dark themes, and made the choosing of “chinatown” fit quite naturally into his oeuvre.

the movie is about crime and corruption in l.a. in the 1930’s city water and power department. both faye dunaway and jack nickolson are at their finest here. he, as a private detective and she, as a woman with a secret. polanski’s attention to period detail, the expert set design, the classic style, the haunting score by jerry goldsmith make this film one of the very few crime/mystery films that had pictomat thoroughly engaged and perplexed. the moody and mysterious “chinatown” is, hands down, the greatest neo-noir film made in america.

50 fantastic films, 50 amazing faces
July 10, 2010, 5:46 pm
Filed under: 50 amazing faces, 50 fantastic films

“the grifters” (u.s. 1990), director: stephen frears, born leicester, england (1941), with angelica houston, born santa monica, california (1951), [above], john cusack, and annette bening

probably the second best neo-noir film made in america. the french came up with the term  film noir for american “b” movies made in the 1940’s and ’50’s. film noir litterly means dark or black cinima, and is probably explained by just writing the titles of two american movies: “double indemnity” (with joan crawford), and “the postman always rings twice” (with lana turner and john garfield). those “b” films, redeemed by the french are now considered classics. if you have seen them, and they are unescapable if you watch more than a few films, then you will understand while later, when color filmstock was available, directors wanted to tried their hand at gritty crime thrillers. that is when neo-noirs started. pictotmat won’t reveal the very best of this catagory quite yet, we want you to keep returning and see the list of fantastic films increase.

but … getting back on track. “the grifters” from a tough little book by jim thompson (who wrote “the killer inside me”, a 2010 neo-noir) is blessed with a wonderful cast, and a tricky little con (a grifter is a con artist). stephen frears, the director (“my beautiful launderette”, “dangerous liaisons”, “high fidelity”) loved jim thompson’s novel of “the grifters” because it felt “as if pulp fiction meets greek tragedy”. that best describes the film, too.

50 fantastic films
July 6, 2010, 1:53 pm
Filed under: 50 fantastic films

“the leopard”/”il gattopardo” (italy, 1963), director: luchino visconti, born milan, italy (1906 – 1976), with claudia cardinale, burt lancaster, and alain delon

you may not be interested in the unification of italy from regional states to a unified country. however, just look at this lush setting and it is all to evident that visconti was in tip-top form when he made “the leopard”. think of it as a national epic. something like an italian version of  “gone with the wind”, only 50 times better!

[new blu-ray criterion edition of “the leopard” released june 2010]