Logging Mob Movies #2: White Heat

When I saw ‘White Heat’, It really added a layer onto my opinion of James Cagney, putting him front and center as one my favorite and most watchable of actors. He plays a mobster momma’s boy in the film yet still feels like an ice-cold hard ass. He’s psychologically intoned with his mother, a comforting yet sharply spoken woman, who follows him and his gang across the country. It begins with the Jarrett gang robbing a moving train, where we see just how much of a snake Cody Jarrett, (James Cagney), is. His lack of emotion is characteristic of the mob leader: and in fact is re-enforced by his mother.

The plot behind White Heat is one of considerable complexity: It involves Cody Jarrett submitting himself to prison out of some scheme to save his neck, and an undercover cop, Hank, who shares a cell with the mobster. It eventually leads to the two becoming close inmate friends, and resulting in there mutual escape, along with a handful of other criminals. They’re a fresh gang again, and Cody means to take revenge against a man named Big Ed, a member of his gang, who thinks he can reign over Cody’s men, and mother, while he’s in prison.

The result is a memorable gangster flick with an enticing performance from James Cagney. One of the most famous scenes is while he’s sitting in the prison, eating dinner, when he finds out his mother has been killed: he stands up on the table and screams, going on an angry rampage, punching prison guards while simultaneously weeping uncontrollably. He’s a red-faced bull, and the only person who can tame him, his mother, is now gone forever. Cody Jarrett is more loose and careless than ever.

There are so many subtle hints that make White Heat the masterpiece that it undoubtedly is, building scenarios that seem very much ahead of it’s time. It’s revealed that the father of Jarrett lived in a psyche institute, which creates a new dimension, a second breed of terror about Cody Jarrett’s character; his genes don’t exactly scream of sanity.

The conclusion of the film is a completely riveting third act: Through his final criminal act, we see he is more than a man chasing fast-cash, but a tortured, self-destructive person. He’s truly mad, clearly and simply, and he revels in wrecking havoc and revealing to the world himself and his true nature. It’s stated in the film that he would fake bouts of crying as a child in order to get his mothers attention. Cody Jarrett would never kill himself, no matter the pain he feels. He has to go out with an explosion, with people’s attention, and with that very specific sense of self-superiority he carries within himself.

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Logging Mob Movies #1: The Godfather

The Godfather, directed by early filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, is such a perfectly-executed and ambient cinematic experience; but not only does the form endow a sense of mystery and intrigue, but also the content: The story, of a family of Sicilian gangsters, is as poignant and gritty as any gangster film created. The dynamics of the family is like that of royalty; each son of Vito Corleone has their own problems, idiosyncrasies, regrets, and fears. Vito Corleone, played by a toned-down and wonderful Marlon Brando. Hot-headed and heir Sonny played by a young James Caan. Tom Hagen played by Robert Duvall. And Michael, the army-hero, played by a baby-faced Al Pacino.

The film begins with Vito’s daughters wedding, Connie, played by Talia Shire. Inside the shuttered-windows, behind the desk with a cat on his lap, Vito greets the tradition of wedding requests. Men who desire the help of Vito to punish the type who the police only give help to. Vito’s steam releases in his calm, reserved manor, when a man asks bluntly for his help, while rarely ever coming to see him for the simple sake of his friendship; obviously, the man is very daunted for just being in Vito’s presence, a mob lord, a violent commander, a Sicilian.

Vito Corleone has one stance in his business that is irrefutable: no drugs. He believes it will create illegitimacy and unwanted attention. It is suspected that Connie’s husband is in the drug business, as he works as a limited-worker for the Corleone’s, but Vito does not act: It is Sicilian rule that you do not interfere with a marriage. The drug-trade is the main cause for the familys failure: Sonny shows interest in drugs, which is displayed in a meeting where he makes an undesired outburst, thus causing the drug-lords to kill Vito in order to make Sonny the Godfather sooner. When Vito is hospitalized after being shot several times in the back, during a planned circumstance where Fredo is with him, who most find dull and unfit to defend against the assassination, Michael steps up to guard his father. He knows that the assassins will come for him and finish him; this shows the shimmer of courage and devotion that will lead Michael towards becoming The Godfather himself.

