Saturday, January 8, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#8) YOU, THE LIVING (Du levande)

(Isn't it nice to find a pleasant surprise?  How about one that knocks your socks off and makes you happy to be a movie geek?  This little find of masterpiece-proportions was suggested by my friend Matt from Creatively Stumped, and also wound up on several top 10 lists for 2009- original released in 2007- from the odd duck of a director Roy Andersson.  With only a handful of film credtis to his name in his 60's, for the most part a director of commercials in Sweden, this is one of those films that I can't sing enough praises - AND a note of warning: if you do intend to watch this on Netflix instant, watch it within the next three days as it's leaving for good on January 12th!)

Sometimes the best films, or the ones we remember the most fondly, are the ones that touched us a certain way, made us think, and, at the same time, made us entertained.  You, the Living is a far cry from a classic feel-good entertainment like Singin' in the Rain, but I couldn't dare not sing its praises practically equally on the grounds of artistic merit and ambition.  Roy Andersson's film, which was years in the making and amounted to 80 or so minutes of 50+ static shots (I counted, trust me), is a jubilantly depressing film.  Or a depressingly jubilant film, take that as you will.  It also will frustrate some out there who are expecting something, I don't know, more lineral, cohesive.  Andersson doesn't care what you think.  If you want to come in to the clubhouse of the Living you're invited.  If you can't take it, well... at least you're still alive.

The attitude towards life is what makes his film so refreshing and alive.  The point of view, by way of the title, seems to suggest something like the eye of God (or whatever of such a thing) looking on at these people in this little city in Sweden, living their lives.  That's the key here; they're getting along, and some are surely worse off than others, but they can live through their experiences and we can live with them going through the rough and absurd moments.  The prevailing attitude in the face of the cranky, bitter, mean, morose, hopeful, sad, bored, or dutiful among the characters is 'everything will be alright, maybe, somehow'.  Or, if not, as one character says a couple of times, tomorrow is another day.  As long as you, you know, don't drop dead of a heart attack at a meeting or succumb to the electric chair.

But what is You, the Living?  Andersson is very meticulous in every cut and shot- one might say perfection is in his grasp just by nature of the time and patience to get every shot just right to his specifications- and yet it's overarching narrative is not defined.  You couldn't put this script into the Syd Field class and not get it torn to shreds, but it's absolutely wonderful in the seeming looseness of its construction.  It's a series of vignettes with these people, old and young, businessmen and pub crawlers, dejected women and a man with a bad haircut, a rocker girl with a heavy dream, and a Louisiana Jazz Band missing it's Woody Allen.  If it belongs to any 'kind' of movie it's the stream-of-conscousness surreal comedy movie populated most by Luis Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty and Richard Linklater's Slacker.  It's episodic by design, in other words

Only this time there isn't even any link from scene to scene, at least not entirely.  Sometimes characters, the ones that are most endearing in their problems, come back, like the woman with low self esteem who first appears in the park wailing that no one likes her (her boyfriend retorts about the dog, "The dog doesn't lie!"), and then as he walks away she breaks out into song to confide her sadness.  She comes back to bemoan some more, but thank goodness as it's a kind of odd, morbid humor that the movie takes off so well.  Another is a younger woman, who I'll get to in a moment more-so, who falls for a rock and roll singer she finds at the local pub looking like an outcast from The Cure, and she appears later, and then once more.

Andersson's film has a unique place among modern technique in that Andersson, intentionally, limits his camera; it's static shots, with a few exceptions such as two dolly-tracking shots, one at a big celebration with people singing at their seats and a man getting up and another with a psychologist at an office (and then a more minor, much more affecting one at a funeral where the shot closes in just ever-so-slightly that it does something magical with the frame and those saddened in it with the music pumping up).  And  there are not that many shots either, at least when one compares to a typical Hollywood production with sometimes thousands of cuts if not at least hundreds (only Woyzeck by Herzog seems to have fewer in such a running time).  Every scene could be a still image to hang on a wall, of the morbid curiosity and irreverent humor, and the tragic-comic and the just plain-ol-bizarre in humanity, or just the mundane.  We're shown it, and there's a fascinating that grows with every new image that is ever-so-familiar.

The only slightly difficult thing is to be able to point out particularly good performances from the acting; not all of them are referred to by name, hence when I think back and thing to a particular scene or actor it's "the guy in the barbershop chair" or "the dude who misses the elevator and has to go up the stairs."  In a way it's not totally an actor's movie, even as there are a whole lot of talented actors in it playing people we might see on our everyday travails, or under some stranger circustances like playing a tuba or a big bass-drum up sideways.  It's Andersson's world and we're in that, and it's such a fantastic but grounded world that I just want to watch it again- after already taking notes, just so I could add exclamation points after certain moments and exchanges and pauses- and I want to walk around the man's brain to find all of those corridors.  What kind of mind thinks up this?  Someone without any need or want to answer to any creative authority, in Sweden or otherwise, except his own.

It's okay, I saw Bill Murray do it that one time in that movie.  Are the flowers still standing?

So, what else could you expect to see in You, the Living?  What else is there for the voyeur in us all to see?  One of big highlights, in any film I put forward here, is a particular dream sequence.  The rocker-chick addresses the camera (this is not the first time in the movie a character breaks the fourth wall, and my favorite and most amusing moment goes to the guy stuck in traffic who looks out his window and addresses the audience while inching only so much in the shot), and tells the story of a dream.  She got married to the rocker-dude that she saw, the one from the band.  She's in a little house and he's playing his guitar (very cleverly but only so much you have to pay attention to notice he's only playing one guitar but there are two audible), and she's in the kitchen watching him and doing a chore or something.  And we're watching this unfold ever so pleasantly... and then looking outside everything is going past the window!

Andersson has pulled a moment, followed by another, that has the air of pure cinematic invention; indeed the house being the thing that's moving like a train makes one think of the train in Lumiere's early movies and the early magic of that.  But more-so, after we notice this as the house is going past and the guy plays his guitar the shot finally cuts once a huge crowd gathers outside the window as the house pulls to a stop.  They all sing, the shot cuts to the outside and they keep singing this cheery little Swedish melody, and then the house pulls on along.  It's such a downer to suddenly get lifted away from this back to the reality of the girl in the pub, as the place goes to the bar for the last drink of the night.  Another man sits and says he, too, has a dream, and describes only so much of it.  She's not only inspiring to him, but to us, to anyone who would want to listen to her moment of real happiness.  It's still a sad moment, but it's alive, she's alive, and we know it for that moment.

