Category Archives: Detective

2007 Best Movie Bracket

As I mentioned in the last post, 2008 was the beginning of the Comic book adaptation explosion. This march through the years to determine the Best Movie of all time really shows that themes come out in particular years. 2007 was loaded with amazing movies that almost no one saw. They were so good that I may have my first year with multiple winners. I say that no one saw them because the top 3 highest grossing films of 2007 were Transformers, Shrek the Third, and Spider-Man 3. All were panned by critics and had lackluster performance at the box office. This was a year for those Superbad movies and others like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Wild Hogs, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Bee Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Norbit.

That being said, the ugly performance of popular films in 2007 really made the gems shine. We had an artsy Bob Dylan biopic with I’m Not There, and one of the coolest, nerdiest documentaries ever in King of Kong. There was a great entry from one of my favorite directors Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) who gave us Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. We saw a minor resurgence of good westerns with a 3:10 to Yuma remake and my pick for best long title movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On the musical front, there were several solid entries from Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe, August Rush, and the hauntingly beautiful Once. There were also two emotionally shattering foreign films in Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

Other must watch films from the year include: Hot Fuzz, Ratatouille, Juno, Into The Wild, I Am Legend, Sunshine, Atonement, Gone Baby Gone, Lars and the Real Girl, American Gangster, Persepolis, and Michael Clayton. Charlie Bartlett is the film that sticks in my mind for the late Anton Yelchin, It is not a perfect film, but it is very entertaining with a great cast. However, all of these good films should wait if you haven’t seen any of my top three. I consider two of them modern classics that are almost perfect films.

3rd – Zodiac

Zodiac is a woefully underrated film from David Fincher, the same director that gave us Se7en and Fight Club. Roger Ebert said in his four-star review, “Zodiac is the All the President’s Men of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist…. What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids chases, shootouts, grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work.” The cast (Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the tone and script are all so tight and precise. It’s a delightful movie and immensely frustrating and entertaining. Now, onto the two films which I will be including in the Best Movie Bracket Competition.

Continue reading 2007 Best Movie Bracket

The Nice Guys (2016) Review

The Nice Guys is to LA crime stories what Deadpool is to superhero flicks: at once a celebration and a send-up. That’s just the kind of storytelling moviegoers have come to expect from Shane Black, who directed the film and co-wrote it. Black has a history of blending irreverence and violence going all the way back to his legendary script for Lethal Weapon (1987). However, Black didn’t become a name until the release of Iron Man 3, which saw a lukewarm reaction from fans.

niceguysretro

Several years before that Marvel film, Black made his directorial debut, with the black comedy/noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is great. In many ways, The Nice Guys feels like a spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. With twisty detective plots, style to spare, comedy as black as night, and a plethora of interesting characters, the films would make for a great double feature, and they showcase exactly where Black’s directorial strengths lie. Is this a family film? No way. Does it include scenes that some may find painful to watch? You bet. Will you be entertained? Thoroughly.

Continue reading The Nice Guys (2016) Review

Chinatown (1974)

Roger Ebert Original 1974 review:

Roger Ebert Great Movies Review – 2000:

Based on a script by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Jack Nicholson, 1974’s Chinatown takes place in 1930s Los Angeles. Private Investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman who claims that her name is Evelyn Mulwray. She wants Gittes to follow her husband, Hollis, and discover whether he’s having an affair. Gittes gets some pictures of Hollis with a young woman and hands them over to Evelyn. The next day, the pictures are published on the front page of the newspaper and Gittes is confronted by another woman (Faye Dunaway) who explains that she — and not the woman who hired him — is the actual Evelyn Mulwray. Gittes then learns that Hollis has turned up dead, drowned in a reservoir.

chinatown3Gittes suspects that Hollis was murdered and launches his own investigation. This eventually leads Jake to Hollis’s former business partner, Noah Cross (John Huston). Noah also happens to be the father of Evelyn and he offers double Gittes’ fee if Gittes will track down Hollis’s younger girlfriend. As his investigation continues, Gittes discovers that Hollis’ murder was connected to both the continued growth of Los Angeles as a city and a truly unspeakable act that occurred several years in the past. Nobody, it turns out, is what he or she originally appears to be. I really can’t say anything more without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it before. Continue reading Chinatown (1974)