The cinematography is upheld with grace and congruity: the end-scene baptism is a highly memorable montage and comparison, and evokes the often under-toned nature of the mob: Their conscience is as good as the people they love perceive it to be. Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary film is the benchmark for all gangster films: through it’s widely acclaimed release and critical-praise, it will never be forgotten.

Death Race 2000

Director: Paul Bartel
Stars: David Carradine, Slyvester Stallone
Runtime: 80m

‘Death Race 2000’ is a must have for the Corman-collector, a slick and violent game with death and mockery. It features the desired manly quo from actors David Carradine and Slyvester Stallone, with punky sidecar navigating sweethearts played by Simone Griffeth and Mary Woronov. The premise in no way stifles or outweighs the characters, as they all have their own motivations and psychological tendencies that ensue later.

The premise of the movie doctrines Racers to garner points by driving through the city streets and highways and running over citizens with their alligator-jaw bumpers. The point-system gives the racer higher points for certain types of people, elder people being the highest amount of points possible, the second highest toddlers and babies. Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the notorious bad-boy of the race, masochistic and perverse in his grand theft killings. He must pair his jaded ways with his new navigator (Simone Griffeth), but little does he realize she too has a side-story of her own. Meanwhile, Machine Gun Joe (Stallone) remains the steady conniver against Frankenstein, his repeated one-upper, and turns maniacally set on wreaking him.

The film is structured well, with equal moments of race-time and driver/navigator off-road relations or public relations. The moments of rendezvous at dinner and resting time makes the audience a truly third-person viewer, watching the racers social-gesture for tense, ready to burst moments.

The film is a Corman-classic and demands a sense of pessimism from the starting-line; essentially, it is a fun romp through revolutionary-intrigue, character dynamics, and fast-paced, heavily-theoretical racing. But it is also a satire on what media shows and why they show it; for reasons we can’t seem to understand, but nevertheless like.

Blade Runner

Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford
Runtime: 1h 54m

Blade Runner is a meditative auto-pilot of a film, in which we are led by our philosophically-minded host Rick Deckard through the eerily-lit cityscape of L.A. 2019. His android cohort and ambivalent sex-doll, played by the porcelain Sean Young, creates a baby-like contrast to the films consistently brooding tone. It’s performances are universally well supplemented and the direction by Ridley Scott is sharp and dimensional.

The story follows Rick Deckard, a Blade-Runner whose sole job is to find and destroy rogue androids. He is troubled by doing this after so long, similar to a public defender’s self-consciousness, but this feeling he sort of diagnoses as the normal hatred for working,and irrelevant; and in the Philip K. Dick book this would be even more reasonable to think, as they woke up to mood-alarms and selected which mood they wanted for the day. Then he gathers the attention of an android woman upon visiting the prism-shaped Tyrell complex, and is released from his self-described sinning after seriously considering having sex with the woman Android. He continues his search for the rogue androids, the posse that sent a fellow Blade Runner to the grave, with the hesitation of the android-woman Rachel wallowing beside him in her lucid thoughts of who she, having found out to be a patented Tyrell Android, really is.

The structure is well-kept throughout, matched with solid operatic musical entries that one can imagine
echoing through the metallic structures where the Rogue androids reside. In fact, everything in the movie seems of the same proportions: huge. Do we ever see small apartment complexes or homes? The set design I have no problems with, although I may say the bleakness of it all makes the prospect of monochrome seem well fitting; I’m surprised they never released a DVD in such format, as it would undoubtedly make a few bucks.

Blade Runner flows like a lofty philosophical talk with a well-acquainted friend. It is about human contradiction, human responsibility, morality and the realization of the bigger ‘reason’ for doing things that may be morally transparent to some. It explores the the cause for exploitation with human artificial intelligence, a concept dismissed in the simstim prostitution of most sci-fi films. And most of all, it displays that even in a world of programmed-action, you can choose the right path.

