Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Glass Key

1942 saw the release of two film noirs starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. The first was This Gun for Hire, which firmly put Ladd and Lake amongst the greats of noir. (It's also the best-known of their seven-film collaboration.) The second one got lost amongst the other titles of 1942 but stands out on its own.

That film is Stuart Heisler's The Glass Key. Based on Dashiell Hammett's novel of the same name. it's a tale of political corruption and murder. And like The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon (also adaptations of Hammett's work), it's a perplexing whodunnit.

In comparison to The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key is noticeably more violent in nature.At one point in the film, Ladd's face is beaten to a pulpy mess (well, as pulpy as the Hays Code can allow) by a goon. Even for a film released during the height of World War II, it's pretty vicious.

Plot-wise, you have to pay close attention to what's unfolding. Much like The Big Sleep in the years to come, there's a menagerie of characters ranging from those that lurk in the background to those only around for a handful of scenes. (A list of who's who might be necessary.)

Though not on the same level of greatness as The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key holds its own. Thanks to Ladd's natural charisma, he has a comfortable mood as he faces off against tough guys and even tougher dames (Lake included). It's a lesser-known title amongst the numerous film noirs but that doesn't mean it's one you should ignore.

My Rating: ****

Monday, November 23, 2015

Leave Her to Heaven

John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven appears to be your usual run of the mill melodrama from Hollywood's Golden Age, complete with Technicolor-drenched cinematography from Leon Shamroy. (Eat your heart out, Douglas Sirk.) But as the viewer gets to know Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) more, it's clear that something's not right about her.

How so? When she first lays eyes on Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), she remarks how much he resembles her recently deceased father. (For several scenes afterwards, she talks about her father in an almost obsessive manner.) They get married soon afterwards but Richard soon finds out that his wife's obsessions have shifted to him.

By this time, Hollywood was regularly churning out film noirs. But Leave Her to Heaven was one of the first noirs to be shot in Technicolor, and the results can be stunning. (No surprise how Shamroy got an Oscar for his work.) From Tierney's wardrobe to the sky at dusk, it adds a sort of dissonance to the film's story.

And as is the case with film noir, the performances are solid. The main draw is clearly Tierney, who earned her only Oscar nomination for her work in this. Her porcelain features are mystifying, distracting enough make one not notice her unbalanced behavior.

Leave Her to Heaven is frequently among the ranks of the greats though certain elements make the film show its age. That said, Tierney's performance and Shamroy's cinematography are stunning and timeless. (In all honesty, these are the main and only draws for Leave Her to Heaven.)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Human perseverance is an amazing thing. The willpower to survive is something unlike anything else. It's what separates us from other creatures in the animal kingdom.

There have been numerous stories throughout the media about such cases, many of them perpetrated by the monsters that walk among us. What happened to the victims is something that no one should either endure or inflict. But seldom do we hear about the survivors once the media frenzy calms down. (Then again, it's also respecting their privacy.)

Emma Donoghue's novel Room chronicles such a story. Told through the perspective of a five-year-old boy, it focuses on his and his mother's lives as they're sheltered in the titular room. With the story being told from his point of view, the novel takes on a dark tone as Jack watches the world he knows drastically change. (It's heartbreaking to read as he witnesses the abuse his mother endures from their captor.)

Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation maintains the dark ambiance of Donoghue's novel to the fullest. (Not to mention it's a stark contrast from Abrahamson's previous film.) The work from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay is fantastic (not often you see a child performance this effective), and Donoghue's script is as well. And despite its bleak mood, the film has some moments that'll leave a smile on your face.

So which of the two is better? Donoghue's novel is deeply haunting while Abrahamson's film perks up the mood as it wears on. Though the general feel for both of them is different, they both are resilient pieces of work in their own rights.

What's worth checking out?: Both.


All the President's Men. The Insider. Almost Famous. These are a few of the prominent films that focus on the world of journalism. Between and since their releases, there have been other films of a similar nature with varying degrees of success. Though there have been a few that managed to stand out.

So where does Tom McCarthy's Spotlight rank? Chronicling the coverage of a vast sex abuse scandal in Boston, the film strays away from being gentle about the subject matter. (If it did, you could easily see the film's quality dwindle.)

There's a certain detail throughout Spotlight that adds to the film's impact. Being about a scandal through the Catholic Church, its presence is known within various scenes. How so? Throughout various exterior shots, a church can be seen within the background. A nice touch from McCarthy.

And the actors McCarthy got for his film...good God. Every single one of them never waste a single moment when they're on screen whether it's one of the stars or an actor with one scene. It's not that often you see a film use all of its actors effectively.

Spotlight is one of those rare well-crafted films where all of its elements sing like a symphony. Every note of it works wonders, something that has to be done with fine precision. And everyone involved is at the top of their game here.

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Criterion Blogathon

So get this. Aaron of Criterion Blues, Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings decided to team up and do a blogathon together. Basically the objective is to talk about any film or topic so long as the Criterion Collection is involved. Sounds simple, right? Feeling bored, I figured I'd throw my two cents in for a Criterion release. But which one? Titles were being claimed left and right, so I opted for this one:

(1985, dir. Nicholas Roeg)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Gene Tierney 95th Birthday Blogathon

Simoa of The Ellie Badge is hosting a blogathon where the subject is Academy Award-nominated actress Gene Tierney. Admittedly I'm not deeply familiar with her work (I've only seen two of her films) but I felt like chipping my two cents. My film of choice?

(1946, dir. Edmund Goulding)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Labyrinth of Lies

There have been many horrors throughout history. Many of said horrors were perpetrated by people who were the epitome of evil. And in many of these instances, these monsters looked like they could be next door to you.

This point becomes the driving force once Giulio Ricciarelli's Labyrinth of Lies takes off. Set in the years following the end of World War II, it chronicles the journey to bring those responsible for the atrocities the Nazi Party committed. A task easier said than done.

As proven throughout history, there are those ashamed of their past actions. As shown throughout Labyrinth of Lies, the Germans of an older generation would best like to forget the war they lost. This further complicates matters for our protagonist (a composite of three lawyers from the real-life trial) but it doesn't stop him. Even if it alienates him from those around him, he still wants justice for the innocents.

And as Labyrinth of Lies wears on, it takes on a more paranoid nature. Makes sense because for our protagonist, he only has a small group of allies. How many of them can he actually trust? Knowing the world he's a part of, it leaves you wondering.

Labyrinth of Lies focuses on a country's misdeeds in a (mostly) unflinching light. (Apart from testimony from those who survived, what happened to the many victims of the Holocaust isn't shown or mentioned.) Ricciarelli does prove that one's actions can come with consequences and while not on the same scale as Judgment at Nuremberg, the film does add a new perspective on a dark spot in history.

My Rating: ****1/2