Tag: black and white

Movie Review: High Noon (1952)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

I wanted to (shockingly) take a break from horror and Miles was in the mood for a western, so catching High Noon on netflix seemed like a good plan. The iconic film stars Gary Cooper as a marshal celebrating both his marriage to beautiful Quaker, Amy (Grace Kelly), and his pending retirement from law enforcement. His new idyll is shattered almost immediately when word comes that a murderer the marshal had arrested years ago has been released, and is due to arrive by noon. Though encouraged to leave town, the marshal feels he must take responsibility for the impending carnage and attempts to corral together a posse to defend against him and his gang of criminals. Most of the townsfolk either ignore his plight, plead for him to leave town, or actively hope for his death.

Thoughtfully paced (with constant ticking clocks to remind us of the impending titular hour), and beautifully shot, High Noon is basically a “thinking man’s” western. It relies more on character development, suggestive backstory, and narrative tension to create interest, with very little action until the big shoot out at the end. The stark black and white cinematography and exaggerated framing reinforce the drama, but it’s the cast and characterization that truly stand out to me. You’ve got a baby-faced Lloyd Bridges and a silent Lee Van Cleef, a sad Lon Chaney, Jr and an unexpectedly secretly badass Grace Kelly. And of course, Gary Cooper, stoic and stalwart, almost a caricature of heroic masculinity but sympathetic nonetheless. BUT REALLY the actual star is Katy Jurado, and I am OBSESSED with her and her character, Helen Ramírez. She’s outspoken and level-headed, as well as compassionate and proud. A hard-working businesswoman who fought to earn a living as an independent Mexican woman in a frontier town, she is looked down on by some for her love affairs but never allows herself to be victimized or shamed. For the most part she avoided the “fiery Latina” stereotype so prevalent in films (even today), and I have immense respect for both the character and actress.


With a plot that gets bleaker and bleaker as it progresses, High Noon somehow manages to be incredibly entertaining while also realistically depressing. Nothing good happens in this movie, not really, even though it might have a “happy” ending in that the good guy gets the bad guy. But really it’s a sad revelation of a broken justice system, a cowardly populace, and a confused romance. There isn’t much to root for here, neither the marshal’s inflated sense of purpose or the town’s self-protecting attitude. Personally I was dreaming of a future spin-off with Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly running off and starting a store together in another frontier town, it would be both a hilarious female-centric comedy and a study of complex culture clashes. This is what the public wants, nay, NEEDS!


Pair This Movie With: I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would be a good double feature, probably. I haven’t seen it in a while.

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part II

Near Dark
Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm. But first! Read Part I!

We’re getting into the very wee hours of the morning now, and there’s always this hump I have to climb over where I’ll be drifting off but then I’ll get my second wind. For this line-up I was dozing a bit during the fourth film, but woke up and was fine for the fifth and sixth. The fact that it was FREEZING in the theater probably helped me stay awake, but also made me uncomfortable! The seventh and final film, Brain Damage, was one I really wanted to see and I was totally awake for it, but I started freaking out about homework and a freelance project I had to finish and decided to check out early. But Brain Damage just arrived from netflix so I’ll be watching it soon! Anyway read on for the last films I DID watch at the Horrorthon, it’s an interesting mix.

4 13 Ghosts (1960)
This is a great example of the ridiculous gimmicks William Castle would get up to with his films, introducing “Illusion-O,” a use of 3D that revealed ghostly images when seen through a red lens and hid them when seen through the blue. Instead of the original visor-type of viewer we had red/blue glasses, so it was kind of annoying to look through one eye during all the Illusion-O moments, but I have to say the effect did look really eerie as the three-dimensional red ghosts moved through a 2D black and white space, I dug it. Unfortunately the movie itself is kind of dull, or at least it was for a sleepy audience in the early morning. I definitely nodded off a few times but got the general idea of the story (family inherits a wacky relative’s mansion, discovers he was a weirdo who collected ghosts, are subsequently haunted by them). I appreciated the at-times weird visuals (wtf was with that headless lion tamer? And the mustachioed chef ghost?) and the self-aware characters, but the little boy was irritating and the whole subplot about the hidden money and the duplicitous attorney was just whatever.

