Upcoming reviews

Upcoming reviews

Hello everybody,

Here is what I have coming up in the review schedule.

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Psych (2006 TV Series) Lighthearted detective show starring James Roday and Dule Hill as a pair of unlikely detectives. Shawn Spencer (Roday) is a brilliant but sometimes lazy son of a police detective who solves crimes using his powerfully trained memory and analytical abilities. An unfortunate brush with the law in his youth means that he can’t become a police officer. So he does the next most logical thing, he pretends to be a psychic?!? Dule Hill plays his long suffering and hard working friend and partner in crime Gus Guster.

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Out Of The Past (1947) Robert Mitchum stars as a man trying to escape his past. His small town neighbors know him as a gas station clerk but Jeff has quite a few skeletons in his closet and we get to see most of them when that past comes calling. This is one dark, twisted and convoluted film noir and I’m still not sure what to make of it after viewing it for review.

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Mugshot: George Raft Many actors played mobsters and tough guys in their careers. George Raft more than likely was one in real life. George grew up in the toughest part of Hell’s Kitchen New York. Friends in his youth included such famous names as Owney Madden and Bugsy Siegel. While considered a top flight leading man and dancer in his day, his mob connections and tough guy roles overshadow his other accomplishments.

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The Box (2009) Modern psychological thriller starring Cameron Diaz that looks to borrow some of that Hitchcock mojo.A suburban couple receive a mysterious wooden box that will supposedly grant them 1 million dollars if they push the button. But pushing the button will simultaneously kill another human being somewhere in the world. They have 24 hours to make their decision. This starts an intense psychological and moral debate between them.

 

Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

Opening Statement

“We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,”

 

Review

 

L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) is a professional photojournalist used to a life of adventure. When he breaks his leg filming a crash at an auto race, he is confined to his small apartment. Bored, he tries to amuse himself by spying on the neighbors in nearby apartments. Naturally this growing (and quite frankly anti-social) obsession bothers his fiancée, Lisa (Grace Kelly) and nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter).

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Confined to quarters
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Nurse Stella, probably the toughest person in the film.
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Lovely Lisa

When Jeff begins to think one of his neighbors, salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), may be a murderer, he is drawn into a high stakes cat and mouse game that may endanger himself and his friends.

 

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Lars Thorwald, sales man. And murderer?

Rear Window is a film widely considered to be one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s masterworks. A classic tale of accidental voyeurism, obsession, murder and suspense. It seems like everything aligned perfectly for this film. Cast, cinematography and directing are all excellent.

 

One of the elements of Rear Window that I find interesting is that it raises questions about privacy and the dehumanizing aspects of high density urban environments. The characters in the film live practically on top of each other and can be observed like they were subjects in a zoo. Yet the protagonist doesn’t really know any of them. Some he names after their habits. Miss Lonelyhearts, the lonely, isolated woman. Miss Torso, the amateur dancer. The man known as the Songwriter. Jeff and the audience observer their daily routines in an uncomfortable level of detail, yet we never really meet them. Everything  we know about them is either through direct observation or Jeff’s musings about their lives.

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No one is safe from Jeff’s all seeing eyes.

 

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The musician
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Miss Torso, the dancer
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Miss Lonelyhearts, chronically unlucky in love.
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Housework when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Unlike To Catch A Thief, the romantic tension takes a secondary role to the primary storyline.

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The progression of this film is best described as a rollercoaster. I know the term Is overused (and misused) in film reviews, but in this case it fits perfectly. In the first part of the film we are discovering the setting and the characters, the first, ascending part of the coaster. Next, we get drawn into their story, the frustrations of wheelchair bound Jeff, Lisa’s frustrations with him, the ethical and moral issues with Jeff’s spying and the growing sense of wrongness with the neighbor. This is when the film hits the top of the coaster and slowly, inexorably tips over into the full suspense mode. At this point your patience is rewarded as the film pulls you into an increasingly intricate cat and mouse game between Thorwald and Jeff and his friends.

 

An interesting aspect of this film is that it was one of director Hitchcock’s many experimental projects and one of his more successful. In my review of To Catch A Thief, I mentioned that Hitchcock like to control every aspect of his more suspense oriented films. Rear Window is a great example of this.

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While Rear Window looks like a location shoot at a group Greenwich Village apartments and a central courtyard, the entire film was shot on a single massive soundstage. A great deal of it from the apartment window of the main character.

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One of the largest of its time, the set is a masterpiece of design, overhead were over 1000 massive studio lights with the ability to simulate different times of day from twilight to bright, mid-day sunlight. Thousands of other lights provided additional fills and point lighting for different elements of the sets.

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One of the “buildings” actually had livable apartments in it. Completely furnished with running water and electricity. The set was so massive that the studio building it was built in, had to be gutted to the basement in order to accommodate the many stories of apartment buildings.

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All one set.

This article in dangerousminds.net shows the massive scale of the set.

 

While certainly spacious, this set-bound design definitely adds a sense of claustrophobia to the film. Especially in the latter half. Limiting the viewers perspective to what Jeff can see from his apartment window intimately connects the audience to the character and you rapidly find yourself drawn into the story.

 

Assisting this is the diegetic nature of the soundtrack. Aside from the opening music, every sound in the film is distinctly part of the world of the film. This “natural” sound, ironically carefully and artificially crafted to sound natural, greatly enhances the real world feel of the film.

 

Verdict: 4.5 Gavels out of 5 Classic in the suspense genre that also brings up questions about voyeurism and the decline of privacy in modern urban environments. While some may find it a little slow at first, it builds up nicely. This is Hitchcock at his creative peak.

Dragnet (1951 Televison Series)

Dragnet (1951 Televison Series)

Opening Statement

“This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here, I’m a cop.”

Review

“Just the facts, ma’am.” Today I’ll be reviewing the great progenitor of all TV cop shows, Dragnet.Dragnet’s origins were actually in a syndicated radio program with a similar format and also starring Jack Webb. Set in the city of Los Angeles, Dragnet follows Detective Sgt. Joe Friday as he tackles cases (mostly) taken from police archives.

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Joe Friday, just the facts please.

The show typically concentrates on one primary case, but will show police work peripherally connected such as bookings, mugshots, misdemeanor cases and lineups. This shoes that the LAPD of Dragnet is a working department with a range of issues to deal with. The show also deals with the personal life of the main characters. Often showing the stresses that are unique to police work. At the conclusion of the episode, after announcing that the names in the show have been changed, the fate of this week’s wrongdoers is displayed just before the credits roll.

 

One thing that really helps the show is that many of the episodes were based on real crimes and have a grounding in reality that is lacking in many modern shows that seem to think they need a Hannibal Lector or Professor Moriarty every season to keep the show exciting. While professional criminals make appearances in Dragnet, a fair number of the people caught up in the Dragnet are small time troublemakers or ordinary people caught up in circumstances. This street level view of police work is refreshing.

 

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Questioning. “It was those kids I tell ya.”
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Juvenile delinquent, 1950s style.
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And another one, this is becoming an epidemic.
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Those kids and their crazy marijuana cigarettes. Some problems in cop shows never change.

Minor quibbles against the show include, an overuse of narrative voiceover (common in programs at the time), occasionally stagey sets and sometimes inconsistent acting, especially in earlier seasons. Also, you sometimes get a “haven’t I seen this before?” feel to some of the episodesMost of these issues can be explained by the relative newness of the television genre. Most of the shows at the time were literally writing the operating manual as they worked.

 

For the most part, the main characters and especially Jack Webb (Detective Sgt. Joe Friday) are consistently good. The number of celebrity guest stars, especially in the later seasons, is surprisingly high and shows the popularity of the show.

 

The visuals are good, almost all the episodes from the 1950s are shot in black and white. Only a few holiday episodes are in color. There are some very nice shots in the show, especially the street views of 1950s LA and the aerial camera work at the start of some of the episodes.

