What We’re Watching 7/13/11

Many more intelligent people than I have already summarized life as a series of dueling, chaotic and organized events. John Lennon said, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Roberto Begnini’s character Bob, in Jim Jarmusch’s 1985 film Down by Law, makes the observation tha it’s a sad and beautiful world. The phrase leaves an impact on the co-star Tom Waits’s character, Zach, who begins singing the phrase in a drunken soliloquy. My point is, life happens. And life has certainly happened in my reality recently. Leaving me little time for the movie watching I prefer to do. However, as the opportunity has afforded it, I’ve been able to sneak in a film or two here and there. While I have not been to the theaters since I saw Fast Five for the MacGuffin, I have been able to slide in the occasional DVD, and a Blu-ray or two.


Ministry of Fear (1944)

Fritz Lang’s out-of-print masterpiece is one of his later Hollywood noir films. Starring Ray Milland and Marjorie Reynolds, the story takes place during WWII in England, as a mental patient is being released from an institution. The patient, played by Milland, stumbles into espionage and murder when he mistakenly wins a cake in a contest at a carnival. The set-up sounds surreal, and Lang’s handling of pacing coupled with the script’s sorted plot revelations make for a strong film-noir experience. Milland is perfect as the mental patient with a burden of guilt strapped across his conscience. Unfortunately, the film is hard to find, and not yet available on DVD in the U.S. market. I have the fortunate ability of going to the greatest video store in the world, Scarecrow Video, where I rented another region version on DVD. If you can find it, or happen upon a screening of it, like the New Beverly had a few months ago, then I highly recommend you check it out; it’s definitely one of the best, if not the best, of Lang’s Hollywood noir films.

The Jericho Mile (1979)

Michael Mann’s first feature length film was a made for television movie which was shown theatrically in England, and won an Emmy for Movie of the Week. The story follows Larry Murphy (Peter Strauss), known to his peers as ‘Rain,’ an inmate sentenced to life who spends his free time running the workout yard and gets a possible shot at the Olympics. This is a lean film which cuts a lot of padding usually associated with prison flicks. Mann gives us his typical theme of a man at work in his environment, and whether or not this defines him as an individual. In this case, Rain has accepted his reality as a job, this is what he does now, and to help further this concept he has isolated himself from practically all his fellow inmates. Also in signature Mann style, the soundtrack consists mostly of an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Mann likes covers or alternate versions of well-known songs as a means for conveying an idea of replication to his audience. I hesitate to go to much further into my assumptions of this film as it will be the partial focus of an upcoming article I’m writing for the Action Junkie column here on the MacGuffin. The film is also notable as co-starring a young Brian Dennehey as the film’s heavy. Yet again, I watched a film that is not in conventional print here in the States. Thank you, Scarecrow! And again, if you can find it, I do recommend watching. The quality is raw and the energy shows a young director at the beginning of his game.

The Planet of the Apes (1968)

Of course everybody’s watching The Planet of the Apes right now. The MacGuffin is doing a roundtable discussion of the series and holding a trivia game at Cafe Mox at the end of the month. It might have something to do with that new movie that’s coming out. We all know that the original is the best; I myself am totally absorbed by the whole series, but I’ll wait to get into that when we have the roundtable. One of the things I love most about this film is its handling of the subject matter. The title of the film indicates that there’s going to be apes; however, the handling of the first half hour is like something out of the Twilight Zone: an unexpected crash landing, an unfamiliar environment, and a trek that leads to familiarity—other humans. Then the suspense is thrown in as we anticipate the arrival of the expected monkeys. The whole thing borders on the absurd, like the suspense of a horror film that is followed by a jumping of the shark as we see men in rubber monkey outfits riding on top of horses. Of course, the best part of this film for me is Charlton Heston. The first half hour of the film he’s nothing but pompous arrogance. He has no patience for any of his crew members, especially Landon, who he chastises for holding onto sentimentality.


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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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