5 Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetery) (1981)
I woke up for the Fulci, which is good because last time they showed a Fulci at one of these things I slept through most of it. In learning my own horror tastes I’m realizing that I really like the idea of a haunted house movie, so I think that’s why I was more engaged by The House by the Cemetery than The Gates of Hell. Focusing on a family that moves into a creepy New England mansion haunted by the experiments of its previous tenant, “Dr Freudstein,” it’s half a hilariously bad movie, half a creepily good one. So there were a lot of emotions going on between the outrageously-dubbed child, stilted acting, melodramatic zooms, and genuinely spooky ghosts and wonderfully gory kills and freaky monster men and whatnot. Also what the FUCK was up with that doll-face babysitter? I fell asleep for like 5 minutes and maybe I missed her reveal, because she definitely had a mystery but I could not figure out what it was. She was helping Dr Freudstein sort of but then she got killed? And she reminded the mom of a doll? Or something? Maybe it was never explained.

6 Near Dark (1987)
I saw this years ago at the Somerville Theatre Horror Marathon when they had a “From Dusk to Dawn” vampire night, and I remembered really liking it but wasn’t too clear on the details. Look back on what I wrote then I think my feelings are basically the same- overall I’d say it’s a fun movie but the female lead is weak and the happy ending feels like cheating. That being said, Near Dark is just cool, I mean Bigelow is so good at making characters seem cool, you know? You’ve got an assholey Bill Paxton chewing all the scenery, smoking-hot couple Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henricksen, and a cowboy Adrian Pasdar, and everything’s just so slick and stylish. Also something I don’t think I put together last time: Adrian Pasdar’s character is turned basically as punishment for being pushy and sexually demanding on his date with Jenny Wright (he won’t drive her home until she kisses him, even though she seems anxious to get home), and the rest of the movie is hell for him, so that’s appropriate.

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part I

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm.

Oh hey, it’s that time of year again! Every year the lovely Coolidge Corner Theatre hosts a wild all-night horror marathon complete with live music, a costume contest, and lots of long-haired nerds. This year I was again joined by the magnificent Katie and her horror-loving beau, and together we took in several spooky classics. Also for the first time I participated in the costume contest! I forget to get a full photo but here’s a selfie from when I tested out my costume at a party, I was of course Dr Herbert West from Re-Animator, The Perfect Movie. I was a little bummed that this year there weren’t any video compilations from the Whore Church but it looks like they were premiering new stuff in Austin that weekend so I guess that’s why. We still got some fun trailers between films. Anyway, read on for the first three films!

1 Psycho (1960)
I hadn’t seen this film since maybe high school (?) so it was neat to revisit it on a big screen, as I remembered all the main points but was still surprised by some of the details. It’s a strangely-paced film, ostensibly a crime drama about a woman’s choice to steal money from her job, but really it’s about this unstable killer with whom she happens to cross paths. Hitchcock gradually shifts the focus and the perspective from her story to his story, and so the plot moves kind of weirdly but it all works thanks to the unsettling script, strong cast, and instantly-iconic camerawork. I love love Anthony Perkins here, he’s amazingly adept at switching between affable charmer and sinister sociopath, and it’s totally believable. Janet Leigh rocks some old-timey brassieres, a few cars are destroyed, and several people are murdered. Best of all I got to make a hilarious joke about Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score, pretending like I thought it was stolen from Re-Animator. Everyone likes this joke.

2 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
I saw this at the Horrorthon in 2011 so I was actually disappointed that they would show it again so soon- One thing I’ve liked about these events is that I’m always introduced to lots of awesome new-to-me films, but this year I’d already seen 3 of the 7 films being shown. Anyway, it’s still a good movie! Like Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is loosely inspired by Ed Gein, but much more visceral and gory in its horror. It’s got some serious scares, and an impressively resilient final girl. I mostly love all the freaky stuff with Leatherface’s family- like it starts off as this rural slasher but it gets SO weird as we really go further into this house and meet the inhabitants. The blood-sucking grandfather left the strongest impression on me this time, I didn’t remember how gross and creepy he was.

