Uncharted Cinema #12: In a Lonely Place

In-a-Lonely-PlaceNicholas Ray, USA ,1950, 94 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I don’t know much about this. But a film noir starring Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray? You can’t go wrong with that!

After: This film is anchored by the tension between two opposing genres. The first is a romance between has-been writer Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and his neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). The second is a murder of a young coat-check girl which may or may not have been committed by Dixon.

Gloria at first thinks he is innocent. In fact, she clears him with the police by being his alibi. But as things move along she thinks there might be more going on she doesn’t yet know about. The dark side of Dixon’s personality is slowly emerging. The best part of the film is the way it makes you feel Laurel’s doubts as to what actually happened.

Bogart is great playing a character that appears to be honest and sincere, albeit gruff. He speaks his mind and leaves everything out on the table. As the film goes on we learn more and more about his character, which puts more and more doubt on what happened the night of the murder.

Is the matter-of-fact attitude that Dixon has what drew Laurel to him? It’s unclear, and that is where the film falls short. The romance happens too quickly and doesn’t have any weight. Unfortunately, because of this, that half of the story doesn’t push hard enough against the thriller half.

It’s a shame, because the rest of the film is really stellar. The acting is great all around, especially in the supporting cast. There are moments of humor and moments of real excitement and tension. But no matter how much the film does right, it was always sitting on a foundation that was half-faulty. The result is a film that approaches greatness, but can never quite get there.

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Uncharted Cinema #11: Scotland, PA

ScotlandPABilly Morrissette, USA, 2001, 104 min. 

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I don’t know about this film, besides it’s a version of Macbeth. I’m expecting a very 90’s indie vibe: no money, lots of spirit, good script, uninteresting direction. But I’m probably just type-casting. We’ll see!

After: Well, I was right about one thing. Scotland, PA stinks of an independent film of the time period. But that isn’t a bad thing! This updated Shakespeare tale tells the story of MacBeth but sets it in a small-town restaurant in the 70’s.

“McBeth” (James Le Gros) and his wife (Maura Tierney) work as a waiter and waitress at Duncan’s, just waiting around for things to get better. They assume that will happen when their manager gets fired for stealing and McBeth (the obvious replacement) gets a promotion.

Except the owner (James Rebhorn), decides to keep the management position in the family and give it to his unqualified and ungrateful son, Malcolm.

Well, Lady McBeth can’t stand for that and starts instigating a plot where McBeth murders the owner and they get the restaurant for themselves. Things get complicated with a detective shows up to investigate the unusual crime. Christopher Walken is great in that role. Really pouring on the charm.

The film keeps the tone light despite the subject matter. And that’s good, because the sequence of events, if played seriously, would be preposterous. Instead, they are amusing scenes that let the onscreen talent entertain the audience.

Luckily, the on screen talent is up for the challenge. The stand-ins for the three witches (Andy Dick, Amy Smart, Timothy ‘Speed’ Levitch) are stand outs. As well as Christopher Walken and Maura Tierney. Mostly everyone else does a good job.

And that’s important, because the film itself is driven by its charm. The script isn’t particularly good and the direction is only competent. With lesser actors that would have ruined the film but in this one it is enough to make it worthwhile.

If you don’t know the story of MacBeth, you won’t get all the jokes. I knew the tale but not intimately enough to laugh at every reference. But even if I didn’t know the story, there would still have been plenty in here to amuse me.

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Uncharted Cinema #10: Hidden

hiddenThe Duffer Brothers, USA, 2015, 84 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: The only thing I know about this is that it is a recent horror film that got some good press. And it’s about people trapped in a place, which I love. I’m not expecting much, though.

After: Hidden is a high-concept horror film about a family in a fallout shelter hiding away from a mysterious danger on the surface.

I won’t give anything away because the script holds back information in order to keep the audience in the dark about what is going on. That part of the film works well. The cast is game and does their best to carry a sparse script.

Alexander Skarsgård and Andrea Riseborough play the parents of a young girl (Emily Alyn Lind) who are doing their best to keep her safe from the “Breathers” that are roaming around the surface. Their fallout shelter has everything they would need, but tensions are high and their supplies won’t last forever.

The Duffer brothers make the most of their small budget and single location to keep the tension high and the audience engaged. There are some good sequences early on that highlight the atmosphere of dread.

