Advertisements

In a Lonely Place

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (In a Lonely Place)_NRFPT_01

Dix and Mildred

Starring Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele (what a name!) a petulant, yet witty screenwriter who’s seen more profitable days and Gloria Graham as his gorgeous neighbor, Laurel Gray, In a Lonely Place is straight up classic film noir with a strong performance. “Dix” hasn’t written a successful script for years. In a Hollywood watering hole, Dix’s agent tries to persuade him to adapt a best seller. Dix isn’t interested, but his lack of money forces him to lower his standards. He invites Mildred, the coat check girl, who’s read the novel, back to his place to tell him all about the story.

Excited to be part of the film world even in this tiny way, and no doubt flattered to catch Dix’s eye, Mildred breaks her date and goes to Dix’s place. They chat and she goes on and on about the banal novel. Tired, Dix sends her home.

Dix meets his gorgeous upstairs neighbor Laurel and they hit it off and love blooms.

The next day Mildred’s found dead and Dix is the prime suspect. During the rest of the film, Dix is suspected of the murder. As the story progresses we see Dix starting fist fights, blowing up when he encounters rather small problems so we come to doubt his innocence.

With the snappy dialog and unusual plot, In a Lonely Place will entertain.

 

Advertisements

Badlands

badlands-1973-starkweather-holly-kit-martin-sheen-sissy-spacek

I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?

 

 

 

The Horizontal Man

In 1947 Helen Eustis won the Edgar Award for best mystery for The Horizontal Man. Set at a small New England women’s college where a young Irish English professor, Kevin Boyle is murdered; someone took a fireplace poker and bashed him over the head with it. Soon Molly Morrison, an introverted freshman with a huge crush on Prof. Boyle has a breakdown and while in the school infirmary confesses to the murder.

No one buys that and she’s eventually cleared, but the question remains: Who killed Boyle? As the novel progresses Eustis provides an up close look into the psychology of the students and professors. Surprisingly, police and detectives play a small role in the novel, a technique I can’t remember seeing in other mysteries.

I liked her precise style, which transported me to the late 1940s.

Grantchester

grantchester-series-itv

When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

Serial

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 12.26.30 AM

If you haven’t listened to the popular podcast, Serial , you should. Produced by the people behind public radio’s This American Life, Serial follows one story over the course of 12 weekly episodes. You can listen to them all on iTunes for free.

Season 1 focuses on a 1999 murder and trial. A high school student Hae Min Lee goes missing after school. Later her body is found and her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed gets arrested and convicted. Adnan has served 15 years for this crime which he contends he’s innocent of.

In this series the host Sarah Koenig interviews their friends and those key to the crime, considers possible alibis, shares police interview tapes, and shares her thoughts on whether Adnan did in fact do it. She speaks with Adnan a lot. He’s a smart, charming guy and like Sarah, I went back and forth from week to week on whether he did it. The radio or podcast medium gives the series an intimacy it would lack in video.

Gosford Park, No Downton Abbey

Gosford-Park

I began watching Julien Fellows’ Gosford Park with high hopes. After all, I love Downton Abbey and Fellows won the Oscar for this screenplay.

I was disappointed. Sorely. Despite an all star cast, Gosford Park lacked a single character I found charming or likable. There was one Scottish maid who seemed mousy but nice. She wasn’t enough to carry a film of this length. The characters all came off as cold, greedy and indolent. The upperclass people spent money like water and had nothing but disdain for each other and got no joy from their money.

The downstairs servants weren’t much better. Though not as spoiled they were all out for themselves in a different way. No warmth at all. They just wanted to get their work done with as little fuss as possible. Anyone who upset their system was glared and scoffed at.

One theme that rose was how the servants felt overshadowed by their employers. I can see that, but the grass isn’t always greener. If they worked in offices, their lives would also be precarious and as one of my new colleagues asserts if you work for one company for a long time, that company forms your identity to a great extent. So if they traded their apron for a factory uniform it’s not sure that they’d be happier or more secure.

Sexual harassment was rampant as the lord of the manor couldn’t keep his hands to himself, but in a store, office or factory women run into that too.

For the first 75 minutes we see rich people bicker, whinge and finagle for money. Then the plot picks up when the lord who’s a churl gets murdered. Yet the investigation is so incompetently carried out that I just couldn’t buy it. In the end we do learn who did it, but by then I barely cared.

Fellows sure deepened his understanding about character and plot by the time he started Downton Abbey.

Anatomy of a Murder

anatomy_of_a_murder1

I can’t think of a bad Jimmy Stewart movie. Director Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder continues Stewart’s winning streak as far as I’m concerned. With familiar old faces like Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara Orson Bean, George C. Scott, and Eve Arden, Anatomy of a Murder tells the story of a young soldier who’s on trial for murdering a man who allegedly raped his wife. The wife played by Remick is a saucy, flirtatious woman, who’s strangely upbeat for someone in her predicament. She calls Paul Biegler, the former D.A., who’s aimlessly spending his days fishing and doing routine legal work. She convinces him, rather easily to take the case. What follows is a game. Wherein neither Beigler nor the audience know whom to believe. While the movie’s long, and sometimes meanders like when Beigler plays piano with Duke Ellington at a roadhouse, it’s an entertaining, absorbing ride, that surprises at the very end.

