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Archive for the ‘CAPER FLICK’ Category

Nobody Lives Forever

31 Oct

Nobody Lives Forever – directed by Jean Negulesco. Grifter Drama. 100 minutes Black And White 1946.

★★★★★

The Story: A G.I. comes home to his former crimes scene and heads for a multi-million dollar scam.

~

John Garfield, perfectly cast as both a G.I. and a criminal. It’s his way, which is always the same way: the sensitive tough-guy, Bronx marshmallow. Very lovable. Very understandable. These are qualities which come with some actors and don’t come with others, and they determine work. Work in two ways: casting, and the way he executes scenes. For out of these qualities spring choices in handling scenes. The acting craft holds outlets for these people. They are not ordinary, these people. They have vitality, presence, and looks. They have in them that which wants to be seen. So in discussing acting in relation to them, it is almost impossible to view them dispassionately. It is almost impossible to define the skill with which the tiger dismembers the faun. What is first, mainly, only possible, is to experience being impressed. That much is sure.

Like them or not, there they are up on the silver screen where they belong. With him and always opposite him are all the other members of the cast, all as vital. George Coulouris as the sleazy crumb horning in on Garfield’s grift. George Tobias, as always comical as the almost useless sidekick. Two comical thug fools, in James Flavin and Ralph Peters. His two-timing, slapable canary played by Faye Emerson at the peak of her beauteousness. And the astonishing Walter Brennan as the pickpocket guru. All these are contrasted in their comical or threatening positions to him and to the only one who is not threatening, but is lovely, Geraldine Fitzgerald playing the widow they mean to cheat. Fitzgerald’s performance makes the film work. She is smart but justifiably ignorant; she falls in love with Garfield and you believe it; she registers everything quietly and truly. Don’t miss her. She lets you perform the part with her. Garbo did the same.

The film’s finale is handled somewhat clumsily. But otherwise the film is beautifully directed, which is a question of values attended to in a way noir does not often offer. W.R. Burnett (author of Little Caesar, High Sierra, This Gun For Hire, The Whole Town’s Talking, Scarface, The Asphalt Jungle) wrote it.

Give it a viewing. Let me know how you liked it.

 

American Hustle

04 Jan

American Hustle – directed by David O. Russell. GrifterFlic. 138 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Complications pile on complications as the characters of the characters execute and sabotage and execute and sabotage themselves and each other in a super-sting operation.

~

Everyone has phony hair. And yet the motto of these dodgers is, “From the feet up!” meaning everyone has to be authentically committed to the ruse at hand.

False hair’s a wonderful image, redounding on each character’s flaws as the story unfolds. Bradley Cooper has tiny pin-curls to make his black straight hair curly and cute. Jennifer Lawrence has a baroquely streaked blond coif, always in flirtatious display. Amy Adams has ringlets manufactured down to and included in her décolletage, which is always arrayed for us, and, in its bra-less excellence would, we fear, be on array upon her presentation to The Queen. Jeremy Renner’s pompadour has a pompadour. And Christian Bale has a comb-over so complex it requires a combination. “From the feet up” – means until-but-not-including the crown of the head, which, of course, leaves everybody uncommitted.

The story is told in big long fully developed scenes that you can glom onto and relish, and the writer/director lodges the story not in plot but in the plot’s being directed by the divergences of each main character’s character. Jennifer Lawrence, in a particularly well-written role, makes her contribution by always being right by making everyone else wrong, doing one thing and saying another. Amy Adams levels her battleship intelligence on the false target of swindling her way into love. Bradley Cooper is shredded by his own intensity, which is blind. Jeremy Renner, the only sympathetic character among the bunch, loses his way in the byways of honest ambition. And Christian Bale, who is not quite on target with his character, is shot in the foot with his own rifle – which is firing blanks. As an actor he alone misses the innocence of his character, and innocence is important for all these fools, because, as Oscar Wilde said (and Oscar Wilde  was never wrong), “It is always wrong to be innocent.”

Is the story too complicated to follow? No. Is it engrossing? Yes. Does it have its legitimate surprises? Yes. Does it betray its audience’s credulity? No. Is the story well and unusually and strongly told? Yes. Are the scenes daringly played? Yep. Do you experience being entertained? Yes. Are you seeing some of the best acting in your life? Absolutely. Does it stick to your ribs into the lobby? No. Have you wasted your time? No.

2013 is strong year for male performances, and Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper look good here. And so do Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. The cast is great, but as ensemble, since there are few ensemble scenes to speak of, that is not the draw, but, performance by performance, you can’t do better. And the whole shebang is wonderfully and humorously told. It is one of several important GrifterFlics this year: The Wolf Of Wall Street runs side by slippery side with it in local theatres. See ‘em both. Tell ‘em Bruce sent ya.

 

The Thomas Crown Affair

31 Jan

The Thomas Crown Affair — directed by Norman Jewison. Caper Romance. A brilliant wealthy executive thrill seeker commits the perfect heist and then is tracked by a wily huntress. 102 minutes Color 1968.

* * * * *

Perfect in every way, including the little detail that it has not dated in 45 years. This is largely due to everyone and everything in it, but particularly to Haskell Wexler who filmed it and Hal Ashby who edited it. Because what you see is rich and suave at all times, witty and cruel at all times, and engages two of the coldest actors ever to appear before the eye of the general world, Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen, as cold and as hot as dry ice. The casting of them opposite one another is the smartest thing here, because you cannot know which if either will melt and at what specific centigrade it might happen. It also sets a thrill seeker millionaire in a relationship with the hunter paid to track him down as the mastermind behind a brilliant bank robbery. McQueen had a hard time getting the part, that of a Harvard educated millionaire, because, of course, he is Mr. Other-Side-Of –The Tracks – but he does just fine in a suit, unless you think everyone from Harvard must talk like George Plimpton and could never wear the most sumptuous orange bathrobe seen since the fall of the Emperor Hadrian, who died for one. The climax of the film, and it is almost a climax in another regard as well, is a chess game  – chess, a game for the cold – in which the lady wears such a dress and puts her fingers to her lips in such a way, and caresses the glans of a bishop in such a unmistakable flirt, that the gentleman becomes disconcerted and must change the game and kiss her. From this point on, he courts her with thrills, particularly in a beach buggy, to see if she will drop being a hunter and become a thrill seeker with him. The entire film teeters on this Taming Of The Shrew fulcrum. They love one another; you know they do. But they never say so, for to do that would be to open up an entire field of understanding at variance with the criminal codes on which their excitement is founded. Dunaway has said it was her favorite film. She brings a rare glee to her role, and Mc.Queen blue eyes of glacial reserve.

 

 

Ocean’s Eleven – Sinatra Version

30 Jan

Ocean’s Eleven – Sinatra Version — directed by Lewis Milestone. Caper Flick. Eleven chums from WW II convene to rob 5 Las Vegas Casinos. 127 minutes Color 1960.

* * *

As hackneyed a piece of direction as you could wish to see, this picture brings Frank Sinatra, that master of self-satisfaction, as the old sergeant gathering his cadre for a heist. The piece is very well constructed and wittily written, but the mixture of non-actors with professionals with a few cameos thrown in makes the adventure stagger along like a drunkard. Set beside the suave George Clooney versions of this, with his cast of brilliant actors, this ur-version looks dated and dumb. And it is. None of the actors seem able to deliver their lines with any aplomb. On the list of professionals, we have the genius of Akim Tamiroff as the worry wart, Dean Martin who with a few paltry songs manages to sustain his suavity as a lounge act singer, Ilka Chase as the rich mother of that Duke Of Eurotrash, Peter Lawford, and Cesar Romero who brings the humor of his massive authority to the role of a mafia don. Others who get by without disgracing themselves are Richard Conte who is, as usual, straightforward in his part, and Sammy Davis Junior, who gets by, as usual, on a superabundance of natural talent. Shirley MacLaine overdoes a soused chick for us, and Red Skelton is absolutely on the money as a gambling addict. The rest of the cast, including Peter Lawford, we shall not shame by mentioning.

 

 

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

20 Jan

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — Directed by Guy Ritchie. Action Adventure Comedy. 108 minutes Color 1998.

* * * * *

Bob Hope isn’t in it, but this is a Bop Hope film with his character divvied up into twenty parts. Bob Hope Meets Scarface it would be called if he were in it. Instead it’s a mixed salad full of various greens and surprising veggies and terrific vinaigrette holding the whole collation together. The quality of the humor lies in the plot and the plot lies in the hands of the camera work. It is a story that cannot be told without a camera because the camera is the secret screwball agent of the plot. It is a hugely mixed up mélange of betrayals and deceptions and deals and masterful meanness and young dumb luck. It never drops its comic spectacles from its nose. Even with the corpses decorating every divan, you will see that they do so with a vaudeville gesture of stage exit. Even the Cockney accents are fun, the more so when you can’t tell what they are saying — fun because the posture they assume to say it is so absurdly readable. When perversion takes its final twist it straightens up and flies right. Watch and see if aint so, corblimey.

 

Tower Heist

09 Nov

Tower Heist — Directed by Brett Ratner. Heist Comedy. The employees of a fancy apartment high-rise plan to rob the Ponzi schemer who has robbed them. 109 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Ben Stiller, a wonderful actor, is of the Buster Keaton School Of Comedy. His face remains still but what goes on behind it is alive, true, and funny. He does not need to put on the funny nose of physical comedy to make his comic point, and because of this inherent humor in him, which combines with a kind of modesty, one wants to be in his company often – even when he hands the focus over to the comedy of others. Once again we have him as the driving force behind a group of disparate males. Casey Affleck, he of the irritating voice, is at least perfectly cast as the unwilling go-along on this caper. Gabourey Sidibe is irresistible as the maid who can crack any safe in Christendom within fifteen minutes of fingering it. Alan Ada brings his terrifying affability to the part of the Madoff monster. Michael Pena plays the recent hireling to the building with remarkable address and presence. Stephen Henderson gives us a Santa Claus doorman whose stocking has been pilfered and whose dismay is the axel that turns the story around. Téa Leoni is perfectly cast as the FBI agent who slips the info to Stiller that saves the day. Matthew Broderick plays the dowdy accountant who can whiz-bang sums and whose fear of heights will make everyone want to leave their seats and head for terra firma. And finally we are given Eddie Murphy who sashays in as the ringer to coach the others into the deed of theft. Eddie Murphy’s chimpanzee smile is sudden, surprising, and sapient. As the low life hood who has never stolen anything over $1000 because to do so would be to commit a felony and now must prevail to steal 45 million, Murphy nails the entire structure of the role. He is a modern miracle as an actor. There seems to be no part of him that is not engaged in a given performance, and nothing seems difficult or unreal for him. Granted, he has taken over the low comedy slot vacated by Martin and Lewis, but so what? He brings true hauteur to a role, true authority, a kind of internal grandeur that is quite hilarious. When you find someone who has a genius for a thing, it is worth seeing him enact it. His eyes alone are worth the price of admission. The movie is closer to a cartoon of a heist movie than to a heist movie, so do not expect Rififi. Tower Heist spends time without wasting it.

 

 

 

Rififi

03 Aug

Rififi – Written and Directed by Jules Dassin. Heist Thriller. A quartet of experts sets to lift 250 million dollars of gems from a jewelry store. 122 minutes Black and White 1955.

*****

A full half hour at the dead center of this masterpiece is given over to the silent execution of the caper, a passage that has never been preceded, equaled, or surpassed in film.  It was made for $200,000, a penny. Expense forbad the use of Jean Gabin, say, in the lead, and so they hired actors virtually unknown to the public, which suits the material right down to the ground. For we have Jean Servais, with his huge, sad, John McIntyre eyes, in the part, and he is riveting. They all are. What the actors lacked in experience, the crew made up for in brilliance, An A- class cinema-photographer, Phillip Agostini, filmed it, an A-class editor, Robert Dwyer, cut it, and the music is by Georges Auric. What luck! Dassin, a lovable man if there ever was one, had been exiled as one of the Hollywood 10. And in an interview in the Bonus Material he talks about those times and the making of this film. It’s all fascinating. And it is the greatest film of its kind ever made.

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