The film goes off the rails when information starts being revealed, and the film takes a stylistic turn. The concept was good but the execution was poor. The direction didn’t hold up enough to keep my mind off of the problems.

The big reveal doesn’t make as much sense as it should have and events seem to happen only for dramatic flair and not as logical story progressions. The very end is a particularly blatant example of this. None of the last few scenes feel earned.

The number of those ending scenes was a huge problem as well. After each scene I expected the credits to roll but the film kept going. And each subsequent scene was an additional leap of logic that I was not prepared to make.

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Uncharted Cinema #9: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

sweetbloodSpike Lee, USA, 2014, 123 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I haven’t heard anything particularly good about this remake of Ganja and Hess but I love Spike Lee. I’ll always give him the benefit of the doubt.

After: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is lacking in any sense of escalation, which is ultimately it’s downfall. Stephen Tyrone Williams plays Dr. Hess, an expert on ancient African culture.

Early on in the film we hear about the a civilization that became addicted to blood and eventually self-destructed because there wasn’t enough fresh blood to go around.

Through some strange events, Dr. Hess himself becomes cursed and addicted to blood. He takes to his new life pretty well. Eventually finding a lover and partner who is initiates into his world.

The film deals with the ramifications on this new-found addiction on the couple and the people around them. But although there are great moments, this film never comes together.

I mentioned earlier it was lacking in a sense of escalation. The events displayed make logical sense, but the impetus or transition to is not explored. The changes in Hess’s attitude to his new addiction seems to develop out of nowhere. I like the trajectory of his character a lot, but it wasn’t earned.

The same goes for the love between Ganja and Hess. Their relationship seems to happen episodically, in fast-forward. Unfortunately, that part of the story is meant to be the crux of the film. Without the audience being invested in it the film falls apart.

I would even go as far as saying that this film would be better without Ganja. Although Zaraah Abrahams did a good job, her character was completely unlikable and didn’t add to Hess’s story arch at all. In fact, it is inexplicable that they got together.

The cinematography made the film look too much like it was shot on video for my tastes. But budgetary concerns aside, it lacks any particularly interesting film-making, except for one scene that shined: Hess’s reaction to the church choir performance towards the end. The rest of the film is just too poorly conceived to recommend.

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Uncharted Cinema #8: The Warped Ones

WarpedOnesKoreyoshi Kurahara, Japan, 1960, 75 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I did not recognize the film from the title. I have heard of Koreyoshi Kurahara through Criterion’s Eclipse box set, but I know nothing else about his films. I’m going in completely cold.

After: The Warped Ones is a film full of jazz and anarchy. Akira and Masaru are two juvenile delinquents who, recently released from the detention center, go on a rampage through the city. Their attitude is starkly at odds with the rest of Japanese society, and shows how some of the youth might have felt at the time.

As Akira says in the film, after realizing that the Japanese stole Jazz from the Caucasians, who stole it from the African-Americans. “We are the worst.”

But what is the reason for their mood, which varies from severe anger to severe apathy? It’s not fully explained how they originally got this way, but after being released they quickly go right back to their thieving ways. This time around, Masura finds love with a prostitute friend of Akira. And Akira finds a person to torment, which really pushes the plot in interesting directions.

Akira was originally picked up by the police after a journalist set up a sting. When Akira fortuitously runs into the journalist and his girlfriend, he finds a target to unload his rage upon. The incident that follows supplies the seed that gives the film plenty of engaging scenes exploring the character’s relationship and feelings.

It all leads to one of those great, enigmatic endings. Something P.T. Anderson would have written. But this film is nothing like his. It has more in common with Godard’s Breathless, which was released in the exact same year. The similarities are uncanny.

Mostly, the camerawork, which is fresh and exciting, even today. The camera moves and swivels, changes focus and frames scenes in very interesting ways. It fills the film with an unexpected energy and a feeling that anything can happen, which is exactly how the characters act.

The sound-editing is just as interesting. The pivotal scene at the beach for example. The silence and ambient noise is just as involving as the hip jazz that is the only music on the soundtrack. But while the style is similar to Godard, the subject matter is not. This one isn’t playful. It’s dark and twisted.

Watching this film was remarkable. It raised interesting questions, gave some answers, amazed me with its style, and left me leaning back in my chair in satisfaction when the credits hit the screen. Koreyoshi Kurahara is a director I really to explore, and The Warped Ones is a film that every fan of cinema should watch.

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