3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
OH MAN OH MAN. I’d been putting this one off for a while because I found the premise so scary (he gets you in your dreams? That’s fucking terrifying!), but I’m so glad I was basically forced to watch it here because I looooooved it. This movie is such a great combination of 80s ridiculousness, honestly frightening ideas, and amazing effects. I loved the characters, especially doofy Johnny Depp and the lovely Heather Langenkamp in the lead, whose wonderfully resolute character I really admired. And obviously Robert Englund as Freddie Krueger is fantastic, a truly memorable villain that I hear just gets snarkier and snarkier as the films go on, so I definitely plan on checking out some of the sequels. This one is pretty perfect all by itself though, gory and fun and chock-full of big hair, with a dreamlike atmosphere well-attuned to the subject matter. Nice score, too. There’s a reason it made my recent horror list!

Ok check back next time for Part II of the Horrorthon, which I mostly stayed awake for!

Movie Review: Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) (1964)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

So this semester (my very last semester of graduate school, hurray!) I’m taking a class on Latin American art during the Cold War, and it is fascinating. Most excitingly, I get to do a research paper on Cuban movie posters, oh my goodness, you have to know how gleeful that makes me. We watched Soy Cuba last week, and the script and on-set translator Pavel Grushko came and gave a talk about his experiences, which was very interesting. The film was a Soviet-Cuban co-production, but ultimately amounted to a Soviet representation of the Cuban revolution, tracking the nation’s extreme disparity of decadence and poverty in the 1950s, and revealing the cruelty of both American capitalists and Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. It is broken up into four major episodes, with the final story focusing on the guerrilla uprising led by Fidel Castro that ultimately took over the country. The film was shelved for years in Cuba because it was felt to be too epic and unrealistic, while in the USSR much of it was considered too sentimental and frivolous. It was rediscovered and released in the US by Martin Scorsese in the 90s, and is today considered significant primarily for its mind-boggling visuals courtesy of cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky.

Fusing propagandistic revolutionary rhetoric with sumptuous views of Cuba, Soy Cuba remains a fascinating testament to the differences between Soviet and Cuban ideologies, as well as a significant technical achievement. It is at once beautiful, sentimental, unreal, poetic, manipulative, and moving. The loose, episodic narrative structure allows the filmmakers to provide a multi-faceted view of Cuba and its inhabitants—its ethnic diversity, its natural resources, and its suffering and sacrifices in the period leading up to and during the revolution. Cuba is shown as a victim of American capitalism and hedonism, a nation that pulls itself out of Western colonial entrapment through inspiring, epic struggle (an exaggerated portrayal of the actual circumstances). It is not subtle in its propagandistic message, but it is also not untrue in its presentation of Battista’s corruption and violent repression.

The film’s variations in tone can be jarring, shifting from loud dance clubs to quiet shantytowns, from toil in the sugar cane fields to university student protests; its manipulative qualities are easily uncovered but its range of characters can still be appreciated. The Cuban cast (primarily pulled off the street by director Mikhail Kalatozov’s casting director wife) is excellent, with the standout being dancer Luz María Collazo as an unwilling sex worker. Her hard stare and determined expression manage to turn a mostly-silent woman into a more fully-realized character. The poetic segues between segments felt unnecessary, revealing a lack of trust in the effective visual storytelling, and adding a layer of mawkishness. Ultimately Soy Cuba’s strengths (and longevity) lie in its jaw-dropping visuals: the innovative long takes, sweeping camerawork, grand vistas, and symbolic imagery. But, its message of self-empowerment and rebellion against tyrannical leadership is one still recognized today, even if the context has changed.