Blade Runner, to put it emphatically, is a masterpiece. It’s provocative morality along with the ethereal tone bring about a not well-known mixture: Tough guy sentimentality. And with this comes entertainment-discrepancies for a shell-pumping culture, which would explain its meager box office on first release. Philip K. Dick, the author of the source novel ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’ had seen some movie shots of the L.A. design and apparently was very much in awe. This was before his seizure and consequential death, when soon thereafter a solid chunk of his body of work was adapted to the screen. Recommended to all sci-fi and even open-minded drama connoisseurs.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” takes you into a world not only because of stellar set-design, but also some twisty and absorbing film-making techniques. The sets are relatively two-dimensional, painted, with architecture and furniture based on the artwork of artist Allen Jones; a feminist who made table-tops supported by mannequin, skimpily-dressed women. The film’s a looking-glass into adolescent violence and deviousness, with a timeless performance by Malcolm McDowell as the protagonist, Alex DeLarge.

Through wide-angle lenses and close-ups, Kubrick spins the image. The first scene starts as a close-up of Alex’s face, with his signature spiked-brow, and then zooms out and displays the world where Alex and his friends reside, the Korova Milk, where he and his friends, or ‘droogs’ as they’re called in the book and movie, are served tall glasses of milk laced with drugs.

The film follows teenager Alex and his droogs as they gather together and raid through houses, stealing from people in a society that seems to lack authority and discipline. After Alex’s droogs become resentful of Alex having always been the self-proclaimed leader, he puts them back into their place by a violent showcase of his ‘leadership’. They don’t like this, and resulting in a setup for a robbery where the gang leaves Alex behind and abandoned to be scooped up by the police. Alex now must begin his rehabilitation by the State.

Alex is given the choice while imprisoned if he’d like to be released early, if he participates in an experiment for a new treatment to rehabilitate the minds of heinous criminals. He agrees on a whim, seemingly excited by it. It turns out that this experiment will change his life, his likes, and his personality permanently. The experiment subjects him to violent images filled with blaring Beethoven, his favorite musician, and other terrible images, by keeping his eyes latched open with a wiry device clasped around his head. This causes him to be repulsed by the violent deeds he previously enjoyed, thus curing him. This poses the question of the importance of free will: Does the effect on society equate to more than the individual’s desires? The movie is a meditation on exploitation and abuse of authority, though in an ironic way: we’re told, almost forced, to try and have sympathy for a violent criminal.

The film blends together glassy, dystopian cinematography with a brilliant soundtrack of songs that may or may not be fitting to their particular scenes; they aren’t supposed to be. Initially outlawed in many countries, it soon became a cult-classic thereafter, with video stores having to put up signs on their doors that read, “No, we don’t have ‘A Clockwork Orange'”.  A classic and utterly unique science-fiction movie.

Film Review: Chinatown

Chinatown, directed by the acclaimed director Roman Polanski,  is a feat of modern noir, and an equally crowning achievement from Robert Towne, whose screenplay made the show. It takes place in a classic Los Angelos, and is about a private investigator named J.J. Gittes, who gets a call for help from a woman looking for an investigator of her husband’s murder. This woman turns out to be in a very complex case, one that has to deal with the power behind the Water supply of Los Angeles, and a series of murders. Mr. Mulroy was the partner of Noah Cross, (John Huston), and is found dead in the waters of Los Angeles. Tons of water is being poured meaningless into the bay: Why?

The movie takes a contemplative look into the world of the private-eye, and into the world of a woman who has been confused about herself and family for a very long-time; “She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!”. I feel as though the film shows J.J. Gittes as a man who goes after the controversial-cases, a sort of light mobman, and this case is him trying to set his reputation, both internally and publicly, straight. The film boasts great scenes of light-decor filled with smoke, and tense, mysterious gestures from the characters: We, because we follow Mr. Gittes, never know what the other characters are doing or why, especially Mrs. Mulroy and Noah Cross, her father, though one can assume she has been subjected the most unfairly. You can see it in her eyes, and the dark, careless way she speaks.

Their is a famous scene with Roman Polanski as a stand-in actor, a gangster-like figure around the water-supply area, who cuts Gittes nose off, leaving him with a metaphorical bandaged nose for the rest of the film, a lack of scent. And it couldn’t be more true, though not out of incompetence; He takes pictures, keeps his findings hidden from colleagues, and blasphemies politicians as he attempts to get information, truly seeing for himself and for us, the corrupt world of covering the tracks in political life. The water’s are muddy, and we sense it early on.

Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown’ is a tense and suspenseful movie: It takes us through dark alleys and clouded actions, and out the end with still unsettled grounds: It’s what happens in Chinatown. A jarring, wild ride of classic noir film-making, and a great testament to Polanski’s talent of atmosphere and meticulous staging.

Psycho

Pyscho changed the way America looked at movies, and how much they really could tolerate while sitting in them. For the majority, Psycho liberated the isolated horror genre, and created a world of mystery and deceit worth the price of a ticket. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock weaves together a story in parts consisting of different characters and their points of view. The first is the unassuming Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, who steals money from her work and skips town in a hurry, only to find crossing the street her boss, his eyes prying into her guilt-stricken face; their she meets the cinema famous Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, who acts suspiciously, and then, murderously.

The main suspicion in the movie, placed almost subliminally by Hitchcock by way of the winding stairs on the hill, is the house where Norman’s mother resides. We see the silhouette of her torso and head in the top-left window, but never are the characters directly greeted by her. And while her mystery is peculiar, so is her son Norman’s behavior, who has an eerie boyish, suppressed attitude; he seems to be easily over-run and maybe vulnerable.  He cleans, replaces towels, and sustains the motel, even when he knows that they are located in such a desolate, rarely-visited place.

The rain pounding on the car, the windshield fiercely swiping it aside, is a classic scene of paranoia, and we feel almost in the mind of Marion, so intimate and revealing on an endless road of perturbed thoughts. Who knows what Hitchcock was trying to say about karma, but it must have been something. He displays several static shots of fear, like Norman’s bird collection, which somewhat wrongfully seems like a warning of his illness, though their is nothing really wrong with hunting birds. And then, the legendary shower scene itself, the moment where Marion is truly taken over. The rest of the film involves finding what has caused her to go missing, with our consciousness now streaming with the horror of the hotel, a form of dramatic irony for the horror genre.

Lila Crane, played by Vera Miles, and Sam Loomis, Lila’s boyfriend played by John Gavin, are now privately investigating the hotel, the sort of unknowing terror that modern horror films manipulate, in a more characteristically ignorant manner. The film is a masterpiece of terror and suspense, a convention-bending Hitchcock movie that won’t be forgotten in the swamps or the drain.

 

Paths of Glory (1957)

7/10

Kubrick directs his first big-budget feature, Paths of Glory, with grace and his signature phlegmatic style of shot-succession. It stars Kirk Douglass Col. Dax, a young leader whose occupation as a crime lawyer shines through his personality, before he even has to take the stand. Although Douglass is known by some as a vanity actor, I get the feeling that after he thought he could push young Kubrick around in ‘Spartacus’, as the producer, now as an actor he found his ‘rank’. He gives a strong, constrained performance, as the man who tries very hard to be the mirror of the General’s immorality, and of the idea of war entirely.

Col. Dax leads the units in the trenches many yards back from the ant hill, a rather funny name to be used in such seriousness by higher-ups. But when he is ordered by his higher-command, Gen. Mireau, to raid up towards Ant Hill, which even then they could barely hold from a distance, Col. Dax is forced into this act of wrong futility. He obeys orders, and the result is half the men charging and being blown to pieces, in a very effective tracking shot concerned only with the frame of the charging soldiers. The other half of the soldiers don’t charge at all; this cowardice, as Gen. Mireau calls it, who by now we can see is a soulless man whose been in Wars far too long, is put into military court. Gen. Mireau demands execution of his own French troops for their cowardice; beginning with a request of one-hundred, it ends with the selection of one from each regiment, a total of three. The rest of the film concerns itself with the morality of this, and the desperation of Col. Dax for a way to save the soldiers from a pointless execution.

We know once the court hearing is adjourned that the soldiers are going to die; it is a transparent slight in the film that the one-position opinion of Col. Dax is so absolute, as to mimicking the same absoluteness of the General. The military is too attached to cowardice, and sending a signal, more so to the public’s approval than the soldiers, about how things are run. At this end, the rest of the movie seems pointless, yet the ruminations of Col. Dax on the nature of war are enticing;  he stands up to higher-ups and even when they don’t always catch it, we do: he plays word-games on the bluntness of the Generals when it comes to death and rightness, constantly.

Paths of Glory is a unique war film, expected from the anti-war director Stanley Kubrick. He approaches the story with economical methods of  narrative, from the perspectives of all parties involved, including in the cellar with the soon to be executed soldiers. Stark, riveting, and unnerving, Paths of Glory strikes rebellion in the gut from the comfort of a chair.

Repulsion (1965)

Revulsion, directed by Roman Polanski, is his first English-made film and a great example of his talent for suspense and quiet paranoia. He shows through his filmography that he has a real tendency or characterization of apartments as terrible, solitary locations. They’re small and hot, unclean and perched above the alive city and all the moors that goes on right below on the streets. His film “Rosemary’s Baby”, though having to do with fear of pregnancy, also involves a woman in an apartment, paranoid and introspective.

Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, a man-hating introvert, she works at a multistory woman’s parlor, rarely ever being around men, good or bad. The first scene shows a woman laying on a cushioned bench, her face painted with invigorating lotion, Carol silently unresponsive to the woman’s demands. We can see that she is caged by her mind, which results in some trouble at work. She lives in an apartment beside a church-tower, the bell periodically ringing right outside the kitchen-window. Living in the apartment with her is her older sister and the sister’s boyfriend, a wife-cheating smooth-talker who can’t get on good terms with Carol no matter how hard he tries. He annoyingly touches her things stashed underneath the bathroom cupboard: this meticulous focus on detail displays her indefinite obsessiveness and highly anti-social tendencies.

Carol has a James Dean like early-twenties man somewhat stalking her as she walks on the street, trying to persuade her to go out to lunch with him. He seems warm-hearted, and Polanski strays away from first-person and into this man’s perspective at certain times; he really seems like just a simple, friendly guy with a bit of a crush. But she doesn’t see him as anything good, she sees him as an annoying, rotten little vermin continuously poking her. Her inability to socialize with the opposite-gender turns her into a paranoid shut-in, and for the second half of the film she’s exactly and only that: whoever visits her disovers the deep recesses of her mind, especially now that her sister has departed on vacation and left her by herself.

Polanski displays a keen photographic eye, invoking sharp-cuts into the gloomy eyes of our protagonist, and chaotic moments of extreme angst and anxiety, a shaky-camera mixed with Carol’s bulging pupils and placid-white skin. A classic of American cinema, and a clear indicator of the quality of work Polanski would continue to produce.

Dr. Strangelove

10/10

Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is hands down the greatest cold war satire in cinematic history. Filmed in monochrome, it showcases the undebatable talent of director Kubrick, seaming together three different scenarios into a feature-film: Jack Ripper’s office, the war-room, and the cockpit of the deterring plane itself. It all roots from one man, Jack Ripper, and his sudden order for Plan F, to send one of the twenty-four hour a day planes off to the target, Russia, who he thinks are communists conspiring to take away the precious bodily fluids; Jack Ripper is clearly homosexual, as he juggles his thick cigar constantly in his mouth and tells of his refusal to give woman his precious bodily fluids.

Peter Seller’s stars in three different roles: The Nazi weapons expert, the president, and the hostage of Jack Ripper. The war-room rendezvous with the president converse hilariously with a trigger-happy General Buck Turgedsen, played by George C. Scott, who really attracts the spotlight with his uproarious character, descriptive of right-wing paranoia and compulsiveness. When the president says he has invited the Russian Ambassador, he instantly fears putting in full-view the plans and war-screen, and when he does come stumbling in, the general plants a camera on him, quite literally tackling him with his masculine physique; he calms down by chewing a stick of gum, wrappers scattered across his table-space. The ambassador lightly calls him a fool, seems to not be bothered much.

The nuclear-carrying plane, blocked from communication, was not enough for the film: Added in is the doomsday device, a computer controlled deturrent that automatically destroys all human and animal life; “Your not suppose to keep it a secret!” the nazi weapons specialist shouts. This bumps the consequence up higher, and it is no longer a matter of what the world thinks, but if they will survive.

In many of Kubricks films, like Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, he mocks the petty “Uncle Sam” notions of war peace. As soldiers move in to infiltrate the base that Gen. Ripper has locked down, bullets fly across the frame, and in the distance is the sign, “Peace is our Profession”.

The film never lets you breathe with its comedy and even tension for the final minutes of the planes course. Their are many newcomer actors, like the Texas Cowboy pilot played by Slim Pickens, who I found to be tedious in his reciting at times. Regardless, the tree of characters and performances are legendary, a cinematic masterpiece in the actors art of gesture and timing, and will endure even past its date of historical satire.