Archive for film noir

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Helps a GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2013, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Crime Films, Dancing Girls!, Femme Fatales, Film Noir, Gangsters!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)

girl-on-the-run-movie-poster-1958-1020302380

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Film noir is one of my favorite sub-genres in the industry.  With its double crossing dames, doomed heroes, dark shadowy alleys and sets, and general bad attitude, the noir genre contains the darkest mysteries in an already shrouded playing field.  Films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), DETOUR (1945), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), and the amazing OUT OF THE PAST (1947) established the guidelines of noir, although pulp fiction books and magazines had been promoting such grimy, sordid tales for many years.

Along comes 1953, and with it, one of the grubbiest, sleaziest film noirs of all time – GIRL ON THE RUN.  This one takes place in a traveling carnival, therefore making it – what? – carny noir?  Hoochie coochie crime drama?  In any case, it’s a real find, and it’s a hoot and a half if you’ve imbibed earlier in the evening.  Which I highly recommend.

The titles roll over the strains of John Phillips Sousa, and we get a look at the carnival, complete with Ferris Wheel, funhouse (with a laughing clown that’ll give you nightmares for weeks), a merry-go-round, and, most important, a burlesque coochie dancer show!  A hen-pecked man escapes his wife and makes for the girlie show, where they gyrate with feathers sticking out of their butts like cut-rate exotic birds, with black kitty-kat masks, and sequined bras and grandma-panties.  A dwarf, Blake, (played by Charles Bolander who was also in DARK INTRUDER, 1965), runs the carnival and hangs out behind the coochie tent with the main girlie attraction, Gigi.  He discovers that a vice probe on the carnival has been suspended and the reporter who instigated the investigation has been fired and is on the run from the mob.  A beat cop also goes behind the curtain to keep an eye on things, making the little guy furious.  Turns out, the editor in charge of the paper that called off the investigation has been murdered, and the sarge thinks the young reporter who was fired did it.  The reporter, Bill Martin (played by TV’s Captain Midnight himself, Richard Coogan) and his girlfriend, Janet, luckily happen to be right behind the curtain while this conversation takes place.  He needs to hide in the carnival to prove his innocence and someone named Reeves’s guilt.  Janet is standing by her man, but she also needs to hide.  The cops are everywhere in the carnival, so they require disguises.  So, Bill becomes a boxer in the fighting tent and Janet puts on the sequined black bra and granny-panties and mask of the coochie chorus line.

The dwarf among the girls.

The dwarf among the girls.

After the show, the dancers cackle like a bunch of hens, watched over by an older woman who smokes cigars and cracks wise.  Soon, its costume changes (exposing just enough leg), and they’re out front with the barker.  “All right now folks,” he shouts, “Take yer time.  Don’t hurry.  We don’t want ya’ to hurt yourselves.  I now give you a cavity of beauty, a peerless pulchritude all set to entertain you.  A treat for the lovers of real art.  An exhibition to make the old feel young and the young feel better!  Six tantalizing morsels of loveliness from every corner of the world” (Cut to a lip-smacking bull lesbian in the crowd watching the show enthusiastically!)  “I now present to you . . . hey, this ain’t a show for boys.  This is for adults only.  All right boys, beat it.  Come back in ten years.”  We then get treated to six slightly overweight dancers trying to look exotic.  Fatima of the Veils; Dolores, who shows the boys a little rumba; as well as the horsiest face ever committed to celluloid, Miss Pineapple of 1953 aka Love on the Dole!  It’s actually a lot of fun to watch these time-capsule dancers who strut their stuff and bare just enough skin to earn a PG rating nowadays.  We finish with the star, Gigi, from Paris (Kentucky).

Bring on the dancing girls!

Bring on the dancing girls!

Reeves visits the dwarf, who’s angry at the presence of all the cops when the whole vice investigation has been called off.  Reeves is looking for Janet, who’s seen too much . . . like a murder?  Reeves starts obsessing over Gigi.  While the old woman, Lil,  who oversees the dressing and undressing of the girls, helps Janet turn into a coochie dancer.   Janet asks, “Is that all you expect me to wear?”  The old woman asks, “You ain’t deformed are you?  Put it on!”  Turns out, Janet knows about a girl from the chorus line that Reeves “got in trouble” last year and who disappeared, so Reeves is actually in charge of running the town as well as the prostitutes out of the carnival.   Lil hates Reeves as well, because she’s married to his boss, and Reeves will do anything to be Mr. Big on top of the town.

Blake the dwarf talks turkey to Boxer Bill.

Blake the dwarf talks turkey to Boxer Bill.

The dwarf, Blake, blackmails Reeves for twenty thousand dollars, because he has a lot on Reeves, although we don’t know what.  Meanwhile, Lil convinces the other girls to circle their pasties around Janet to protect her from Reeves’s prying eyes.

Bill Martin, reporter (remember him?), becomes a volunteer to fight the champ in the boxing ring, almost knocking the big galoot unconscious.  He was supposed to take a dive, but instead he becomes the new champ attraction!

Gigi goes into her dance, and we see why she’s the star of the burlesque show.  Yowza!  Wearing bat-wing veils and a leather bikini, she gyrates to a sultry sax solo.  And, hey. . . in the audience . . . is that?  Steve McQueen?  From THE BLOB (1958), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE SAND PEBBLES (1966), and BULLITT (1968)?   It is!  In fact, it was his first role in a feature.  He doesn’t say anything, but it’s freaking Steve McQueen, so the movie just got fifty percent cooler.