Pair This Movie With: I’m really not sure, I haven’t seen any other Cuban films and I haven’t even seen too many other propaganda films. Perhaps another offering from the director/cinematographer team? Pavel Grushko talked up The Cranes Are Flying. Or there’s also a documentary about the making of Soy Cuba that I’d like to check out, called I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth.

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part I

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, all on 35mm.

This year the Somerville Theatre has revived its horror marathon (some might recall I attended its last incarnation in 2009), and of course we took the day off to attend because of priorities. It was a lovely time, complete with cartoon shorts and lots of horror trailers, and I even won a raffle prize that included From Dusk Til Dawn on blu-ray! Wow! Also lots of fantastic posters were hanging all around, courtesy of long-time Thon-er Francisco Urbano. I loved that they programmed it in chronological order (and one offering per decade), too, since I haven’t been to a marathon that’s done that before and you could sort of see the progression of style and writing in genre films. They called it a “Terrorthon” but honestly there was not much terror to be had, and the majority of the films were straight sci-fi with maybe some horror elements. Not that I’m complaining, since I love sci-fi and there were some very cool selections, but “Terrorthon” is misleading! They plan to do it again next year and if they do I hope it’s actually scary movies. Then again I’m sure my horror lust will be sated at the Coolidge Corner Horrorthon this Saturday night. Anyway. Here are the movies, several of which I’ve already blogged about but that’s ok.

1 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
I saw this years ago streamed on my laptop from netflix, which isn’t really the best way to experience it. Seeing it on a huge screen and with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis really heightened its effects, because this is such a goddamn beautiful film. I still think the protagonists are dull, and the pacing is totally off, but the artful visuals make it completely worth those drawbacks. I just can’t get over the contorted, painterly sets, fantastic use of color filters, and absolutely stunning make-up. I’ve also come to appreciate Conrad Veidt’s early use of leggings-as-pants, and his amazing face that I want to draw sometime. The title links to my original review.

2 The Invisible Man (1933)
I watched this for the first time three years ago, and remember not really loving it because I felt the horror elements didn’t work and didn’t like most of the characters. On second viewing I found myself really responding to the more comedic elements, because this movie is funny! All the scenes with the hysteric townspeople (especially birthday girl Una O’Connor) and bumbling police force are hilarious and I realized the film is more of a satire than anything else. Plus I still love the effects and Claude Rains’ performance. He sure does love yelling. And fancy smoking jackets. The title links to my original review, but I’m upping its score.

3 Dr Cyclops (1940)
This is one of the few films that was new to me, and I was excited for it when I saw it was on an icheckmovies horror list, but it was mostly a let down. The story concerns a mad scientist (Albert Dekker) experimenting with uranium in the Amazon Jungle, and some scientists he invites to help him out. He is very secretive about his work and after he gets what he needs from the group he kicks them out, but they are determined to learn what he’s developing. Turns out he’s shrinking living organisms, which feels really anti-climactic. Of course he soon shrinks the gang and they run around as rodent-size people for a while and Dr Cyclops (named for his glasses) chases them around the jungle. Eh. It’s mostly boring, definitely racist (hellooooo Latino stereotype!), and underwhelming in its premise. Dekker is good as the nefarious title character and I was happy to see a lady scientist who was mostly useful, and sometimes its silliness won me over, but that’s really minor praise. I felt like I might as well just be watching The Incredible Shrinking Man which is totally amazing and way way way better.

4 Forbidden Planet (1956)
I watched this movie the year before I started this blog, I can recall watching it in my depressing dorm room sophomore year on my tiny tv. I don’t remember it very well, something about Leslie Nielsen in outer space macking on Anne Francis and her dad’s a dick and Robby the Robot is there. Right? Yeah. Well my companions and I were getting hungry and didn’t want to miss any of the later films so we decided to take a break for dinner (at the meat-tastic M3, mmmm) during this one, sorry. We even braved walking into Honk! which just so you know was a very courageous thing to do. Oh, and there was a really fantastic Tex Avery short shown just before Forbidden Planet about televisions of the future, and it was literally laugh-out-loud and also fairly prescient.

Continued with Part II!