Day 26 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie You Love But Everyone Else Seems To Hate – 30 Day Movie Challenge

I’m not sure why most critics didn’t enjoy this film. I wonder if it had anything to do with the dark tone or the fact that there is a giant blue penis on display for half the film. But I love the alternate reality and the bleak landscape. Imagine an America where ordinary people have donned masks and alter-egos to take the law into their own hands. That sounds like the opening exposition of every superhero story. Now imagine that in this world, because of the threat of Communism, Richard Nixon has not been impeached. Rather, he is serving his fifth consecutive term in the White House. That could be the most implausible thing about the whole film. Caped superheroes, sure. A flame throwing owl aircraft, no problem. A glowing blue demi-god, why not. But the idea that Nixon won that many elections, that takes a suspension of reality. But in a world where America won the Vietnam war (albeit with the help of a superhuman) a lot of things could be different.

Nixon has outlawed vigilante justice telling the heroes to put away their masks and rejoin society. What use is a caped crusader when you wield the power of a god. At one point, a newscaster says, “the superman does exist, and he is American.” So all the watchmen are either in hiding, trying to live a normal life, or have resorted to criminal actions to continue their masked marauding. Dr. Manhattan is the only one with superpowers in the literal sense, and he lives outside ordinary time and space and has control over the forces of the universe. It is dark and philosophical and I just really enjoyed it.

In most superhero movies, you’d just be waiting for everyone to snap out of it, climb into the spandex, and save the day almost guaranteeing a sequel. But there’s so much dread and baggage surrounding this group of justice seekers that it isn’t clear who the hero is, if there even is one. So what do you think? Did you like Watchmen? Am I way off? Please leave me a comment in the section below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 10 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Classic Movie

This was another category that suffered from the use of vague language. What is a classic movie? What criteria would you use to define a classic? I think what determines a classic film is the same thing that determines a classic piece of literature: the test of time. No film or literature of substandard quality will survive that test. The key to passing this test of time is a work’s universal appeal. This asks for my favorite, not the most classic, so I am pleased to share my favorite classic movie, North By Northwest.

Alfred Hitchcock made so many movies, but there are three in particular that are generally considered to be his best: Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). North by Northwest was nominated for Academy Awards for its screenplay, art direction, and editing, but lost all three to Ben-Hur. It placed 40th on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the best movies of all time, and it has consistently ranked in the top 50 as ranked by IMDB users.

The 1950s were a great decade for Alfred Hitchcock. He had so many hits with Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He also had a TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But in 1958, Vertigo was released and failed to impress critics or audiences. Hitchcock was undoubtedly disappointed by this and couldn’t know that Vertigo would eventually be considered one of his masterpieces. But he vowed that his next project would be a more tested and tried effort that would be more of a crowd-pleaser. The film was a box-office hit, second only to Ben-Hur for the year, and got positive reviews from critics.

It starred Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill a New York advertising executive who is mistakenly identified as a secret government agent, this put a target on his back. Then he’s framed for murder, this puts him on the run from the police as well as the bad guys. While on the run, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who apparently believes his story and wants to help. I’m not going to give you any more about the plot because I want everyone to see it. It has so many iconic scenes and it is still powerful today. It influenced a whole genre of action-suspense-espionage movies. Only three years after its release, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, appeared. Of course, James Bond is a spy, whereas Roger Thornhill was only mistaken for one. But both films have implausible action sequences in outrageous locations like Mount Rushmore. They both have beautiful but mysterious women who take an interest in the hero. And both have a well-dressed leading man who is suave, has a knack for one-liners, a fondness for liquor. You can probably think of dozens of movies since 1959 that have operated on those same principles.