The dwarf strikes an uneasy alliance with Bill, offering him a job until they get over the state line.  Bill accepts, but not before Janet has to dance semi-nude in public.  Oh, the shame!  The horror!  But she nearly pulls it off.  Reeves, however, can count, and he notices there’s an extra girl in the hoochie line.  Lil goes after Reeves with her fingernails, and he shouts, “After twenty years, you’re interfering with my life again!”  Reeves figures out Janet is the witness, and a trap is set for Bill using Janet as bait!  But the leering dwarf wants to save her . . . if she’ll do something for him.  Wink wink, nudge nudge.

The double crosses and the fights keep coming until the bodies start piling up.  Lil narcs on Reeves and his soiled past, Bill may be throwing Janet over for another dame, the dwarf seems to be lying to everyone in America, and Gigi has her own agenda.

The script by Arthur J. Beckhard (who previously wrote Shirley Temple movies for God’s sake!  CURLY TOP and OUR LITTLE GIRL, both 1935 – shame shame shame, Mr. Beckhard!) and Cedric Worth is a muddle.  The pacing is all over the place, although it never seems slow.  The dialogue is mostly hateful and bitter, which makes everything better.  The photography is suitably dark, and the carny atmosphere is sordid and grimy.  The actors all do what they can with the material, but it’s kind of a hopeless cause.

Girls girls girls!

Girls! Girls! Girls!

GIRL ON THE RUN is a really fun little carny noir that zips along for its brief 64 minute running time.  You get a somewhat complicated plot with little back story, a shooting, slimy, mustache twirling villains, catfights, rescues,  insane plot twists, and more double crosses that you can shake a scary clown at.  Whenever things get slow, they bring out the dancing girls!  And really, what’s wrong with that?  One part of Gigi’s act is so good, they show it twice.  Plus, a cameo by Steve McQueen and boxing and corrupt cops.   Now, that’s entertainment.

And did I mention it has dancing girls?

I give GIRL ON THE RUN three coochie dancers out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Listens to THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Crime Films, Film Noir, Giallo, Mystery, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on August 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

What do you get when you take a respectable novel by a legendary writer, mix in a beautiful ex-Miss Sweden, and the world’s best known stripper (and musical theater role-of-a-lifetime)?  Go ahead and toss in the director of A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956) and numerous OUTER LIMIT episodes and the guy who penned the screenplay for FROGS (1972).  You get THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958), a whacked-out, nearly adults-only movie that skirts exploitation while titillating audiences with copious teasing moments.

Statuesque Anita Ekberg (ARTISTS AND MODELS, 1955 and KILLER NUN, 1979) stars as Virginia Wilson, an exotic dancer from New Orleans who is introduced to us taking a shower on the beach.  Va-va-voom!  Rusty, her dog, keeps barking at the bushes until he is killed by a madman with a huge knife who has escaped from an asylum.  As Virginia fights him off while he tries to rape her, her stepbrother shoots him dead with his shotgun!  She goes mad and is admitted to the Highland Mental Health Hospital.  She believes that she killed her attacker.  What an opening!  That’s the first four minutes, folks!

Through therapy, she gets better (or does she? Duh-duh-DUHHHH).  Even in the mental institution, she’s incredibly beautiful, and her psychiatrist falls in love with her, and the feeling is mutual.  “Please don’t leave me,” she begs, claiming she’ll do anything he says.

Meanwhile, her stepbrother, Charlie Weston (Romney Brent – THE VIRGIN QUEEN, 1958 and TO HELL WITH HITLER, 1940) teaches sculpture in New Orleans.

Virginia gets a job at a nightclub, El Madhouse, as Yolanda Lange!  The hostess of the club, Joanie, is none other than Gypsy Rose Lee, world famous stripper and the eponymous basis for the musical GYPSY.  Faster than you can sing, ‘Let me entertain you,’ we are in the nightclub and the Red Norvo Trio (oddly enough, actually a quartet) play jazz while the bartender yodels bad opera.  The waiters dance like the Nicholas Brothers.  Playing the hostess, Gypsy Rose—I mean Joanie—tells a customer to “Drink up!  My rent is due!”  She glad-hands the room before introducing Yolanda, who does an exceptionally erotic dance for the late Fifties, involving two ropes hanging from the ceiling.  It’s like Circus of the Stars with more bump and grind.  The crowd goes wild, which makes me wonder how strong their drinks were.

Anita Ekberg dances up a storm in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Joanie runs across the room to greet a journalist she knows, Bill Sweeney, played by Phillip Carey who was also in I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI (1951) and a longtime regular on (the soap opera) ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  He congratulates her on not getting raided yet.  Joanie tells him Yolanda is the greatest thing ever in nightclub history (whhaaaat?), and she introduces them.  They meet cute in her dressing room where she’s bought a new dog, a huge beast named Devil.

Yolanda and her Great Dane, Devil.

Bill interviews her thusly:

Bill Sweeney: How tall are you, Yolanda?
Virginia WIlson (aka Yolanda Lange): With heels or without?
Bill Sweeney: With anyone. Me, for instance.

Suave, Bill, very suave.

He discovers a twisted sculpture by her dresser, a woman contorted in pain, mouth open wide in terror.  She introduces her manager, Mr. Green, her ex-psychiatrist!  He’s played by Harry Townes, a veteran TV actor with more than 150 shows under his belt.  After the press leaves, he shoves Yolanda/Virginia and tells her she must always do what he says, no matter what, no questions.  He yells at her about having the sculpture; he’s told her to destroy it.  He wants her to make enough money so they can go to Europe, so no more men stare lewdly at her, so he can be a doctor again.  She is completely under his spell.

