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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blind Picks from Netflix: After Hours (1985)

After Hours is a very rare thing: a comedy that is thoughtful, significant and meticulously crafted. Scorcese is known for his serious films about New York City: Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver, etc.. After Hours, his comic odyssey about the city that never sleeps, is just as effective and just as well made as any of his dramas. Griffin Dunne plays Paul, a lonely computer expert who hates his job and longs for a fuller personal life. One night, eating out alone, he strikes up a conversation with Marcy (Patricia Arquette) about Henry Miller. She asks him to come home with her and, in a fit of what we assume is extremely uncharacteristic spontaneity, he agrees. What begins as a romantic adventure into the wilderness turns into a journey though Hades as Paul loses his money, his keys and his dignity in an attempt to get home.

This movie is genius for the camera work alone. Dunne is sympathetic, funny and lovable as Paul. Linda Fiorentino, John Heard, Terri Garr, Catherine O'Hara, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong all play characters that are totally believable as the people you run into late at night in New York City. Scorcese said that the inspiration for this film came from a move from downtown to TriBeCa that he almost immediately regretted and the sense of entrapment that ensued. The script was originally going to be done by Tim Burton, but Scorcese needed money to back The Last Temptation of Christ, so he took the project. I'm glad he did, because no one else could have made this film.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Black Dahlia (2006)

Brian DePalma has a polariazing effect on people. On one hand, he has made some real schlock: Snake Eyes, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars. On the other hand, he has made some truly amazing movies: The Untouchables, Carrie, Blow Out, Scarface, Dressed to Kill. Personally, I thought his 2002 Femme Fatale was one of the best films of the year. I’ve gotten into shouting matches and had to be removed from the premises over Femme Fatale. DePalma is a director of great craft and questionable taste, and as such generates controversy and extreme viewpoints with all of his remarkable creations. Now we see The Black Dahlia, an overtly Hitchcockian 1940s-style film noir campfest that is more admirable than it is watchable.

Based on the 1987 novel by James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia tells the sordid tale of Elizabeth Short, a young woman who came to Los Angeles looking for fame but, instead, ended up chopped up and exsanguinated in a ditch. Truly, it’s a tale as old as time.

In Post World War II Los Angeles, Police officer Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) becomes obsessessed with the murdered Elizabeth Short. Acting like he’s hopped up on Benzedrine and spouting dialogue that walked right out of Murder, My Sweet, Eckhart gets to chew a lot of scenery. His partner, Bucky (played by the exceedingly pretty Josh Hartnett) is embroiled in an asexual ménage-a-trois with Lee and his live-in mol Kay. Both Kay and Bucky try to reign Lee in to no avail, and tragedy begets the lot of them. I could delve into the specifics of the plot, but I would get a headache and you would get discouraged. Simply put, the twisted plot is too contrived and convoluted to be enjoyed.

Although Hillary Swank has two Academy Awards, I found her performance in Dahlia to be a little over the top. That said, the whole film is a little over the top, so she finds the right pitch. Scarlett Johansson turns in a slightly wooden performance as Kay. Mr. Hartnett is good looking but not particularly profound as Bucky. His character requires a melancholic, complex performance but Mr. Hartnett just seems like he’s bored. The best performance, by far, is seen from Mia Kirschner as the titular character. Seen in archived film footage, Kirschner is haunting and lovely.

The Black Dahlia is a very old fashioned film, with sweeping, unbroken sequences, gorgeous costumes, unabashedly campy performances and a score that’s one theramin short of being a complete joke. It feels like a curious hodgepodge of famous noir films—a dinner sequence taken from Sunset Boulevard, a murder scene taken from Vertigo, and sleazy bedroom interrogations from Touch of Evil. It shoots for a bizarre Chinatown-like climax but instead ends up confusing and frustrating the audience. While it's an interesting and beautiful exercise in filmmaking, Dahlia isn't solid enough to be anything but a pulpy homage to better, older movies.

The amount of money I’d pay to see this: $5