I was left intrigued, as was Beigler, at the very end. The cast is strong and the story compelling.

The Empty House

English: Second of the four illustrations incl...

English: Second of the four illustrations included in the edition of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle published in 1894 by A. L. Burt in New York. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sherlock, season 3 begins on PBS tonight. In anticipation, I’ve read “The Empty House,” the Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) short story that the episode is based on. It’s been years since I’ve read a Sherlock story. When I was in high school, I was in the Sherlock Holmes Society and read several. Doyle knows how to tell a good story. His style is direct and compelling. His hero, Sherlock is brilliant yet flawed and he captures the friendship between Holmes and Watson very well. They’re able to speak frankly, though Watson sometimes refrains from commenting because he feels he won’t be listened to or in other cases, is in awe of his friend’s mental prowess.

“The Empty House” was the first story of Holmes’ return or resurrection. Fans will remember that Doyle grew tired of his popular character. Apparently, ACD suffered more than Watson from being overshadowed by Sherlock. Try as he might, he wanted Sherlock gone, but the public clamored for more and after 10 years, ACD relented and wrote, “The Empty House” in which Sherlock returns to solve the case of the murder of Ronald Adair.

Highlights include Sherlock explaining how and why he cheated death and fooled Moriarty and Watson holding what might be the first literary intervention when he voices disproval of Sherlock’s use of (the then legal) cocaine. Like the modern Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the original Sherlock used stimulants to stave off the boredom of ordinary life.

I delighted in how often Sherlock quotes Shakespeare and recommend getting an annotated book like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, which illuminates all the references and quotations.

Reading the story this time around, I was struck by how much screenwriters Moffat and Gatiss borrow from the original. I’m not complaining. In fact I applaud them for their faithful, clever adaptations.

Tonight American fans  see what the duo has done to explain Sherlock’s death. How could he fake his death so convincingly? The YouTube video above provides a thoughtful analysis. If it’s correct, Moffat and Gatiss would have closely followed what happened in the original story. Folks in the U.K. already know what happened. In North America we’ll soon find out.

Do read the originals. They’re well written and you’ll gain insight. For next week I’m finishing The Sign of Four.

John Green on Flags and Helpers

I feel we should focus on the helpers. I trust that we’ll find the terrorists and I trust that justice will be done.

A few weeks ago I saw on Anderson Cooper 360°  a woman whose husband, a prison chief, was murdered. She has a policy of not mentioning the murderer’s name. She doesn’t want to bring him fame. I think that’s an excellent policy. Whoever’s behind this should not get famous or infamous. They should simply be punished.

The Bo Xilai Story

US Secretary Gutierrez meets with Chinese Mini...

US Secretary Gutierrez meets with Chinese Minister Bo Xilai cropped from File:US_Secretary_Gutierrez_meets_with_Chinese_Minister_Bo_Xilai.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been following the Bo Xilai story as best I can, which is hard to do in China. At first the details were murky and I couldn’t figure out exactly what is alleged to have happen, but finally The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Guardian and others have clearer reports of what’s believed to have gone on.

What’s interesting is how little coverage the story gets here.  A month ago CCTV reported that tangentially that several websites had been closed down for “spreading rumors” and that the

I’d just pieced together parts of the story, but now it’s clear that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is implicated in the murder of a British man, Neil Heywood, who was to help her send lots of money overseas. That Bo has tapped the phones used by high ranking CP officials and that although his job was to stop corruption, he was highly corrupt and also imprisoned people who crossed him. An NPR report a month ago mentioned that family members of missing people in his district were afraid to speak out about their missing relatives.

If this happened in the US, people would be talking about it. A lot.

That’s a big difference in living in China. I wouldn’t ask anyone about it as I think I’d be rude or worse. If a student brought this up, I’d be surprised and I’d probably change the subject, though I’ve been quite open about the scallywags in Illinois politics.  I also don’t perceive the kind of energy that surfaces in the midst of a scandal. There’s no uptick in gossip that I can detect. Yet as I don’t speak Chinese I wouldn’t know, though I would pick up on the change of energy.

Well, it seems that the CCTV segment that showed that all is well in Mr. Bo’s Chongqing was might be on the money. There was an insipid segment on the news in which a reporter went to a GAP-like store in Chongqing and interviewed the assistant manager and a shopper or two. All said everything was hunky dory. Well, sure. When Blogojevich was on trial it’s not like, people stopped needing new jeans. Yet as I watched the report of how calm it was, made me suspicious. Why would someone report about a calm day?

Disclaimer

Dear Fellows, The State Department has requested that any Fellows who maintain their own blog or website please post the following disclaimer on your site: "This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellows' own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State." We appreciate your cooperation. Site Meter
%d bloggers like this: