"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
The following is my recommendation for those enjoying Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
The Asphalt Jungle, Granddaddy of all caper films is one of America’s finest motion pictures.
This was not only the first film to completely focus on the planning and execution of a big caper but more exceptionally, the distinctive and diverse aspirations of the characters involved. Its premise inspired numerous others, including Rififi from France and Big Deal on Madonna Street from Italy. The Badlanders (1958), Cairo (1963) and Cool Breeze (1972) were remakes. Every film so entirely consumed with a heist is in its debt. American director John Huston has given us his greatest and most substantial film from a resume of great films including The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The plot is fairly straightforward and concerns a jewel robbery. So why is this deserving of such high praise? It’s because of the story's unique characters and their many subtle details, expressed throughout in such creative and effective ways. These individual traits, so cleverly woven into the plot’s tapestry, overwhelmingly relate to the director’s favourite theme of shattered hopes and dreams. The thieves' collective endeavour, which of course is purely selfish in nature, sets up the audience to believe they will act that way personally as well. We are therefore surprised when witnessing their various concerns for one another, human frailties and sacrifices. Their behaviour also contributes to the suspense as we gradually become more invested in each one’s tenuous fate.
Their success will depend on an unscrupulous lawyer who will act as a fence when the goods are delivered. The lawyer has dreams of his own, however, motivating him to plan a double-cross.
The story builds to a shattering climax that rivals in impact the finale of Brahms’ First Symphony. In the preceding scene to a most satisfying conclusion, the Police Chief appears in front of reporters and speaks about the need for law enforcement, boasting of his investigative results. One is still out there, but the Commissioner proudly predicts “We’ll get the last one too. In some ways, he’s the most dangerous of them all. A hardened killer. A hooligan. A man without human feeling or human mercy.” And then, in one of cinema’s most disparate story transitions we see the man he spoke of. Miklos Rozsa’s music, not heard since the opening credits, comes bursting to the fore with jabbing strings and rapidly rising runs in the woodwinds, perfectly underscoring these final precious moments. Rozsa’s emotionally driven score and the actors’ impassioned sincerity add beauty and pathos to a display of iconic imagery that will forever live in our memories. The Asphalt Jungle will merge (updated) with Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley Saturday, June 1 at 9:45am PST and again Sunday June 2 at 7am PST. The TCM schedule can be confirmed by clicking on the image below.
Television's Ray Donovan - ('Walk This Way' Season 2, Episode 7) now enters Breaking Bad territory: Previous episodes' deliberately paced reveal of distinctively damaged personalities and their conflicting self interests are here, inventively confined and masterfully juxtaposed before colliding in maximum overdrive.
The inspired collaborators skillfully cut like a surgical team into each character, revealing incisive insights amidst an expertly controlled display of dramatic fireworks. Liev Schreiber's 'Wellesian' directorial prowess should be rewarded with the opportunity to direct whatever he desires. Ann Biderman's superb script for this episode does justice to Schreiber's formidable talent.
The Soundtrack recommendation for this month is Jerry Goldsmith's majestic score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
This was the very first movie made from the TV series: big, expensive looking and taking plenty of time to get where it's going. That leisurely pace allows those of us who aren't looking for a simple good vs. evil shoot 'em up in space to soak up the incredible imagery and become increasingly engaged in the fascinating mystery at its core. Directed by the superb craftsman Robert Wise, using an idea borrowed from a previous television episode, the impressively expanded narrative looks like nothing we'd see on the small screen. The characters are of course familiar, and some of their scenes together have a highly enjoyable nostalgic factor, but their reactions to the threat at hand are compelling and sweep us up until all is revealed in a spectacular, philosophical conclusion. This epic mystery provides an immense canvas for composer Goldsmith to do his thing and he paints it lavishly. From his opening heroic theme to the excitingly rhythmic Klingon battle, through to the expansive spacial beauty of the V'ger flyover and Spock's walk, Goldsmith repeatedly dazzles and amazes us with his compositional expertise. This is one of the greatest scores created for a motion picture, and one hell of an underrated motion picture at that: thought by many to be inferior to the others in the series but in reality the most mature and sophisticated of the lot. Not to mention, its narrative is truer to the science fiction genre than other more heralded films identified as such. The soundtrack is for those who love large, bold orchestral scores and provides the perfect winning hand to any argument over whether or not certain movies should have them. The La La Land 3 CD soundtrack set is a limited but definitive release and is currently available from Screen Archives Entertainment. It can be ordered by clicking on the image.
The Blu-ray recommendation for the month of September is the only non-Pink Panther collaboration between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, 1968's The Party.
Most of this funny and charming movie was reportedly improvised by the star playing one of his most endearing characters, the bumbling and unaccustomed to Western ways, Hrundi V. Bakshi. Before some get in a tizzy over Sellers' satirical impersonation of an East Indian, they should know that the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was very fond of repeating the line, "In India, we don't think who we are, we know who we are!", Sellers' reply to an accusatory "Who do you think you are?" His humble responses to the subtle predicaments he finds himself in are an absolute joy to watch. The movie is belied by its experimental nature, looking fresh and naturally inspired by the works of French director Jacques Tati. A supporting turn by Steve Franken (See: End Credits) as a waiter who gets totally sloshed adds to the fun. Henry Mancini did the fabulous score including the very beautiful song Nothing to Lose which, like the film's final moments, is extremely moving. The Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber is scheduled for release on September 16 and can be ordered from Amazon by clicking on the image.