Take THAT Christopher Nolan 'dreams'!
On the flipside of this wonder, the director gives us little moments where we also are forced to recognize what awaits near the end of life.  In one shorter vignette a woman sits with her ailing mother in a nursing home, trying to get her to remember something personal from her past, an old anecdote.  She doesn't know, she barely even knows who is sitting next to her, and it fills the daughter with grief.  Is she already gone if she cannot live so fully?  Andersson gives us a scene like this, where we're forced to confront the horror of nothingness, of the empty spot where life was for a person still alive or for the draining sense of life that is fleeting... and then he'll put on us one of the funniest, most un-sexy sex scenes in all of cinema, as a man complains about his taxes as his slightly larger wife tries to writhe on top of him!

Bottom line, I don't know if I can recommend You, the Living, at least not to the whole world.  It would be nice, but I know it's just not possible, it's not one of those movies that, as Lynch would observe, is "easily understood" by people.  Its storylines only so much interconnect, and the last shot of the movie just makes it so helplessly "arty" that some might run for the door by this point if they haven't already.  But, frankly, I'm glad I'm not one of those people that might scoff or call the movie 'boring'.  If You, the Living doesn't tickle your funny bone (a lot) or touch your inner sense of existence (a bit) or make you feel sad and happy and sad and miserable and thoughtful again in a five minute stretch, I don't know what to do for you.  It's the best I've seen out Sweden since the golden age of Ingmar Bergman.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#7) Lumet's THE MORNING AFTER

(and now back on track with a somewhat forgotten, if not totally disworthy of not finding until now, Sidney Lumet directed vehicle for Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges)

What happens when you can't remember what you did at all the night before thanks to liquor?  And, you know, it's not good right next to you in the bed.

The smash comedy from 2009 The Hangover dealt with this idea with a modicum of outrageous gags and a string of befuddled faces on an epic one 1/2 day quest.  The Morning After sees this premise much more seriously.  No, perhaps, on paper, better being in a film-noir mode.  This premise could come right out of a pulp fiction thriller: a washed-up alcoholic actress wakes up after a night of heavy drinking next to a macho body-builder from TV, and he's got a knife right in his chest.

She doesn't know how he got there, or if she did it, or if someone else might have done it.  So she has to exit for a moment, almost leaves the state, and then runs into by stroke of luck a guy getting an old jalopy ready to go.  He might be of help - he's an ex-cop who was kicked off the force due to an old injury - but she's still the prime suspect, and she has little place to turn save to her sometimes-husband hairdresser (Raul Julia) and her dependable bottle of booze.

So the potential is there.  And having Sidney Lumet as director could give the pulp some good dramatic tension and some interesting camera timing with the actors.  And the stars are a sight, Jane Fonda in her workout-fase and Jeff Bridges in good-guy mode, on the flip-side of another neo-noir he made in 1986, 8 Million Ways to Die.  Oh, and Raul Julia is there too!  There is some genuine chemistry, when it's alotted by the little moments between the actors, sometimes between the lines or in looks or pauses, or the way Fonda can bring out those pearly whites or Bridges has that grin that says "I'm alright, I think."  And there are a few lines that are genuinely clever, and/or make things realistic for such a dynamic of an ex-cop and a flopped actress who is going by a stage name anyway (her real name, Alexandra, is fine, as long as you don't yell it).

I think that Ebert lays it out a little better than I could, but I can emphasize it: the actual murder plot kind of gets in the way of what is some good interactions between characters- Fonda and Bridges, Fonda and Julia.  It's not a bad plot at all, though it doesn't seem like the cops are doing as much investigation as one might think with such a case involving an (ex) actress and bodybuilder douche.  It wraps itself up just fine and there's a quasi-expected twist or revelation or what-have-you, but I could tell it wasn't really what Lumet was most interested in.  More time with the characters is what makes it count, since they are good, sympathetic characters we want to see alright (that is Turner and Alex, not so much Julia's hairdresser, though he has a couple of awesome sinister-moments).

And yet with the asides those, too, have some problems.  There's a consistent reference to potential racism of Turner, or maybe of Alex too, but it's a kind of weird way the movie addresses it that's distracting.  It's good at first as a kind of throwaway joke (what, Turner, you're part of the Klan or something? yeah, part of the Klan, haha, let's move on), and then another reference comes back to something else, and again, and again.  Is it maybe brought on by the booze, asking such inquiries about "Spics" or "Jews".  It's meant in an off-handed quasi-joking or maybe even realistic manner, but it comes off more as awkward; better is when the characters get to interact outside of that.  If they were going to address it it should be more straight-on, with more explanation, or just one or two throaway jokes or lines at the expense of a "country boy" like Bakersfield native Turner.

But for the film's faults with plot focus and those diversions into odd race talk, Lumet still makes it an enjoyable lot of A-goes-B form of moviemaking.  The colors and images of Los Angeles are bright and poppy, the soundtrack a sometimes (intentionally?) 80's horn-and-synth combination to go along with Fonda's VERY 80's hairstyle, and a lot of those compositions of Fonda walking around in the streets are just fantastic to look at, making her seem small in her surroundings or, when she's inside, more isolated than ever.

It's an LA of bright-grit, if that contradiction could make sense, pastels and suburban-looking streets, and an old run-down place that will be turned into skyscraper territory but for the moment is a home for the wayward Turner.  And I enjoyed both of the stars in it, especially Fonda who knows how to play drunk just right, that it's a kind of happy, turbulent experience to have, and when it's done so often and so much it's alright to be a bit warbly, or with the mood swining like spastic arms.  So many ingredients here, and I would include the climactic showdown, are good here.  It's just the mixture of it all that isn't entirely surefire.

Oh, one last question: what happened to the cat?!
And one last observation: the poster for this movie is fantastic design,

Netflix-a-thon (#6) Alfred Hitchcock's SABOTAGE

(So... this time I have officially dropped the ball.  I did start to watch this film before midnight yesterdat, sorta, if you're on the West Coast time.  But then I did not finish it - yes, I did not finish a 76 minute feature film.  Perhaps it was for the best, as I was able to come back to it today with total concentration for what was an even better second half than first half.)

So... listen all y'all it's a

Alfred Hitchcock earned his tagline-name, "The Master of Suspense", with a film like Sabotage, among other works from the 1930's where he built up his reputation.  Hitchcock had already directed about a dozen or so films before Sabotage, among them the classic 39 Steps, but with Sabotage we get a very clear expression of what was Hitchcock's art: making suspense by a precise, efficient, but always important amount of cuts and shots that would emphasize the information necessary in the scene.  And sometimes there could be surprises, or things that could throw off an audience off guard.  The second half of the film especially, two scenes especially, showcase this man's eerie, awesome skill at ratcheting up the tension until you want to tear the seat-rest your on apart.

Maybe I have this a lot on my mind at this moment as I type this: I read today an article which was a commentary itself on another blog, Jim Emerson's take on another writer's take on Inception's flaws with cutting and space in scenes, but specifically how this applies to cutting and composition, particularly on emotion, being so paramount when it comes to film technique.  So with this in mind so immediately from reading, I watched Sabotage with such rapt attention.  He knows how to stay on a shot, knowing that it's not necessary to go in for a close-up, that a medium shot on two nefarious characters in an aquarium talking about nefarious-things-to-do-in-London can be looking at the fish tank, talk in hush tones, and we'll be able to stick with it.  Indeed it's because the two characters aren't facing us for most of this scene, that they're two figures in front of a black-and-white aquarium-tank, that the shot is interesting, and a little strange, but never something to look away from.

Other scenes have more economical cutting and staging.  This was Hitchcock moving forward completely into sound film after working steadily in it for years (he's probably one of a handful of directors that really successfully started out in silent film and moved on to sound).  And it's thrilling to see that he's not only capable and excellent at crafting this story- of a devious, not-English-accented man, living with a woman operating a movie theater, who is in cullision with a couple other fellows to make mayhem and bomb places in London after an initial attempt to black out the city turns into a joke- but that he expresses this with some irony(!)  Yes, irony, long before it was hip to do it in action films, nay even before we usually think of the irony expressed in other Hitch-thrillers (man in the middle of a long corn field being chased by one plane with nothing else in sight).

What kind of irony do I mean?  Well, I can't actually express too much of it here without some major spoilers, which I'd rather not put forward.  But there is the other aspect of the story, when it comes time for the spies to implement their 'let's-shake-shit-up', that is common knowledge now in movie lore.  This involves the character Verloc, Sylvia's husband and the main villain of the story, roping in the innocent young kid with the big hair and big socks who has a couple of film cans under his arm to take along with him another package to arrive at a specific time - 1:30, or at latest 1:45 sharp- and it's this that, to me, is one of the most memorable of all Hitchcock suspense sequences.  There was criticism because of what happens, which is not what one would usually expect involving a bomb.  I enjoyed this change-up, and it shook me for how Hitchcock decided not to go for what was expected, and stuck instead with the original Joseph Conrad source novel.

Actually the producer trying to Sabotage the movie.  Hitchcock's Cameo proceeded to walk up and put a stop to it.

The lead-up to this, at the least we can all agree, is full of humor and ironic suspense.  I'm almost reminded of the scene in Psycho where Norman Bates is waiting by the bog for the car to sink, and for a moment it's not going down.  For a few moments we're made to wonder as the little boy is sidetracked by a swindler with a toothpaste and hair-solution (funny for how the kid is made to sit still and get this treatment and how everyone else finds it amusing- laughing at the audience as opposed to laughing with them), and then when there is a parade with a bunch of guys on horses riding through the street and everyone on the sidewalks.  We're made to feel the suspense with the kid; he's no Norman Bates, but there's a similar feeling of 'no, no keep going, get to your destination.'  And when it does happen... well, I'll just say I was not disappointed.  On the contrary, as cruel as it is, it actually works for the benefit of the story that it should get so dark.  Hitchcock stuck to his guns and made a truly fantastic sequences.

Along with this, plus a murder scene that carries so much nail-bite to it as a character intonates the intention with a simple nervous flick of a knife and glances exchanged between eyes and facial expression and physical action, there's another stroke of brilliance, one that along with a specific scene was probably an inspiration for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds: cinema commenting on itself.  It's probably not an accident, either by sticking to Conrad's text or not, that Sylvia works at a cinema and the climax and several key scenes take place there.  How we watch this, how we feel about all of this, is a key component.  We're there in the audience, we're with the characters, we want to see them make out alright- or for the bad guys that they get their just desserts- and we may need a moment, like with Sylvia after a moment of grief, that a cheery little Disney cartoon is just what's needed... until one is reminded of the horror that awaits back in the 'real' world outside the theater.  That is unless the horror comes to the theater itself, as it does near the end.

Other aspects of the movie are commendable, the acting especially from Sidney and Oskar Homolka as Verloc with his amazing eyebrows, and the cinematography is always sharp and spot-on.  But it's the direcor's show, and every cut and every angle tells its story with just enough time to take in the actors, to take in the drama of the moment, and yet there's always sophistication with it, even with a super-imposition like the "1:45" notation.  It is, in all manner of short-speak, a tight, short, fluid thriller that will appeal to audiences (yes, you modern ones) looking for good thrills and some unconventional surprises.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#5) Michael Mann's THE KEEP

(All apologizes to the two or three out there who may be asking 'where was Jack's next netflix-a-thon post?' yesterday.  I did watch this film last night, and then after some house-chores intended to write the review... and my face went right smack dab on the keyboard, so it was off to bed.  If this does occur again in this month then you can probably guess why)

The Keep is a muddled lust-for-sci-fi-horror glory project that sees Michael Mann admirably trying something different from his previous film, Thief, and indeed different from almost anything else he'd do in his career.  Going into it my expectation (via the description on Netflix-instant, I had not heard of it before somewhat sadly despite liking several of Mann's films) was that it would be about Nazi ghosts, or ghosts attacking Nazis.  In a sense this is not... incorrect, but not entirely accurate either.  It's simply about a group of Nazis who go into a small Carpathain village, take cover in front of this large 'Keep' or basically a big ancient fortress, and then when one of the Nazis gets all curious at one of the not-quite crosses on the walls and opens it up, a demon is let loose.

The story has some promise, and the first act carries some of those shots and sights that make a critic jump up like a little dog barking "atmospheric! atmosphere!" which is to say there's lots of shots of fog and smoke and some beautifully composes takes on the Keep and its insides and the "fog-demon" that comes out to claim souls.  And I admired how the story was about to take off with the Nazis having to turn to a Jewish man, a Doctor Cuza (an old and then young Ian McKellan), in order to translate a bunch of too-old documents and symbols that might hold the clue to stop the demon-beast thing that is killing off everyone and, if he/it gets its last talisman, could wreak havoc on the whole world.  And I even was curious about who this weird guy, played by Scott Glenn with sometime-laserbeam eyes and a disposition like Kane in Kung-Fu, was going to do in the story to possibly stop the demon or do what-not.

Attack of the killer FOG!!

There is that hope this will be a kinda-crazy 80's horror-science-fiction piece with supernatural and gloomy overtones... but then it goes little by little off the rails.  A big part of the problem is how Michael Mann decides, using as his basis the book by F. Paul Wilson, how to dole out information and to make things so...dry...and...slow.  It's one thing to draw in a viewer by captivating locations and an interesting idea, it's another to keep things dragging with the plot, to make the characters all pretty much either unlikable or underdeveloped enough to care, and to make the demon it/himself a silly-looking thing, like a muscle-bound Skeletor.

....yup... I'll be here all week, be sure to tip your waitress...
To be kind of fair, Mann apparently had made a 3 1/2 hour cut of the film and was forced to par it down.  Whether that made any more sense, or just lagged on further on shots like the one with the boat on the water that bobs and weaves all over the place for no reason, is up to speculation.  That could account for the sometimes jagged and disjointed feeling from one scene to the next despite there mostly being cohesion to the plot.  I think that characters end up not being very interesting, or much to care about, even with the Jewish doctor played by McKellan, because they aren't given much in the way of real characterization except "oh, I was old, now I'm young, your wish is my command oh demon-man-sir-thing!" for the Doctor, and for Glenn's weird-Demon-fighter it's... I still am not sure.  Although Glenn does get a half-hot-half-totally-pointless sex scene with the female lead, probably just because they're the two leads and aren't totally unattractive.

How original!  Sex while sitting up and playing the airplane game!  Now if only it were Sting...

There are good ideas here, about morality in some part (the Jewish man has to reconcile helping the Nazis vs destorying them vs attaining everlasting youth, which is gained from the Demon sucking out the souls), and about what the Nazis are really doing there even (there's one scene of almost decent argument between Jurgen Prochnow and Gabriel Byrne, the latter the "badder" Nazi, about this and killing villagers and so on).  It's the execution that falls flat, and is not helped at all by the dated Tangerine Dream soundtrack- yes, the ones who also scored the theatrical cut of Ridley Scott's Legend.  And the actors, all of them have given good performances elsewhere, are let down by Mann's preference for the locations over the characters, of the mood of things, the chincy (if likably) dated special effects, not least of which in the ending that carries a quasi-Masters of the Universe feel with its crazy light sabres and lunking stunt doubles.

The power of Byrne compels you!

What could have been fixed here?  Maybe the script for starters, with dialog that ranges from acceptable to turgid, or the way actors are made to *whisper-talk* lines- you know, the kind where you have to turn the volume up to hear it right before the next scene is a GUNSHOT, darn I hate that- or, again, the preference for the exteriors, the room, than the actors themselves.  And where should the tension be in The Keep, or the logic with the villagers staying or the Nazis not calling for more backup or Glenn not taking out all of the Nazi-buggers when he can being that he's kinda invincible and all?  Not too much to be found really.  The Keep disappoints as a thriller, and doesn't scare quite enough after its initial set-up to make it really worthy as a horror film.  Maybe buffs of the actors or for Nazi dramas may find it acceptable, or those willing to take their 80's cheese with a side of fog-machine.  Or for desperate cinematographers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kathryn Bigelow goes commercial/personal in BLUE STEEL

(note: NO relation to Derek Zoolander's big new look that everybody's talking about)

Why did Kathryn Bigelow make this movie, Blue Steel, ostensibly a cat-and-mouse style 'policier' (that last term I took right from the back of the VHS cassette box) about a rookie cop being pursued by a second-tier Patrick Bateman late 80's stockbroker psycho?  I ask this rhetorically, as it could have been any number of reasons: the chance to work with Jamie Lee Curtis, or even Ron Silver or Clancy Brown; maybe she was hired by producers Edward Pressman and Oliver Stone after her sleeper Near Dark to come up with something "gritty" and "urban".  Maybe she just loves guns and slow-motion (hey, Peckinpah fan after all).

I have another theory, which based around absolutely nothing really, that this is actually a very personal movie for her.  If not in the scope of the purely speculative- that, say, she's playing out the problems of her marriage at the time to James Cameron with a tale of "her" vs "him" with him eventually resembling a Terminator- then in the form of femininity.  Bigelow has said that it shouldn't be such an obstacle for women to make it into Hollywood and that she doesn't think about it much.  Yet this is one of the few times, maybe the only one as I can figure looking at her resume, that she has a female as the protagonist, and fighting against an aggressive, over-the-top figure of masculine manipulation.  Maybe it's just a statement on the masculinity of all men in a crime genre, the way that she made a statement on the quest for blood (that it's a disease) in Near Dark.

Symbolic of... seeds I guess?

But whatever it is, it helps that Blue Steel feels like more than a commercial-for-hire project... at least, once one digs a little deeper.  It also could equally resemble one of those movies one comes across late night on Cinemax and one kind of dozes off to, until it goes bit by bit nuttier in the last act.  Bigelow certainly knows how to make the shots count; guns and bullets, right from the get-go in the credits, take on another connotation with close-ups and that slick, sometimes-fog-drenched lighting and composition that's a lift off of Tony Scott and Adrien Lyne.  But at the same time that the digging-deeper into the scales of gender roles in cops-and-criminals gets explored, and how mind-games can cripple one into (almost) submission ala The Hitcher, Blue Steel has other problems that kind of make a split in comparing Kathryn Bigelow the director and Kathryn Bigelow the (co)writer.

It's hard here to distinguish in the film what might be just a comment on a cliche or just a silly cliche, and the latter kind of prevails more often than not.  At one point officer Megan Turner (Curtis) does the hand-over-your-badge-and-gun.  At another point we see Eugene Hunt, psychopathically working out, talking to himself and trying to tell the voices in his head to back off but they won't oh Jebuz.  At another point (or more than one) we get the irate higher-up above Megan, a chief or sergeant or whatever, and it's all one tone all the way (same for Eugene's lawyer, played mercifully by Richard Jenkins, who is all one-note indignant law-man).  I want to chalk up some of this to being commentary on the genre, but there's only so much time that it feels like that; one such scene that is fresh and inventive is the resolving of a sub-plot with Megan and her parents as her father is an abusive tool who hits her, and she puts the bastard in cuffs and is driving him off to the station, but stops and relents, though with a "but if you do it again..."

Yeah, they actually have one of *these* scenes.  

Maybe another part of the problem is the lack of initial chemistry between the two leads.  On their own Curtis and Silver are actually pretty good in their characters- even with Silver who has a very cool-school demeanor as a big-time (but not Bateman big time) broker- but when they're put together early on I just don't see it, or how Megan doesn't even think for a nano-second that this guy with the soulless eyes and job on wall street would preclude him from being a suspect just by the stroke of luck of a) not seeing him at the shooting-crime-scene at the supermarket (what we call the 'turning point' in screenwriting) and b) how she wouldn't guess after a little while.  Luckily that is dispensed with and the story can go on with the cat-and-mouse thing, but I could never see it; only later when Eugene is acting vindictive in a crucial scene where Megan has to play it cool by threat to her family does it get interesting.  And by the climax, it's... just silly, but drenched in Peckinpah-violence influence so that helps a bit.

You know it's the 80's when Clancy Brown has a perm.  

Blue Steel is a curious find in late 1980's urban-grit police drama, where the subversion of the genre is detectable but is at odds with the more conventional aspects of the script.  The direction makes things exciting and usually engaging, if only on a superficial level.  And the acting tries to always keep up with the intensity of the page and camera.  It rests in a strange nether-region of the work of an artist where it's got a little crap, a little that is just dated and stupid (such as a stupid coupling late in the film that seems a little too random despite what else is going on in the scene), and with violence that, ultimately, does have a purpose.  It's an enjoyable, respectable mixed bag.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#4) Abel Ferrara's THE FUNERAL

(And moving right along with this 'a-thon' comes another sort of subversion, or a questioning of, a genre piece, and this coming from Mr. Abel Ferrara's The Funeral, a blood-and-gloom drenched take on 1930's gangster movies)

Abel Ferrara must be one "happy camper."  Really, I have to wonder when there's been a happy ending in one of his movies; for him it might come close to being unconventional to have one.  A lot of his movies (Ms. 45, Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant, China Girl) all end pretty badly (I mean that as a compliment), but none as drenched in horror as The Funeral.  Perhaps that should have been expected, and indeed I was hoping that a film starting off with teary-eyed Italians looking over a casket of a 23 year old guy with Billy Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday" would follow through on its dark promise of death and dread.  And it does.  Mostly.  And that ending...

But what is this?  What's Ferrara and his long-collaborating writer Nicholas St. John getting at?  It connects most likely to previous films he's made in the 'crime' vein, King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, featuring the sordid, morally warped lives of gangsters and cops respectively, and a search or lack thereof of religion when push comes to shove.  This time Ferrara flashes back to the 1930's where someone (as at the start of the movie) could go see Bogart in The Petrified Forest and then go out and do an old-style stick-up right on a bridge with guns and the works.  It transgresses its genre roots though, while sticking to some admiration for it, as it's a lot more natural in acting and stripped down in camera and music.  It is much more of a brother to the other Ferrara 90's crime movies than a 30's gangster homage.

Is this a good thing?  I think so, at least for a director as serious-as-a-heart-attack as Ferrara is.  His actors are totally in tune with the dark matter of the screenplay, and for a cast like he's assembled (Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Vincent Gallo, Annabella Sciorra, Isabella Rossellini, Benicio del-Toro) it better be top-notch material.  And mostly it is.  There may have been two or three scenes where I kind of tuned out, but mostly as characters (via the actors improv) would repeat words spoken just a little too much, something that has started to irk me on occasion in improved movies with tough guys.  Luckily Ferrara can get away with it as his attitude is reflected in the no-bullshit attitude of the characters.  But it does come close to this 'tough-guy-dialog' that works and doesn't at the same time (this is mostly in the bar scenes by the way).

What makes The Funeral so memorable and remarkable is the desperate mood, always, from the characters is expressed so raw by the actors.  No one significant in the cast is left without some good scenes for their proverbial reels.  Annabella Sciorra is one such actress who can sometimes shine in a role (another gangster saga, The Sopranos, saw her in a recurring role that was entertaining and crazy), and this is one of them as Ray's long-suffering wife Jean, who doesn't see anything (anymore) at all romantic about her hubby's way of life.  She lays it down to Gretchen Mol and that's that: they're criminals, brought up in poverty and unable by will or by the forces around them to push out of it.  She gives the kind of acting scene that could be shown if one were to try and bring some class to an acting session for newcomers.

Hint: NOT the spoiler of the movie.
And yet Walken is in a role that gives so much of that dark 'Walken' energy that he kind of does better here (if not as iconic for genre fans) than King of New York.  I felt for this man who was made to kill as a pre-teen, all with Italian language as a "you're a man" scene, and how there is some conflict, even if he doesn't show it at first, with the revenge he must seek for his brother's death by murder.  That very scene, I should add, when he confronts his brother's killer, could teeter close on to being Walken-Caricature, the one that we like to imitate and mock in a pleasant way.  But he doesn't.  This is the Walken that can scare us, and move us.  Ditto for (the late) Chris Penn, who perhaps gives a career-topping turn as the volatile brother Chez, who could plunge into rage full on, or just give the hint of it, to his wife, to a girl, to someone at a bar.  Walken may be the star, but Penn walks away with top billing as the guy in this movie that makes it.  He's volcanic, brooding, macho and true to his character's nature.  It's one of the few times I've suddenly really thought about his talents outside of Reservoir Dogs.  I miss him.

Ferrara's film ultimately lives up to its depths of anguish and misery.  It's not a pleasant movie experience, and for some looking for just a good entertaining gangster movie it's not a King of New York (which, in retrospect after seeing so many of his works, was a conventional Ferrara movie).  But it digs deep into the moral questions of people who make crime their way of life, more than the pat "crime doesn't pay" motto of gangster movies under the Hayes code.  That it ends with such a degree of insanity is almost the point of the movie; it's a shocking turn that made me respect it all even more than I did before.  It's a flawed work of art, like a ragged Italian sculpture.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#3) Soderbergh's THE UNDERNEATH

(This latest film had no gliches, in a nice widescreen, with only a little bit of... I wouldn't call it skipping, but it didn't seem to always flow quite as smooth as a DVD might, mostly an affect from it being HD I guess, or something.  But still a good way to see a Soderbergh movie).

Film-Noir, and its more modern off-shoot sometimes dubbed 'neo-noir' (and the likes of which one might also see in Blood Simple or Kill Me Again or Sexy Beast, or in other Soderbergh flicks like The Limey), is dependent on attitude and mood, but also a few characters who we can get alongside with in their despairing condition.  For The Underneath, Steven Soderbergh's first entry into anything close to the crime genre (which it is), is a remake of a 1949 noir called Criss Cross that starred an equally handsome-screen-presency guy, Burt Lancaster, as here it's Peter Gallagher, and both films tell the sad tale of a man who pulls an armored car heist all to try and get squared away with a dame who he once left long ago.  Where it differs is in the emotional details and detours, in a little more sex, a little more violence, and interesting emotional baggage.

Robert Siodmak's treatment of the Don Tracy novel was straightforward, at least with what Soderbergh came up with.  Then again it was a different time, and it was just enough for the movie to show real relationship discord like the kind that Steve and Ann had in that film, where they go off on a presumed get-away and when he tries to get her to go swim they grimace the whole time.  I think that Soderbergh was far more interested in that angle, the dynamic and disconnect between the two would-be romantic leads, and went with that and left the heist as a tease, something hinted at throughout and then finally gviven an "oh, that's where it's going" feel to it).

Indeed I have to wonder if Soderbergh, also co-writer under the amusing and quasi-fuck-you to Universal pseudonym (Brazil protagonist Sam Lowry), wanted to do an experiment that might out-goose Kubrick's The Killing in its narrative puzzle-form.  One can be sure, that is if one isn't on top of things, that time shifts back and forth between when Michael (Gallagher) left not only Rachel (Elliot) but his whole family and everything around him and when he came back for his mother and to take a job with his new dad-in-law with armored cars because, well, he goes between a beard and a shaved jawline.  Unless if there's further confusion and he just has a quick growth, but I'd rather think that the movie is confusing enough.  I mean that as a compliment.

Soderbergh has always been intrigued, nay his primary interest, in bending the rules of form; The Underneath was when he was in a strange transition period between his more independent work (Kafka, King of the Hill) and when he would enter Hollywood with Out of Sight, with the odd-n-end Schizopolis in-between.  Every film that he does, big or small, super-niche or a blockbuster, finds him trying to peer into what the camera, and especially editing, can do to change things.  It may be bittersweet that he's considering retiring after his next, uh, three or four movies are out of the way.  There really are only so many over-the-shoulder shots. 

And yet a film like Underneath is so pleasing to the senses because Soderbergh is, whether he'd ever admit it, a good storyteller who is able to find it in him a personal lever into the material.  It's not so much a remake of the Robert Siodmak film as it's an update of the book, of the noir feel, right down to the nightclub in this film being a rock and roll bar overseen by a gangster (the very icy William Fichtner, again a compliment for every moment he's on screen).  It works because it doesn't feel like a throwaway B-movie, and yet stays true to the spirit of that.  When we see, for example, our very-down-on-his-luck Michael in a hospital bed late in the film Soderbergh resists the conventional impulse to do reverse shots of person talking to Michael and the shot on Michael.  Until about five minutes in, during a crucial moment during a conversation with Michael's brother (or rather a 'talking to'), it's all on Michael, sometimes the camera warbling a bit around, a wonderful but important POV shot. 

The camera hasn't rested this long on Michael until now.  It's a very careful, remarkable move on Soderbergh's part, to make it psychological, even moral, as a camera choice.  Such a similar thing was done with Solaris, and I actually couldn't help but think of that film during Underneath, another story that makes its genre a pure backdrop for the malaise and remembrance and feeling of love, of the 'other' that is so hard to hold on to, which is something I have to think is deeply personal for Soderbergh in some way (otherwise, as the Auteur Crow flies, why would he have it in several of his films, this idea of connectivity and its difficulty).  Why does Michael run away?  Usual guess, money problems, discontent.  But when he comes back all of what was is just fragments and shards, sometimes cast in a blue light like when he tries to get close to Rachel by the water, or how he's framed talking with her- him on the right, her on the left in the cutaway. 

I liked that feel of it, of the personal touch, since not every move was for the best.  Shelley Duvall is given a kind of thankless bit part as a nurse.  The ending has a bit of a satisfying-but-not feeling, only really helped by some really (ironically) upbeast end credits music.  And the actor who plays the brother of Michael, the asshole cop, I'm still not sure of.  He's eithere a very good performer at playing a dick with soulless eyes, or he's just not very good at all (there's one part in the hospital that still keeps me wondering).  But Underneath is remarkable as another of Soderbergh's risks as an artist, if not as high-flying as his others then still appealing for whast he smuggles in within the conventions and the sadness that comes with the intricate plotting.  It is a part of being the form, but it always works for the sake of telling this character's tale, and ultimately we feel for this dude despite his faults.  It's a cool little near-indie that captures film-noir and transposes it to the 90's, without overstepping into that decade too far either.

Oh, and the musical performances in the club are fantastic, for the few and far between moments they are there, with a nifty feel for the night-life and streets of Austin, Texas.  And Peter Gallagher is splendid and alive on screen as always, with a decent co-star turn from Allison Elliot, a real Dame to Kill For so to speak.

Fifteen Good-Lookin' 2011 Movies Without Release Dates

You have have seen several blogs and sites out there in the past few weeks run down their list of movies they look forward to and anticipate for the next year.  I, too, have a list, but I thought I might mix it up with some movies that while you may or may not have heard are coming out this year, have no idea when they'll be released.  This may be in part due to the movies still being edited, or possibly shot, or that they played festivals last year and got distribution but have not been given definitive release dates or plans due to studio politics (and this is with the indies mind you), or that the movies have yet to come to respective festivals one may expect them to arrive at.

So it's a mixed list, and it's possible even one or two may not see the light of day until 2012.  But until then, here is a tentative list (and, again, for movies that to my knowledge don't have planned release dates, so no Thor or Green Lantern, no Cowboys & Aliens, Tin-Tin, Hugo Cabret, Dragon Tattoo remake or Paul or Rango or Tree of Life).

1) Living in the Material World: George Harrison - MARTIN SCORSESE

Scorsese's always a busy cat even if one may forget how often he puts out films (he's the in-between of Woody Allen and Terence Malick, not too often, not too far apart, just right). And in his spare time while working on other features and TV work, he has this new rock documentary based around the life and work of the great Beatle that some neglect when looking at Lennon/McCartney.  This makes me especially excited as Harrison may be my favorite Beatle, and had a remarkable, diverse career following the 1971 split (his song "What is Life" was used excellently in the May 1980 sequence of GoodFellas), and that Scorsese's already proved his chops many times over with rock docs, specifically 2005's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, which also used interview footage and archive clips like this film will do.

2) A Dangerous Method - DAVID CRONENBERG

Freud.  Jung.  A girl between them.  And it's Cronenberg, one of the masters of the psychological horror film (and, you know, he usually likes to deal with the duality-of-man thing... a lot).  So there's lots of good ground to cover, and maybe there will be some blood drawn between friend-rival psycho-pioneers?  One can only hope, especially with Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung, two of the best Actors-My-Mom-Would-Do working today, and Kiera Knightly as the girl... perhaps I've said too much...

3) Twixt and Now Sunrise - FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA

(Or should I say F.F. Coppola?)  This title is kind of strange, especially as I'll end up calling it "That Twix Movie" as its release comes up.  But Coppola's had a kind of newly resurged renaissance as of late in the Golden Age of his career, and his last film Tetro is arguably one of his most beautiful works. This latest one seems to return him to the horror genre, one he hasn't been back to in 20 years (that long since Dracula? geez), and has a diverse cast including Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning as a character mysteriously named V (is she like a crazy person?)  This is a case where I'll go see it if nothing else for the stature of the director - there's only so many more films he can pump out.