With North by Northwest, Hitchcock tweaked the basic man-on-the-run story with witty dialogue, charismatic performances, and visually arresting action sequences. He demonstrated that these elements of basic popular entertainment, which are sadly looked down upon by some who call themselves critics, could be applied to big-budget studio films. He showed that a movie could be entertaining, thrilling, and funny, smart and well-produced. It didn’t have to choose to be either high-brow or low-brow. North By Northwest is an extremely entertaining thrill ride. There is not a lot of substance or meaning to it, it is just a tremendously fun roller coaster ride that Hitchcock takes us on. When I first saw it as a kid, I was hooked. And it set a precedent for hundreds of blockbusters that followed in its wake.

Day 07 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

The Most Surprising Plot Twist Or Ending

This is a really fun topic to think about. On the other hand, it is an extremely hard one to write about. I want to tell you about all these films that have an excellent plot twist but I don’t want to give away what that twist is just in case someone hasn’t seen it. So, consider this your warning. There will be tons of spoilers ahead. I could not choose just one film without giving some honorable mentions. So I will give you my top-5 plot twists or endings. I hope you will join in the discussion and let me know your favorites in the comments below.

5) The Sixth Sense (1999)
This film has the most talked about twist of all time. I doubt that there is anyone reading that doesn’t already know about the twist that gave director M. Night Shyamalan his trademark. There are almost no clues in the film, showing us that Bruce Willis’ character is actually dead from the start, besides the alienation with his wife. The Sixth Sense was a tremendous crowd-pleaser, and that was its real success. Looking back over ten years later, I can’t overlook the plot holes, like how he entered houses and other metaphysical questions. That being said, this movie was extremely entertaining and helped to reinvent a whole genre.
4) The Others (2001)
This movie combines the right direction, script, editing and performances, all for the sake of the final twist. It borrowed some elements from The Sixth Sense, and it sets you up right from the very beginning. It seems like a simple plot that we’ve seen countless times, the haunted mansion, the children seeing ghosts. And it lulls the audience into a sense of complacency with the film. But as the film marches to the end, everything gets flipped on its head, and the ending is a total shock. And afterwards you think, why didn’t I see that coming? This movie is based on a main concept we’d never seen before. We saw things from a ghost’s point of view.
3) The Usual Suspects (1995)
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It has a tremendously well-written script and Kevin Spacey is remarkable as Verbal Kint. But could he be Keyser Soze? Was the whole thing made up just to get the police off their tail? The plot makes you want to see the movie again and again to look for clues. After several times however, some revealing plot holes open up. But all that does is provide more fodder for discussion with all your fellow movie watching friends. Because they can all be interpreted differently by each viewer. But that’s the magic of the movie. It’s not just the final twist, but that final twist is great to the point that I want to buy this minimalist movie poster made in honor of the film.
2) Fight Club (1999)
Just how twisted and disturbed is the Narrator? When we finally realize that Tyler Durden is just a figment of his fractured imagination, an alter ego that personified all the qualities he lacked, you can’t help but admire the way all the events where presented to us. And upon a second or hundredth viewing, there are clues dropped throughout the movie. The single frame shots of Tyler that appear as his personality starts kicking in, the long, and gorgeously written, monologues of the Narrator, the attitude of Marla and other supporting characters. This movie almost completely failed at the box office. I was a junior is High School when it came out and I never heard of it. It was labeled as a product of a violent culture that leads kids in trench coats to bring guns into their schools and kill innocent people. Fight Club is a disturbing movie, but it is honest and real. This twist has an actual meaning unlike most films that just entertain, this one leaves you thinking. I couldn’t bring myself to make it number 1 because of the quality of that champion and because this one will appear again in my 30 day challenge and I was determined not to have any repeats.
1) Psycho (1960)
When you look up “Horror Film” in the dictionary, this picture of Janet Leigh screaming should appear next to it. I believe that Psycho is the greatest horror film ever made. It’s hard to find anything wrong with it. When watching an older movie, you have to put yourself in the mindset of someone from that period. One of the reasons the shower scene became so notorious was that the elements of sexuality and murder were ground breaking. In 1960, seeing a nude women being murdered in a shower was something that no-one had experienced yet. Nowadays, seeing Jason double-spearing two lovers having sex is nothing uncommon. Also, because Janet Leigh was the headliner of the film, no one expected to see her die so early on. After that scene, then the real movie began, and we get a glimpse into the disturbing world of Norman Bates, a man who loved his mother a bit too much. I envy those who experienced Psycho in 1960… in the theater… they experienced the full terror of Psycho.