Cut to later that night—Yolanda is discovered in a state of shock, stabbed in the side and stomach, protected by her fiercely loyal Great Dane (“A great dame with a Great Dane,” one man calls her).  Bill gets her to the hospital, but something is bothering him, so he does what anyone would do—he takes a trip to the newspaper morgue.  Searching through old copy, he finds a story about another exotic dancer who was murdered a few months ago, and she was found with the exact same sculpture next to her when her body was discovered.  Hmmm…

While Mr. Green and Yolanda continue diving deeper into their toxic relationship, Bill tracks down the sculptor who created the Screaming Mimis, and it is none other than Virginia/Yolanda’s stepbrother.  He based the art figurines on Virginia when he rescued her, screaming, naked in the beach shower.  He insists the sculptures are a kind of therapy for him, but he was always sad that Virginia died in that hospital.  It appears Dr. Green and Virginia lied to him to get her out of the asylum and out of the country.

When Bill returns to New Orleans, he is seduced by Yolanda, despite the eternal interference of Dr. Green, who appears more fixated than ever on his former patient.  Will Yolanda run off with Bill and leave the obsessed psychiatrist?  Who killed the first dancer and attempted to murder Yolanda?  What is the connection of the Screaming Mimi statues?  It all comes to a head in a twist ending you’ll catch if you’ve watched carefully.  Don’t expect me to tell you who did it!

The legendary Gypsy Rose Lee introduces Anita Ekberg and Phillip Carey in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Mention must be made of the exquisite camerawork by the fabulous Burnett Guffey, who shot many great classics, such as FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), THE INFORMER (1935), and Hitchcock’s brilliant and underrated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940).  The winner of two Oscars, Guffey brings a really brilliant look to THE SCREAMING MIMI.  There’s a terrific seduction scene in a hotel with a blinking sign outside the window.  The room is lit only by the buzzing neon, and when it goes dark, it goes dark for a daringly long time, tightening the tension.  Is someone kissing someone or killing someone?  You actually find yourself squinting to see.  Also, Anita Ekberg is shot in a sort of halo-like light throughout the film, especially that long golden hair of hers, which could be a character itself.  It takes a somewhat pedestrian script and raises it to a whole other level.

The acting is uniformly fine.  Ekberg, no great actress, is quite good in this, although she seems to be in shock or catatonic through most of the feature (probably a good move on the director’s part), but it’s Harry Townes as Mr. Green who impresses the most.  He oozes sexual frustration and twisted morality.  Every line in his face is etched there by this woman he needs to protect, needs to own.  Hell, even Gypsy Rose Lee is fine.  She seems to be having a grand old time smoking and playing cards and insulting everyone.  She does sing an entire song in the movie at one point, and she proves she should stick to dancing and stripping.  The song, ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ is dreadful anyway, but with her off key mumbling, she should have been booed off the stage.  She does know how to work that fringe dress when she starts dancing, though!  Interestingly enough, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a novel, a thriller called THE G-STRING MURDERS in 1941, which was turned into a movie, LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943) starring Barbara Stanwyck!  Life does indeed imitate art.

Plus, if that great musical score sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the classic music from ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) by Leonard Bernstein!  Yes, sometimes even the most famous scores were recycled as library music by the studios, and THE SCREAMING MIMItook full advantage.

THE SCREAMING MIMI was based on a book by the legendary mystery writer Fredric Brown.

THE SCREAMING MIMI is a fun mystery that somehow straddles the line between the film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s.  It contains all the femme fatales, the luckless people pulled into bad situations, the shadowy streets and hotel rooms of the film noirs while exploiting the sordid sexuality and twisted psychology of the films of the giallo genre.

I give THE SCREAMING MIMI three beach showers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One: MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

Posted in 2012, Art Movies, Classic Films, David Lynch, Experimental Films, Film Noir, Just Plain Weird, Plot Twists, Surrealism, The David Lynch Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by knifefighter

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One:
Two Lynchians Take on MULHOLLAND DRIVE
By Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Nick Cato: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who “get” and enjoy the films of David Lynch and those who think he’s simply filming whatever comes to mind in an attempt to con the artsy-fartsy crowd out of their money and validity.  When I was about 20 minutes into my first viewing of Lynch’s iconic ERASERHEAD (1977), on VHS back in the early 80s, I became fascinated with the surreal director, both by his demented images, and later with the craft of unraveling his stories: yes, I said the CRAFT, because a single viewing of most of Lynch’s films won’t reveal too much.  His films demand multiple viewings, and more often than not, major contemplation.  And while some of his films, such as ERASERHEAD and WILD AT HEART (1990), are easier to decipher than later titles such as THE LOST HIGHWAY (1997) and the super-brain twisting INLAND EMPIRE (2006), this first look for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT at a David Lynch classic goes to 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, that, while head-scratching enough and open to various interpretations, does have several ideas running through it that a vast majority of the director’s fans agree on.

Sort of.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: “Sort of” is right. When it comes to interpretations, we could spend days going over the elaborate details and symbols. I’ve seen Lynch films with people who insist he’s just messing with the audience. On the surface, perhaps that’s true. It might even be just another trick up the genius’s sleeve. My first Lynch experience was also ERASERHEAD. It was an English major’s dream come true. As someone who had been taught to look for symbols under every bed and in every corner, the film clicked with me. MULHOLLAND DRIVE brings me back to that experience, as do many of Lynch’s films, sitting in a darkened room, unraveling these intricate knots he’s woven for us.

Nick Cato: Like most of Lynch’s films, I didn’t even bother trying to interpret what was going on during my initial viewing of MULHOLLAND DRIVE.  I was taken aback by just how addictive this gorgeously-shot film was, plus, as usual, simply enjoyed Lynch’s surreal images and several scenes that are creepier than anything you’ll see in a solid, seriously made horror film.  But things began to take shape in my mind, even before the second screening.  A brunette woman (played by the beautiful Laura Harring) survives a nasty car collision, seconds before two men were apparently about to shoot her.  She stumbles out of the wreck and makes her way down the Hollywood hills, taking refuge in an apartment where she notices the owner (and older woman) is on her way out.  Another woman named Betty (played by Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood to take her first screen test, and stays at an apartment owned by her aunt.  She soon discovers the brunette woman in her aunt’s bathroom, and discovers she’s suffering from amnesia.

So far, MULHOLLAND DRIVE gives an interesting and some might say “normal” set up, despite the unusual opening credits sequence, where Betty is superimposed over what looks like some kind of 50s dance program, and the sequences of the amnesiac surviving the wreck and eventually meeting Betty are divided by one of the most head-scratching things Lynch has ever done: Two men are in a restaurant, one claiming he wanted to be there as he’s been having nightmares about the place, as well as a spooky figure who lives outside behind it.  The men discover that the figure behind the diner IS real, causing the one who dreamt of him to pass out.

During the early meetings of Betty and Rita (a name the brunette takes off a film poster when Betty asks her name), we see mysterious men talking on the phone, saying things like “she got away” and “we missed her.”  Evidently, someone is trying to kill Rita.  Lynch’s mystery is off.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s something dream-like about the opening sequences that really made me take note. To say the setup is “normal” would probably be misleading. Betty seems so saccharine that she can’t be real. Chipper to a fault, optimistic beyond belief, she charges into Hollywood, ready to take on her first audition with the kind of aplomb reserved for the mentally ill or children. She’s Dorothy headed down the Yellow Brick Road. Even the elderly people she meets on her flight out to Hollywood seem odd beyond imagination, excessively cheerful, nearly insane with joy, wishing their fellow passenger all the best on her journey to become a star. They also have the creepiest smiles this side of Mr. X’s in ERASERHEAD.

I found that even the scene in which Rita is about to be eliminated is so cliché as to be unreal. Lynch seems to be setting us up for something that is so far from reality that it has to be questioned immediately. Hit men only take beautiful women out in limousines to murder them in movies. It’s almost as if Lynch has established a film within a film. It’s even suggested early on that the real hit man in the story is a bumbling low-life who can’t even carry out a simple task without causing utter chaos. He’s no suave mobster in a limo, that’s for certain.

The man in the diner scene near the beginning gnawed at me for a long time. I have an idea that meshes with a sort of WIZARD OF OZ retelling, but to keep it simple, I feel he’s a cowardly lion of sorts.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND does a fine job of balancing suspense and straight drama, especially when Betty goes to her first audition, a sequence that not only displays the acting skills of Naomi Watts, but one that leaves me breathless every time I see it.  Between this scene, and the scenes of movie director Adam (Lynch favorite Justin Theroux) being threatened to alter his film by a group of gangsters and an extremely strange cowboy (played by real-life cult film producer Monty Montgomery), the film develops a deeper story on a few levels.  One classic Lynch staple put into play here are mysterious, underground people seemingly causing things to happen behind the scenes.  We’re never sure if they’re the mafia, or corrupt studio executives, or everyday goons hired out by a rival of the aforementioned director.  Either way, their presence here gives MULHOLLAND much of its mystery, and in the case of the cowboy enforcer, some latent humor that doesn’t take away from the film’s serious tone.

Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) dealing with Rita’s amnesia

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s certainly no shortage of suspense here. As a Lynch addict, I try not to take any plot point for granted. You never know when there’s a trick. I really do feel that Lynch is a magician of sorts. If you blink, you’re likely to miss something.

The cowboy is one of the more mystifying characters. He seems to be the enforcer for this whole underworld operation, at least on the surface. He tells Adam to pick a girl in a photograph, a blonde woman named Camilla Rhodes, to play the lead role in his film – the one that has been grabbed away from him by the Castiglione brothers (one of whom is portrayed by famed composer Angelo Badalamenti, who provides the chilling music to many of Lynch’s works). The brothers may be the leaders of this mob-like organization. Adam’s choices, the cowboy tells him, are to either pick that girl or have his career ruined. It’s the only option he has left after being kicked out of his house by his wife, who is having an affair with the pool boy (portrayed hilariously by Billy Ray Cyrus).

Nick Cato: When Betty and Rita visit an apartment that happened to pop into Rita’s memory, what they discover provides a turning point in the film, one that throws a curveball that put MULHOLLAND on a path I’m assuming most viewers never saw coming.  Now fully convinced someone is out to get Rita, they disguise her in a blonde wig, making the two look like sisters.

Shortly after they discover Rita’s pocket book contains $50,000 in cash, as well as a mysterious blue key, the women have their first sexual encounter, cleverly placed by Lynch where it is in the film’s progress; we’re so taken with the sight of these two beautiful ladies in bed together (and apparently falling truly in love) that the little hints Lynch has left for eagle-eyed viewers to notice are all but forgotten.  But it’s at this point where Betty and Rita really try to find out just WHO Rita is and where she came from.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: I’m not so sure this steamy scene is intended as a way to distract viewers from the clues. I think it’s a very big clue in and of itself. Rita is a vulnerable woman, someone who has forgotten who she is. Betty plays a traditionally masculine role here. She’s sweeping in to save the damsel in distress. She is compelled to save Rita, to help her remember who she is. I think you’ll find this extremely important later in the film.

Nick Cato: Perhaps some of us guys became more easily distracted than most female viewers?

In one of my favorite sequences, Rita has a dream where she takes Betty to a vaudeville-style show at an old theater.  It’s here where we’re told “This is all a tape recording.  It’s an illusion,” as performers lip-sync to music and verse.  Perhaps Lynch is telling us that the events going on in Betty and Rita’s lives have been pre-recorded, maybe even by the same people who are attempting to control Adam’s new film.  As the women sit watching one opera singer pass out as her song still plays on, we’re left to wonder if Betty and Rita have been brought here as a way to accept their coming fates.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: At the club, called Silencio, they encounter a dream-world emcee who firmly states, “No hay banda!” There is no band. It’s all an illusion. This seems to be the pivot point in the plot. We start to move into reality. Lynch is telling us, quite literally, everything leading up to this point has been an illusion. But whose illusion is this? Is it Betty’s illusion? Is there someone else pulling the strings?

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE really kicks into weird gear when Betty and Rita return home from the show.  Rita goes to get her hidden pocketbook from the closet, and when she turns around she discovers Betty is nowhere to be found.  Not knowing what else to do, she takes that blue key and sticks it into an odd, small blue box, and from her POV we’re sucked into the box, and then taken back to the apartment where they had just visited.  It turns out Betty is really named Diane and is in a relationship with Rita, whose real name we learn is Camilla, the same actress the corrupt studio execs were trying to force onto Adam’s film.

Don’t worry folks…it get’s even trippier from here.

Apparently Camilla is the real movie star, and has fallen for Adam, leaving Diane behind.  Diane acts out her rage in a furious masturbation scene, then the phone rings, and brings us back to an alternate (or is it the real?) opening sequence of the film.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Mr. Lynch really loves doubles. He’s used them in myriad films, and even in his seminal series TWIN PEAKS. When Betty and Rita visit the club Silencio, they look nearly identical, both sporting short, blonde tresses. I see this as a huge symbol of Diane’s own disgust with herself, and her desire to pull Camilla down with her. She wants Camilla to be just like her, a loser who can’t get a starring role. Instead, Camilla is a rising star, living out Diane’s dream, and now about to marry a man. I feel the box has a very obvious sexual connotation. There’s a key in Camilla’s box now, folks. And Diane is not happy about that. The box is reality.

Rita is Diane’s way of handling her lover’s decision to leave her for a man. Rita has forgotten who she is. As far as Diane is concerned, Camilla has also forgotten who she is. She belongs to Diane, not to Adam. This anger and frustration drives her to plot a very nasty demise for her former lover.

Nick Cato: In the circular final section of MULHOLLAND, we learn Diane/Betty had paid hit men to take out her girlfriend Rita/Camilla, and we see the creepy homeless man behind the diner now holding the mysterious blue box in his hands, perhaps a symbol of a supernatural string puller.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Everything up to this point is merely Diane’s way of justifying her decision to take a hit out on Camilla. She’s not the villain here. She’s really Betty, a confident, happy woman who will make her way in Hollywood. If only Camilla would remember who she really is, Diane wouldn’t be forced to hire that hit man. This is the story of a woman who has lost touch with reality.

Nick Cato: As Sheri mentioned, when Betty first arrived in Hollywood, she had befriended an elderly couple on the plane.  Now, they reappear during the final sequence, taunting Betty/Diane around her apartment to the point she blows her own brains out, falling onto the bed in the same manner they found the corpse upon their earlier visit in search of Rita’s memory.  While there’s plenty of discussion on who this elderly couple is, Betty had mentioned her parents during one conversation, making me believe this was her way of dealing with failing to do them proud.  And perhaps the entire film is a picture of Betty/Diane battling her demons as she tries to make a life for herself in Tinsel Town, the success of her lover making things that much harder.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Much like the WIZARD OF OZ, the story all starts and ends in a bed. In the very beginning, we see sheets and a pillow, and we hear someone gasping for air. This comes full circle at the end. We now know that Diane shot herself in the head and collapsed onto her bed after being accosted by these menacing elderly people. Could these older people be symbolic of her mental breakdown? The film up to this point, it seems to me, all comes from within Diane’s mind. Betty is her breakdown version of herself. Camilla has been successful, and she can’t handle that success coupled with her own failure. Like Dorothy, Diane discovers the truth about herself in the end. And it’s too terrible to bear. Reality is a tough pill to swallow.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is David Lynch’s love/hate letter to Hollywood.  It’s pretty easy to figure out Betty and Diane are the same person: Diane the real-life failure, with Betty being Diane’s fantasized version of herself, as well as her desired relationship with Rita/Camilla.  Lynch—an independent filmmaker using Hollywood actors and sets here—basically portrays his own apprehensions and pleasures as a director and as one trying to deal with the Hollywood system.  And though at first the film may seem like the tired “it’s all a dream” thing, it’s a bit more complex than that, especially in the light of Diane/Betty’s dreams possibly being manipulated by other entities.

 Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: It might be the clichéd “it was all just a dream” story, but the person dreaming it is significantly disturbed, if not destroyed. Hollywood is very much like the Emerald City. Betty took a jaunt to find her calling, her home in a sense. But Hollywood, not unlike the Emerald City, is not all that it seems. There are mysterious forces that determine who makes it big and who doesn’t. It’s a tough world, baby, and the guaranteed success that Betty hopes to find rarely happens in reality.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is basically a surreal, modern film noir, with an incredible performance by Naomi Watts, complimented by co-star Laura Hanning’s often speechless speech and deathly-sexy mannerisms.  While we could easily take up another 15 pages breaking down what the cowboy symbolized, who the homeless man behind the diner was, and just WHY on earth Billy Ray Cyrus was cast as Adam’s wife’s lover (!), MULHOLLAND DRIVE is one of those films that reveals itself more and more upon each viewing.  It’s like staring at a surreal painting for hours on end, when suddenly things start to appear you hadn’t noticed before.

And with each viewing the film seems to unravel itself a little bit more, almost like Lynch somehow caused the film to work over periods of time.  Am I giving him too much credit as a director here?  Maybe.  Some would say definitely.  Either way, this is how MULHOLLAND DRIVE happens to work.

There are few films like it.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: MULHOLLAND DRIVE demands several viewings. Even taken at the surface level, it’s a thrill ride through a twisted world. The most cynical viewer will likely take something away from the film. Things crop up after a few viewings that never occurred to me before. Part film noir, part horror flick, part crime drama, it all comes together in a collage that sometimes leaves the viewer with just as many questions as they resolve.

The legendary Ann Miller makes her final screen appearance as Betty’s landlord.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

SHUTTER ISLAND!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Ghost Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SHUTTER ISLAND
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


CUT TO: THE SOUND OF THE WIND HOWLING

(SCÈNE: the grounds of a menacing-looking mental hospital on an isolated island. A storm is brewing and the wind is building strength, as rain clouds threaten to release their bounty. Our intrepid reviewers, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES have arrived on the scene. An armed guard greets them.)

GUARD: What would you fellers be wanting around these parts?

LS:  An apartment. I hear the housing market’s pretty good here.

GUARD (Looks over his shoulder at menacing building.):  An apartment?  Here?  What?  Are you crazy?

MA:  Well, if we were, we came to the right place, didn’t we?

GUARD:  Who are you guys?

MA (Leans into guard, very serious): Cinema Knife Fighters. (On cue, there’s a blinding flash of lightning combined with an explosive crack of thunder.)

GUARD: Oh, those idiots…I mean, guys. Come to snoop around our hospital. You’ll find nothing out of the ordinary here.

LS: This is a hospital for the criminally insane. What would you consider “out of the ordinary.”

GUARD: I know, I know, you want me to say “A peaceful day,” like they do in the movie, but I ain’t gonna say it…Follow me, won’t you?

LS: Didn’t you used to be the cross-dressing brother on THE DREW CAREY SHOW?

GUARD: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. (Suddenly sings out) Cleveland Rocks!

(GUARD leads them to the office of SPOOKY OLD PSYCHIATRIST, who runs the joint)

SPOOKY PSYCHIATRIST: Nice of you boys to visit our homicidal maniacs. Er… I mean patients.

MA: This isn’t a visit, Doctor.

LS: Yeah, we’re here to review a movie.

PSYCHIATRIST: Well, don’t let me stop you!

MA: Don’t worry, you won’t.  L.L., how about you start us off?

LS (To PSYCHICIATRIST): Has anyone ever told you you look a lot like Ghandi?

PSYCHIATRIST: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

LS:  Okay…Our movie this time around is the new film by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, SHUTTER ISLAND. This one was based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also provided the source material for the Oscar-winning film, MYSTIC RIVER.

MA: Another Boston-based crime drama, although to be honest, the island and psychiatric fortress perched on it reminded me a bit of Alcatraz, and so for some reason the Boston location didn’t fit for me. I kept thinking they were off the coast of San Francisco.

LS: Well, the Shutter Island of the title is off the coast of Boston, and this story is a bit spookier than your average crime drama. There are ghosts, and sometimes horrific hallucinations.

(Camera goes to an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of MA’s face. He looks out the window at the storm, and a glazed look appears in his eyes, as if he’s falling into a daydream. We suddenly see MA and LS dressed in drag skipping through a field of flowers. MA SCREAMS!)

LS:  Hey, partner, are you all right?

MA (Face dripping with perspiration):  What a horrifying image!  I’m sorry. I’m okay. I’ve just got this headache.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You must be getting a migraine. Here, take these pills. (Hands MA pills).

MA:  Gee, thanks, Doc. (Grimaces and looks at pills – they have skulls and crossbones imprinted on them).

LS (Notices pills):  I used to take that brand when I was a kid. ( MA downs the pills)).

Anyway, SHUTTER ISLAND is the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), sent to the harsh, isolated Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the escape of one of its inmates, a woman who drowned her children years before. Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) immediately find themselves in a tense situation, as the hospital’s security force, led by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), makes it clear that they are unwanted there, and the marshals are ordered to surrender their firearms upon entering the facility. From here, things go from bad to worse, as the marshals are introduced to the man who runs the hospital, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who at first seems helpful, but who is anything but. Clearly nobody wants these strangers snooping around the facility, and no one is particularly willing to cooperate with their investigation.

Teddy is plagued by migraines during their stay, and a hurricane traps them on the island for several days. As the movie progresses we find out about several plotlines that run through this film, such as Teddy’s visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who appears to him as a ghost and gives him bits of information which actually seem to help him in his investigation. He also has flashes back to his time in the army, when he was one of the American soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp during World War II, an experience that left a severe scar on his psyche, seeing what humans were capable of doing to other humans. Teddy is also searching for another possible inmate, Andrew Laeddis, the man who set the apartment fire that killed his wife.

With the storm raging outside, and the staff and inmates being uncooperative and hostile inside, Teddy seems to be in the middle of some vast conspiracy, with possible ties to the U.S. government. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, we approach a twist ending that turns everything on its head.

(MA groans, stumbles into corner).

LS:  Hey, bud, you okay?

(MA snarls and whips around, revealing he’s now a werewolf.)

LS:  Holy crap!

MA (Now normal):  What is it?

LS (Camera zooms in for an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of his face, as sweat is dripping from his forehead):  Now, I’m seeing things. I don’t know. I think I’m getting a migraine too.

PSYCHIATRIST:  Here, take these aspirin.

LS:  What the hell are these?  I want the ones with the skulls and crossbones on them!  You can’t trick me!

(MA turns to camera and looks perplexed.)

MA: Yeah, the twist in SHUTTER ISLAND. It didn’t work for me at all. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it without giving it away, but, because of the numerous clues early on in the movie, I saw this twist coming long before I should have, which in effect, spoiled the movie for me. For example, when Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley) explains his philosophy of psychiatry to Teddy Daniels, right there, I saw the way the movie was going to play out. To me, it was just WAY too apparent, and it’s difficult to explain it here, since I don’t want to go into too much detail and be a spoiler.

LS: I had a very mixed reaction to SHUTTER ISLAND. I thought it started out great – very claustrophobic and with a hint of film noir to the atmosphere. It goes without saying that Scorsese is a master of his craft and after making films for so many years, he has a lot of this down pat. However, once the movie begins to head in the direction of its twist ending, everything fell apart for me. I’d say, around the time Leonardo has a strange conversation with Patricia Clarkson in a cave. From then on, the movie becomes very talky as various characters reveal their secrets, and everything is explained in great detail. Too much detail, if you ask me. This all culminates in a finale that I saw coming a mile away, but which also was very unsatisfying for me as a viewer.

MA:  I agree, but it happened much earlier for me than that cave scene. I could argue that in the opening scene, when DiCaprio and Ruffalo are on the ferry to the island, right there, I saw hints which led me to believe this film would have the kind of twist it had. I know I should stop, but I can’t help myself. The clue has to do with water. Okay, I’ll shut up about it.

LS: Yeah, zip your lip. I saw the ending coming before the scene in the cave, too, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t go in that direction, that the story was still salvageable. By the discussion in the cave, I knew it was sunk.

MA: Anyway, I also enjoyed the plot early on. I like the reason the marshals come to the island, to investigate the disappearance of a female patient who disappeared from a locked room. I thought this was a compelling mystery, and I was really into it, and I think I would have enjoyed SHUTTER ISLAND more, had it been a straight crime-thriller rather than an exercise in the M. Night Shyamalan school of storytelling.

(Suddenly M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN pops up from behind a spooky corner)

M. NIGHT: What is this about another director stealing my idea for twist endings?

LS: But it’s the great Martin Scorsese! Besides, you haven’t made a good movie in years.

M NIGHT: That doesn’t matter, I AM THE TWIST GUY!

(CHUBBY CHECKER drops down from the ceiling and starts dancing)

CHUBBY (Singing): Come on Baby! Let’s do The Twist!

(LS and MA run to another room and close the door)

LS: Ahh, it’s nice and quiet here.

There were actually a few things about the movie I didn’t like. First off, I have a hard time taking Leonardo DiCaprIo seriously as some world weary, hard-edged G-Man. Maybe it’s his baby face beneath the stubble, along with his acting limitations, but I just didn’t find him completely believable in this role. Every time he tried to sound like some hard-edged cop, I just didn’t buy it. I know that Scorsese has really taken DiCaprio on as his favorite leading man these days (Leonardo also starred in Scorsese’s films GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), THE AVIATOR (2004), and 2006’s THE DEPARTED), and Scorsese has gotten some good work out of him, but I still don’t find all of his performances to be equally compelling. And I think he is often miscast. Compare DiCaprio to the man who used to be Scorsese’s “go-to guy” earlier in his career, Robert De Niro, and there is a vast chasm between these two actors. De Niro, in his prime, could act circles around DiCaprio. Sadly, De Niro hasn’t had a really good role in a long time, either.

MA:  I would disagree with you here. Not about DeNiro, who remains one of my all time favorite actors, but about DiCaprio. I bought him in this role, and I think he was completely captivating as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels.

LS: Because of his work with Scorsese, I like DiCaprio a lot more than I would have otherwise. But I don’t think he’s a great actor. And I still think someone else could have done a better job with this role.

MA: It took me a while to warm up to DiCaprio. For example, I didn’t really enjoy him in TITANIC (1997) all that much, but in films like THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) he was excellent. I would argue that DiCaprio is one of the best actors around, and in terms of talent, I would put him in the same class as Johnny Depp. In fact, I’ve enjoyed his recent performances more than Depp’s.

LS: I think Depp is a much better actor. But he’s got to stop making those lame PIRATE movies.

MA:  But back to SHUTTER ISLAND, I thought DiCaprio was completely believable as the hard-edged federal marshal, and even more, I thought in the film’s climactic scene, a very disturbing scene that was difficult to watch, that he nailed the agonizing emotion his character was put through.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like about SHUTTER ISLAND too, but the acting, especially that of DiCaprio, wasn’t one of them.

LS:  As for the rest of the acting, for the most part, it’s all very good.

MA:  Yes, the acting was definitely my favorite part of the whole film.

LS:  Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow as creepy doctors, turn in excellent performances.