4) Tabloid - ERROL MORRIS

One of the smash hits of the Toronto Film Festival last September, this sees a return for the iconoclast documentary director Morris to the kind of territory one may have seen with Fast, Cheap and Out of Control: wild character and an outrageous story (or maybe going back to Vernon, Florida in some part) as the saga of an ex-Miss Wyoming (one can kind of tell from the picture) who abducted a Mormon missionary in the 70's.  It actually also has the makings of an underrated doc from a few years ago, Crazy Love, which had similar Tabloid-Tendencies.  All I can say is if someone can show up TMZ and those other bullshit rag-shows, it's the guy behind Gates of Heaven.

5) Cave of Forgotten Dreams - WERNER HERZOG

It's Werner Herzog, one of the great wildman-adventurers of filmmaking.  Already in.  It's in 3D.  Hmm.  Shot in the most remote, hard-to-enter caves featuring early artwork by our collective ancestors that can only fit up to 8 people at a time.  More Hmm.  And it's one of Herzog's documentaries, which means it's loaded with ecstatic truth.  And 3D.  More hmm... But I have to trust the man's instincts; if he, as with Scorsese and Spielberg, is taking a crack at shooting a 3D movie, with an actual 3D camera, and in this case with its nature being that of something meant for IMAX, count me in X a million.  That it too got some great buzz and a ferocious bidding war at Toronto is another plus in its favor.

6) The Grandmasters - KAR WAI WONG

We haven't seen a full-on action/martial arts movie from this director since 1994's Ashes of Time (or if one wants to be a dick about it, 2008's Ashes of Time Redux so... his last released movie), and in this case  it's a sort of bio-pic of a legendary martial arts master, the IP Man, who trained Bruce Lee at one time.  All I know is WKW is one of THE skilled art-film directors who makes the camera in a dream-like presence with the characters.  With martial arts, it could be quite amazing.  One needs to see a trailer (one that is NOT just calligraphic text) to give a fuller assessment, but I'm interested.  Also co-starring 2046 leads Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi.

7) The Descendants - ALEXANDER PAYNE

No relation to the alternative-indie rock group, this is Payne's return to the director's chair since his Oscar-winner Sideways, and, like that film and like most of his films it's an adaptation of a novel.  It also stars George Clooney as a character who, kind of like Nicholson's Schmidt, is seeking redemption from his children.  Payne has a natural eye and ear for the way that people look and speak (usually from the midwest ala his state of Nebraska), but also people in circumstances that allow for some natural satire to come out (before it's been school, retirement, and wine-culture).  Now it's about... a guy who plans to sell his land and move his family to Hawaii.  Alrighty then.

8) Midnight in Paris - WOODY ALLEN

It's never a question of 'when will the next Woody Allen' come out, just really around what time of season (maybe a more practical one could be 'Is it major or minor Wody?'.  I imagine this one, his first set in France/Paris and featuring lots of comedy-romance with an uncertain family (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams) coming to Paris for business and, in the Woody-ian sense, wackiness ensues.  Also starring Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Allison Pill, and Kurt Fuller, and cinematography by Daris Kondji.  Let's face it, us Woody Allen fans will go along to see just about anything he does- even The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and, the select few, Cassandra's Dream- so his Paris Movie?  Oui.

9) Moonrise Kingdom - WES ANDERSON*

Don't know too much about this yet, outside of the synopsis: "Moon Rise Kingdom is set in the 60s. Two young adults fall in love and run away. Leaders in their New England town are sticking the idea that they've disappeared and go in search of them. (Edward Norton) will play a scout leader who brings his charges on a search. (Bruce Willis) is in talks to play the town sheriff who’s also looking, and who is having an affair with the missing girl’s mother, the role (Frances) McDormand is in talks to play. (Bill) Murray, a regular in Anderson films, will play the girl's father, who has his own issues."  Not too shabby a cast.  Bruce Willis could work well for Anderson as he is a mostly stoic-still-figure guy at his best.
(*This could be a 2012 release, we'll have to wait and see if it is shot and edited this year)

10) The Rum Diary - BRUCE ROBINSON

Fans of cult cinema and Hunter S. Thompson should rejoice at this, though it shouldn't have taken so long; technically this movie has been 'Complete' for a number of months now, maybe even closer to a year.  The delay?  It's star Johnny Depp who to give the benefit of the doubt has said he wanted to give this movie all of his time and energy to promote but due to being, you know, Johnny goddamnJackSparrowTimBurtonLoveBurritto Depp, his time is sparse.  But the film, from the director of Withnail & I is an adaptation of the good late Doctor's first novel, set in the 1950's in Puerto Rico and concerning all odds and ends of hanging out, writing, drinking, and getting into Thompson-like adventures (and this being in the period of time when he was very much influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald).  This was one of my most anticipated pictures of 2010, and so it's natural for it to carry over to this year.


Sometimes Linklater can amaze and make one's innards tingle, and other times he's still entertaining as a filmmaker with his dramas, comedies and philosophical musings in rotoscope animation.  This time sees him going back to some dark comedy ground- a tale of a mortician who woos a widow and when he accidentally kills her tries to make her look like she's still alive (so, in other words, Bernie being relation to that "Weekend" character)- and reuniting with a very old-school Linklater alumni: Matthew McConaughey.  Before you get your panties in a bunch at the news of Dazed & Confused's David Wooderson returning to the screen, just know that the movie also stars Jack Black... yeah, but, Jack Black did impress, Dog, years back with School of Rock.  Can that minor-comic magic be rekindled.  We'll just see, won't we?

12) La piel que habito (The Skin That I Inhabit) - ALMODOVAR

Starring Antonio Y Banderas, el actor, this is based on Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale", a revenge tale telling the story of a plastic surgeon on the hunt for the men who raped his daughter. ... So... Almodovar's Darkman then? COOL!  And if it's in Almodovar's patented form of Spanish melodrama, it should be full of color and blood and high-level emotions that are beautifully left to chance.

13) 13 Assassins - TAKASHI MIIKE

Reportedly, from its screenings at the 2010 Fantastic Fest, this has some of the best buzz going for a Miike movie in his very prolific career, which is saying a lot.  It's also a hardcore samurai movie, which might have me interested on its own.  The combination of the two, and comparisons to Seven Samurai, make this Jack all giddy in anticipation.


Should I try and get worked up about this one?  I have to enter with some trepidation, that it's not the awesome John Carpenter of olden times (the 80's) when his B-movie aesthetic was always something to look forward to- it's a decade where his weakest film was Christine, what would've been a fantastic work for a rookie director- but rather it's the director who has lost of the passion for filmmaking, either by personal lack of it or by the damnation brought on by years fighting the studios (he hasn't directed since 2001's Ghost of Mars).  But I would like to give the benefit of the doubt, since it is a return to feature films and it has gotten some, if not overwhelming, positive buzz, all concerning a group of girls getting insane treatment in a psycho ward of a hospital.  So, maybe, just maybe, Carpenter's Shutter Island?  Again we'll just see.

15) Hobo with a Shotgun - JASON EISENER

So... this is based on this:
From the director of this:
Featuring the star of this:
Need I say more?

Honorable mentions:

1) Untitled Keith Richards Documentary (directed by Johnny Depp) - Hey, Richards fan to the max, even read his memoir released last month, and a Depp fan (not sure about his directing skills yet however).

2) Surviving Life (directed by Jan Svankmajer) - Read on:

3) Film Socialsme (directed by Jean Luc-Godard) - ....Eh, maybe it'll make sense this time... Maybe not... Maybe it'll still be pretty!

4) No idea what this is.  But just look at the director.  How could I *not* see it, just out of curiosity?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#2) A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (Los desperados)

(It should be noted up front that Netflix almost, kinda, let me down on this one: going into it I thought I was getting, at least half-way, a Lucio Fulci movie.  That is when you go on to their site, or are on the Instant-Netflix watch, it credits him alongside another director, Julio Buchs.  As it turns out, after at first giving the benefit of the doubt that Fulci wasn't credited in the opening titles, he had nothing to do with the picture according to the lead actor, George Hilton.  So if one is a hardcore Fulci fan trying to get as much out of the proverbial Netflix Buck, then one may be disappointed to see it's just your common garden-variety "spaghetti western".   But hey, on those terms it could still be okay right?)  

A Bullet for Sandoval isn't one of those 'Spaghetti Westerns' that one might try, perhaps somewhat in vain or for the sake of sounding like a smarty pants auteur-enthusiast, to put into the ouvere of a known-director in the genre, like Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci or the League of Extraordinary Sergio's (you know they're out there, oh yes).  At the end of the day since the Lucio Fulci co-director credit has been de-bunked, it's just another western that has a credit to a guy who only directed a few other films, Julio Buchs (among others that have under 100 votes on include I'll Kill Him and Return Alone, which is a bad-ass title, and Django Does Not Forgive, which sounds pretty straightforward).  It may also tempt some of those die-hard Ernest Borgnine fans out there, you two or three of you reading this around the world.

But what else is there?  On the surface it's a revenge story that takes off during the Civil War.  A Confederate soldier, John Warner (George Hilton), needs to leave the army to tend to some trouble that's a-brewin' back in his old village regarding his wife and small baby.  But alas, this makes him a deserter, and when he's found out he's taken back to dig his own grave.  Somehow by some very sudden chance of occurance (that is a moment of luck that seems out of left-field somewhat and isn't given enough time to marinate in the mind), Warner is freed from his duty-of-death by a couple of other soldiers, and head on back to town.  But when they get there they find out from the one-note hot-head Don Sandoval (Borgnine) that Warner's wife, Sandoval's daughter, has died, not from the cholera that's been sweeping the town but by Warner because, uh, Sandoval says so!  He gives Warner his baby and sends him off, but he soon dies of Cholera too without any assistance.  Some fine luck to his grandson there.

Warner swears revenge, and gets together alongside his other ex-Confederate compadres a host of other gunmen, the likes of which Sandoval knows all by name and description oddly enough without having met any of them up close (how they're all identified is one of the film's moments of unintentional hilarity as Sandoval describes each, like a one-eyed gunman, in detailed voice-over as each gunman enters and exits the screen).  Warner's plan isn't too complicated: get past Sandoval's entourage and storm at him, though there will be some resistance as Sandoval tries to rally up an army to stop them cause, you know, Warner's leading a trained cadre of gunmen who aren't exactly amateurs.  Some side-steps come and go, but the mission stays the same, up until the climax.

Rhode scholars, the lot of em.
And what a climax it really is.  Seriously, one just need to look at that poster to see a hint of it, as Warner and his men are in an arena and dozens of gunmen come flooding in the seats surrounding them in the middle.  I can't say what happens, if the one or two of you decide to watch it, but it is a thrilling build up to a shoot-out that echoes its same-year movie The Wild Bunch, albeit without that film's real dynamite focus on screen violence.  But up until then, a lot of A Bullet for Sandoval is a bit lame, which is a shame as the story could lend itself to better handling of its premise.

It is actually a pretty tragic story as it deals with an innocent man (albeit a Confederate soldier which knocks some sympathy points there) who comes home to find his life destroyed, and further made awful and irredemable by a father-in-law who is at best a prick and at worst one of those evil fuckers who makes a law banning smoking in restaurants.  And oh, such a man Borgnine plays in full one-dimensional splendor... and yet one-dimension it is, from start to finish, even in a scene that should emphasize what little remorse he feels over his daughter's cholera death (where he tells a maid "she never existed" and then proceeds to cry in her absence) is hammed up.  Under the surface it... loses much of its potential after the first half-hour, becoming a by-the-books revenge picture with a few decent stylistic fluorishes.

In lieu of being able to find a single still of Borgnine from the picture, here is a kid's science fair project.... um...
It also doesn't help that all other actors are also equally one-note, workmen, basically there either as ham-matrons or stick figures just waiting to be shot, or if one is a woman then a moaner and coverer-of-child's-ears-from-bad-language (which is none really).  Some of the scenes are also quite silly, such as a wound that Warner sustains in his right arm that is little more than a little puncture with a little blood only requiring for a few scenes the need of a sling via bandana.  What kind of bullet is that, a toothpick?  And Buchs just can't resist the kind of shot one has to equally laugh and roll ones eyes at which is all four gunmen near the climax walking in step, all same foot at the same time, with the imitation-leather-Morricone music in tow.

And yet there is kind of a charm to it not-quite-goodness.  It hasn't dated well and some of the dialog is equally silly as some of the action.  Nevertheless if you're hankering for some of that spaghetti-western meat, there is some here, like in the aforementioned climax in the arena, or what leads up to it with the big showdown between Warner and Sandoval (and there is a bull thrown in!  and a bull-ring that is hardly up to regulation!)  I only wish it had a director who, frankly, seemed to give more of a shit, to his actors or is under-used star Borgnine in a villainous role that has nothing really worthwhile to offer outside of the hambone quotient.  There is some decent grime and grit, a few noteworthy "macho" moments like two irate gunmen using their knives to make a point- one after another in the same friggin' spot- but it's mostly forgettable.

ADDENDUM: Another fault on Netflix's end: this version, apparently, has about fifteen minutes chopped off, if one is to believe IMDb's credit of 105 mins vs the 90 mins the film was on instant-view, and worse-off its a pan-and-scan version of a 2:35 widescreen movie, which is more painfully obvious on a widescreen digital TV.  Come on guys, throw me a bone here.  Sadly one may take some of this review as moot as half of the screen and 15 minutes were lopped off - even with an average movie its worth seeing the full-averageness of it.  L'Sigh.