 

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LA circa 1951

The soundtrack is surprisingly good for early television, moody and highly atmospheric. Of course, I couldn’t review the show without mentioning the iconic (and distinctive) opening. People who have never even seen the show can often recognize that 4 note opening and even quote the lines that follow.

 

Dragnet opening theme

 

This shows Dragnet’s impressive staying power. It’s legacy includes 2 television shows, one in 1967 with some of the original cast and another in 2003.

 

Verdict

3 stars out of 5 While some elements of the show have not aged well, Dragnet was literally the great grandfather of all modern police shows. It’s surprising how many elements in modern shows from forensics, computers, the war on drugs, troubled teens, statistical analysis, were all covered in this show over 60 years ago. It’s influence on subsequent television shows is unmistakable.

Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2007)

Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2007)

Opening Statement

Former LAPD Detective does battle with the Boston mob.

 

Review

 

Hi everybody, I was planning to review a different film in the series, but I remembered that this is actually the first part of the story line.

 

LAPD homicide detective Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck) has quite a few problems on his mind. His wife has left him, his alcoholism is spiraling out of control and his department has fired him for drinking on the job. The first scene in the film shows him staring out into the ocean waiting to sober up.

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With few prospects available he jumps at a job offer for police chief of the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts. After a night of drinking and a spectacular phone argument with his wife; Jesse shows up drunk to the job interview. To his surprise he actually gets the job. Of course, this makes him start to wonder what’s really going on in the town.

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On the way to Paradise.

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The departing chief.

 

What he doesn’t know is that the corrupt town council has “retired” and paid off the departing chief. They believe Jesse Stone will be a pushover due to his alcoholism and easier to manipulate. The town’s corrupt connections include dangerous elements of the Boston underworld.

 

The mob has disastrously underestimated their new police chief who is a very good cop, drunk or sober and isn’t afraid to get into a battle with them. But first he has to bring around a demoralized and corrupt police department and turn them into a real police force.

 

Jesse Stone: Night Passage is actually the first film in the series, even though it was shown out of order originally. The films are based on a series of novels by Robert B. Parker.

 

The production values are much higher than is typical for a made for TV production. The day shots are in gorgeous saturated color and contrast nicely with the dark noir-ish night time scenes. I’m not sure where the fictional town of Paradise is filmed, but it’s a beautiful area.

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The storyline and characters are also dark. Jesse is a barely recovering alcoholic with emotional issues and a violent temper. He also has years of experience as a detective and some formidable fighting skills. These are demonstrated several times in the film, such as when he puts down a violent domestic abuser with a kick to the groin and a calm threat to do worse if the abuse continues. The fact that the abuser is a mob enforcer shows how unintimidated Chief Stone is of the underworld figures he does battle with.

 

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Taking out the trash.

Tom Selleck’s performance is an excellent and nuanced portrayal of a dangerous man on the very edge of his limits. Also notable are Saul Rubinek as corrupt politician Hasty Hathaway and Viola Davis as Molly, the department dispatcher.

 

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Hasty Hathaway, he’s kind of like a corkscrew. Cold, twisted and sharp.

I will be reviewing the rest of the films in the series over the next few months.

 

Verdict: 3.5 Gavels out of 5

Excellent, atmospheric TV movie, well worth your time if you like anti-heroes and damaged characters in a dark neo-noir setting.

Mugshot: Humphrey Bogart

Mugshot: Humphrey Bogart

Introduction

 

Bogart, an actor so iconic that all you have to do is say his last name and it instantly defines a whole style and genre. The name conjures an image of a craggy, gravely voiced tough guy wearing a fedora and battered trench coat. Ever present cigarette filling the scene with an eerie haze.

It might surprise some who have only seen his later movies, that this quintessential tough guy got his start playing preppy college students and rich kids. He also had a long stretch playing 2nd banana villains, informants and general weasels in gangster films.

 

Early Life

 

Humphrey Bogart was born Christmas Day, December 25, 1899, into a fairly wealthy family in New York, New York. His father was a surgeon and his mother an artist and suffragette. Originally intended by his parents to follow in the footsteps of his father, he showed little interest in academics and was ultimately expelled from prep school, some sources say he pushed the headmaster into a pond, others say poor grades and drinking led to it.

 

Bogart ended up joining the US Navy in 1918 towards the end of the First World War. After the war he worked a variety of jobs and acted with growing success in plays, frequently acting in comedies as a preppy college kid. His first film appearance was in the now lost film The Dancing Town. The 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing depression sharply reduced funding for theater and Bogie headed west to Hollywood along with many other stage actors. He was signed by Fox as a bit player for $750 a week.

 

Now Bogie was splitting his time between Hollywood and New York and frequently out of work. This plus the death of his father in 1934 exacerbated a lifelong, recurring drinking problem.

 

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Still from early Bogart film Three on a Match.

Big Break

 

While acting in a play called Invitation to A Murder he caught the attention of a producer who gave him his major break. A role as escaped criminal Duke Mantee in the upcoming pay The Petrified Forest. The play continued for 192 performances and was a smash hit. A hit film starring Bogart and Bette Davis soon followed.

 

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Bogie in Petrified Forest.

Hollywood Career

 

Despite this success in an A list picture, Warner Bros continued to cast him in low level villain roles for a few more years.

 

Some of this professional shunning may have been due to Bogart’s famous dislike of pretentious phonies. Something Hollywood possessed in abundance even back then. The list of famous feathers he ruffled through his career would be an article by itself.

 

The final nudge to stardom came in 1941 when he was cast as tragic gangster Roy Earle alongside film noir great Ida Lupino.

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Bogart worked well in the film and impressed screenwriter John Huston enough that he cast him as Sam Spade in John Huston’s directorial debut, the legendary Maltese Falcon.

 

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The Maltese Falcon

This film defined Bogart’s career and the characters he would play for the rest of his life. The modern image of Humphrey Bogart was born. Gravelly voiced, leathery and tough with a constant cigarette dangling from his lip. Not quite a goody two shoes hero, but not a bad guy either. His characters tended to live on the margins of law and order. Basically good, but not afraid to defy authority if they felt it was right, or they could benefit from it. Today we call this character type, the anti-hero and Bogie along with other film noir leading men and women, went a long way towards defining it.

 

A string of classics followed The Maltese Falcon including Casablanca, Sahara and To Have and Have Not. On the set of the latter film he met the other half of the Bogie legend. Young model Lauren Bacall in her first film performance. The two of them fell in love almost immediately and  they married in 1945.

 

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Casablanca.

After To Have and Have Not, they were paired in the film noir classic The Big Sleep. Dark Passage and Key Largo were the other two films featuring the two together and all 4 films show the powerful chemistry between the two.

 

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To Have and Have Not. The start of Bogie and Bacall
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War flick, Sahara

Other notable roles include the psychologically damaged captain of a mine layer in the 1954 classic, The Caine Mutiny.

 

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Captain Queeg and the strawberry incident

A river boat captain shanghaied by Katherine Hepburn into attacking the Germans in The African Queen

 

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Bogart versus Hepburn in The African Queen.

A successful but oddball casting as the serious Linus Larrabee opposite Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.

 

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Bogie versus a different Hepburn in Sabrina

One odd fact most people don’t know, is that Bogart and Bacall were the founding members of the famous Rat Pack, not Frank Sinatra. The way I’ve heard is that Sinatra and several other future Rat Pack members were frequent guests of the Bogarts and several epic parties resulted. After one especially memorable one in Las Vegas, Lauren Bacall observed the wreckage, human and otherwise and said: “You look like a goddamn rat pack.” And a Hollywood legend was born. After Bogie’s death the leadership passed to the Chairman of the Board himself.

 

A habitual smoker, Bogart developed a severe cough and difficulty swallowing. The diagnosis was cancer of the esophagus. Multiple surgeries and chemotherapy did not halt the cancer and he passed away in 1957. His legacy includes 87 film credits, an Academy Award and starring roles in some of the most iconic films of Hollywood’s golden age. Humphrey Bogart, truly a film legend.

Upcoming Articles

Upcoming Articles

Hi Everybody,

Here are a few things coming up on the site. Not necessarily in this order of course.

Maltese_Falcon_Humphrey_Bogart_Robert_Odierna_Mug_Photo

Mugshot: Humphrey Bogart

One of the legends of crime cinema, got his start playing preppy college students. Then graduated to villain and eventually legendary sleuths Sam Spade and Phillip Marlow

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Review: Jesse Stone: Stone Cold

Modern TV movie starring legendary tough guy Tom Selleck. Jesse Stone is a troubled, former LAPD officer who becomes the police chief of a small New England town. Naturally trouble comes his way in the form of several nasty murders.

Dragnet_Title_Robert_Odierna_Mug_Photo

Review: Dragnet

“Just the facts Ma’am.” Legendary grandfather of all modern detective shows. Starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. Dragnet mixed equal parts real life police work with the drama of their personal lives and families.

Rear_Window_Title_Robert_Odierna_Mug_Photo

Review: Rear Window

Legendary Hitchcock film starring James Stewart and Grace Kelley. A bored reporter is confined to home with a broken leg. While playing peeping Tom he sees something he shouldn’t. A legendary masterwork of suspense.

The Glades (2010 TV Series)

The Glades (2010 TV Series)

Opening Statement

Slightly cynical expat cop dodges bullets and gators in Florida.

 

Review

Continuing with the recent (accidental) Florida theme is the show The Glades.

 

The show stars Matt Passmore as Jim Longworth, A Chi-town PD cop who through no fault of his own (shot in the butt by his superior and pensioned out of the CPD), ends up working in a place somewhat more Tropical. Specifically the Florida State Police.

 

The show opens with Jim expecting a nice, quiet retirement when a particularly nasty murder lands in his lap. His detecting skills are noticed and he soon becomes the go to guy for dealing with nasty cases.

 

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Retirement

The show features the usual criminals you’d expect, drug runners, serial killers, kidnappers. Plus a few threats unique to Florida such as alligators and hurricanes. There are also a few curve balls such as an episode where a UFO conspiracy theorist is murdered in a distinctly other-worldly fashion.

 

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Watch out for the local wildlife

The show manages to combine police procedural mystery with a distinctly loopy humor of its own. The typical morbid police humor is present along with Jim’s own smart aleck view of life.

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Not the most conventional cop

Also good for laughs is the slightly crazy pathologist (Is there any other kind of pathologist in a modern mystery series?) Carlos Sanchez.

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Is every cop show pathologist a whack job?

The feel of the show is distinctly different from Miami Vice, less emphasis on cool looks, big cities and Columbian drug lords. Many of the episodes are centered in rural southern Florida and in suburban areas away from the cities. This was a good call on the part of the show’s producers because any show based in Florida will inevitably be compared to Miami Vice.

 

A positive aspect of the series is that it balances forensics with solid police procedure. Unlike certain other modern shows, circumstantial forensic evidence isn’t elevated to science fiction levels.

 

One issue I did have with the series is the recurring story line with Jim’s love interest, nurse and med student Callie. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of chemistry between the leads and the relationship is a complicated on again off again thing that seems to be based on what the show’s writers need it to be this week.

 

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Callie, let’s hope her relationship skills are better than her bedside manner.

Further complicating this is the fact that several other characters have much better chemistry with Jim and are moved out of the show in various contrived ways because they become a threat to Callie’s relationship with Jim. I understand the reluctance to have the main character in a series in a long term relationship too early. But this one was handled very badly at times.

 

 

Verdict 3 Gavels out of 5

Fairly entertaining police drama about an unconventional doesn’t play well with others cop and the people who have to deal with him. A few story hiccups every now and then but not fatal to the show.