Well, there it is. Oh yeah, I had a few others that ended up just outside the top 5. I think of A Beautiful Mind, Memento, The Prestige, and Saw. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know. This is way more fun when you talk back. Leave your comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

I’m really glad I decided to tackle this mountain of film called the IMDb Top 250. In this post, I want to take a closer look at#248, Shadow of a Doubt. I consider myself a Hitchcock fan, but this is one of his masterpieces that I had never seen before. I’m not sure why I avoided it for so long, perhaps it was simply lack of opportunity. But no one has an excuse to not see this film. Heck, you don’t even have to pay for it. You can watch the whole thing right now on YouTube. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972 said that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite of all his films. Being familiar with his films and sharing his dry and bleak sense of humor, I can see why.

The actors were superb, famous in their time, but not superstars. Teresa Wright, who remains the only performer ever to be nominated for Oscars for her first three films (The Little Foxes, Mrs. Miniver, The Pride of the Yankees), stars as young Charlie (Charlotte) who is tired of being a ordinary girl in an ordinary family. She believes that inviting her Uncle Charlie from Philadelphia will invite some much needed happiness to her depressing surroundings. But Uncle Charlie, portrayed superbly by Joseph Cotten who had a role in Citizen Kane and starred in The Magnificent Ambersons, has his own secret reasons for leaving Philadelphia to stay with his sister in Santa Rosa for an undetermined amount of time.

Hitchcock collaborated with Thornton Wilder, author of Our Town, to portray Santa Rosa, California as Hometown U.S.A. With warm lighting and a friendly atmosphere, they deliberately makes us prefer the small Santa Rosa to the cold and industrial backdrop of Philadelphia. Hitchcock wanted to slowly introduce some darkness to these bright and cheerful surroundings. This was a social commentary in his day. While this film was produced and released in 1943, it is set in 1941. Many people my age wouldn’t even blink at the simple two year difference, but anyone who lived during those two years knows that they weren’t ordinary years. The bombing that occurred on December 7, 1941 irreparably changed the world the same way that the arrival of Uncle Charlie did that peaceful family and especially his admiring niece Charlotte.

Critics were quick to call this film cynical or morally vague, words that would come to characterize Hitchcock’s style of film-making, but in the wake of the great depression, a gruesome war, and the ever-present fear of nuclear holocaust the world itself became much more cynical and morally vague.  Much like Uncle Charlie, Hitchcock entered our country in a time of peace, as a welcomed guest, and he forever changed our whole way of thinking about movies.

As we get closer to Christmas, I know that I will inevitably see at least a scene or two from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. If you think about it, Hitchcock is like the anti-Capra. Another classic-film lover named Bill Wren said on his blog Piddleville, “Shadow of a Doubt presents us with an almost quintessential American town of the 1940′s. It’s almost Capra-esque. In a way, Shadow of a Doubt is George Bailey’s Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life except where Capra brings an angel to it, Hitchcock brings the devil.”

The singular flaw that prevents Shadow of a Doubt from being one of Hitchcock’s elite is the completely formulaic and totally unnecessary romance. It feels totally contrived and out of place. Perhaps this was Hitchcock’s way of showing that although young Charlie has grown through her ordeal, she hasn’t yet grown enough to see that the addition of others to your life will not make you happy if you cannot first be happy alone. If this was his aim, he was very subtle. Today, they would make a sequel in which we find out that her love interest is in fact a serial killer himself.

So what happens when young Charlie realizes the truth about her beloved Uncle? Will she get a chance to reveal his secret, or will he choke her into silent submission? I won’t ruin that ending of the movie for you. Take an hour and a half off and watch it yourself. By the end, you will be humming the Merry Widow Waltz and contemplating the state of the world. What do you think of Uncle Charlie’s assessment of our lives? “You live in a dream. You’re a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine? The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie.”

Thanks for watching with me. Next week provides a jump from pre-television wartime to fun loving computer animation and offers a much more lighthearted film, Toy Story 2. I hope you’ll join me.