MA:  Isn’t Von Sydow great?  I am so happy this guy is still making movies. He’s such a dominating presence, and he clearly steals the scenes he’s in. He’s wonderful to watch. He’s also probably the only actor still going today who can say he’s been making movies longer than Christopher Lee!  Though I bet Lee’s made more.

I liked Kingsley too, though at times I thought he was doing an impersonation of Donald Pleasance from the HALLOWEEN movies.

LS:  Ruffalo is pretty good, too, as DiCaprio’s partner – a new guy who Daniels doesn’t know well, but who he has to trust in this situation. Michelle Williams is very effective in her scenes as Daniels’s dead wife (even if her accent seems a bit off sometimes), and there are great cameos by Elias Koteas (who we saw most recently in THE FOURTH KIND), as the man who’s pyromania led to the death of Daniels’s wife, and especially Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from WATCHMEN, and the new Freddy Krueger in the upcoming remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) as another inmate who, in trying to help Daniels, has gotten himself locked away in a hellish ward where the most dangerous inmates are kept – inside a former Civil War fort.

MA:  Yes, the cameos by Koteas and Haley were highlights, and Haley’s scene was the better of the two. Blink and you’ll miss Koteas. I liked Michelle Williams very much, and as the plot moves along, her character and her performance grow all the more haunting.

LS: I thought Michelle Williams’s role was risky. Often in movies when a character returns as a ghost to help the hero, it can come off as really lame. But Williams does a great job. Also very good is Ruby Jerins as a dead little girl who Teddy Daniels has visions of as well. She’s very spooky.

Another character I found compelling was Ted Levine as The Warden. The Warden is not on screen for very long, but there’s a scene toward the end where he gives DiCaprio’s character a ride in his jeep, and they have a very disturbing conversation. I thought that was a highlight, too. I wish he’d been in it more.

Hell, I really wanted to like this film. By half way through, I was definitely enjoying it and I thought it was a no-brainer that I was going to be giving this movie a good review. But by the last part, the movie just let me down in too many ways for me to recommend it.

Another major problem I have with Scorsese’s recent films is their length. All of the movies I mentioned that star DiCaprio run well over the two-hour mark. You could argue that when you’re someone as iconic as Scorsese, you  should go on as long as you want, but you’d be wrong. This man needs an editor who is not afraid to sit him down and tell him that he needs to start cutting his films down a bit. The length adds to the fact that there are definite slow spots (I found the final half hour, when all of the secrets are revealed, to be pretty tedious and badly paced). Better editing could have kept the entire film moving along as steadily as it does in its first hour.

MA:  As much as I like Scorsese’s work, I would have to agree with you here. The pacing of SHUTTER ISLAND suffers greatly towards the end.

LS: It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Scorsese was great at pacing. Just look at classics like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and RAGING BULL (1980), two of my favorite Scorsese films. There’s not a minute wasted in those films.

There’s enough good stuff in SHUTTER ISLAND to recommend that you see it on DVD when it is released. But I don’t recommend paying the price of a movie ticket for this one.

MA:  This is scary, but I had nearly the same exact experience. I really wanted to like this movie too, and I was liking it, but like you, towards the end, things soured.

Technically, this movie was like a juicy steak. It looked terrific, the scenes were crafted to the point of making your mouth water, and I don’t know, I could pretty much watch a Scorsese movie all day. I mean, there was atmosphere everywhere:  storms, jagged cliffs, a lighthouse, mentally unstable patients and dark corridors. There’s nothing wrong with the look or feel of this film.

The acting was phenomenal, powerful to the point where some scenes silenced the crowded theater I was in. The flashbacks and the dream sequences were compelling, and they really worked for me.

There was certainly a lot to like, but the twist –which wasn’t much of a twist, since I saw it coming – cut the film down several notches. Also, the subject matter of a parent murdering her children is about as unpleasant as they come. This, combined with images of Nazi death camps doesn’t exactly make for a fun night out. By the time the end credits had rolled on SHUTTER ISLAND, I felt totally drained and depressed.

Now, I don’t mind that a movie tackles serious subject matter such as this, but in a murder/mystery /crime thriller, it’s too dark for my tastes.

LS: I didn’t think the darker aspects of the film were a detriment at all. In fact, they packed a punch. Too bad there weren’t more punches in this movie. By the end, it’s pretty limp.

MA:  Ultimately, SHUTTER ISLAND is a fine example of movie-making expertise by a master movie-maker, and it’s well acted by veterans of the field, but its story is dark and depressing, without any reward, and its effectiveness is further muddled by a forced plot twist that–if you’re paying close attention to the clues in the movie– you’ll know about long before you’re supposed to.

So, in spite of the fact that it’s a well-made thriller, I can’t recommend SHUTTER ISLAND either.

PSYCHIATRIST:  That’s too bad, gentlemen, because now you’ll have to stay here forever! (Laughs maniacally).

LS:  Not a problem. (Snaps fingers. A valet enters with their bags).We like it here. I’ll take the room overlooking the spooky lighthouse.

MA:  Damn!  Oh well, I’ll take the one with the view of the brick wall.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You two gentlemen are crazy!

MA:  No, we’re Cinema Knife Fighters! (Lightning flashes, thunder booms, and the lights flicker).

LS:  And don’t you forget it! (Turns to camera)  Don’t you forget either. We wouldn’t want to do this alone. Thanks for tuning in.

MA:  Yes, as always, many thanks to our readers!  Until next time—.

(THE LIGHTS GO OUT WITH A CRACK OF THUNDER)

FADE TO BLACK.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares