Trouble Is My Business – it gives noir a good name

Trouble Is My Business, the feature directorial debut of Tom Konkle, is not so much a neo-noir thriller as an homage to noirs of years past. It’s a stylish love poem, really, lifting many of the timeless elements that made noirs so powerful in the 1930s through the 1950s, including the hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale, and the MacGuffin (in this case, a diamond).

Konkle (who cowrote the script with his costar, Brittney Powell) stars as Roland Drake, a shamed shamus who now runs a one-man detective agency after his partner Lew (David Beeler) moved on to bigger and better things. Drake gets a phone call from a mysterious woman who – of course – desperately needs his help in locating her missing father, a man who had somehow procured a famous, expensive diamond from overseas. The diamond, incidentally, is also missing. But before Drake can get to some serious detecting, his mystery woman is dead. In his bed. A bad start to a bad day!

And soon he has company – the dead woman’s sister, Jennifer Montemar (Powell). Jennifer assumes Drake had a hand in her sister’s death, but she too wants to find her father. And the diamond, of course. But Drake finds himself up against almost everyone, including his ex partner, a sadistic detective (played by perennial heavy Vernon Wells), a corrupt police force, a haughtily rich family, and some Russian mobsters.

Now, it may seem like there are a lot of people in this murky stew. But I found the direction – particularly the pacing – to be a huge asset, offsetting the many variables to some extent. It’s also helpful that the story isn’t told in a completely linear way; in fact, it spices things up a bit. If the plot simply a series of contrived events, the nonlinearity might prove to be confusing. But the script is tight, to the point where short snippets of dialog or a darting glimpse of a scene can prove to take on added meaning as the movie progresses – or, indeed, no meaning at all.

Konkle is very well cast as the weary, yet noble, gumshoe who may be in over his head. Of all of the characters in the movie, Drake is certainly the most developed, the most relatable, and the best portrayed. I’m not sure how many actual noirs Konkle the director saw before making this film, but Konkle the actor seemed to channel Sam Spade and Mike Hammer effortlessly. I found it pretty easy to believe that Drake could be dumb enough to fall for a dame but smart enough to stay one step ahead of, well, everyone else. The rest of the cast ranged from sufficient to very solid to slightly hammy. That’s not a slight against the cast, either. This is not a movie in which every performance needs to be Oscar worthy. The biggest roles – Drake and Jennifer – were spectularly aced, and that’s important.

Sometimes the movie’s tone shifted abruptly – from a serious detective tale to a slapstick comedy. The occasional joke makes sense, but here the one liners sometimes took me out of the scene (and, in fact, made me remember that this is a modern film, even though it is set in the late 1940s). Comic timing is never easy when you’re working on a dramatic film, I assume. It’s just that sometimes an actor’s line delivery would feel almost like they had just stepped out of character for a moment. That’s the tone shift I noticed.

But for the most part, this was a wonderful film, and it should be seen by fans of the genre. It might have come off even better had it been filmed in black and white (which I believe is a much more expensive process nowadays), but some of the scenes are lit to give one the impression of monochrome, with stark contrasts and sharp angles.

Posted in Trouble Is My Business | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Justice League gets DC back on track, finally

It’s a low bar to clear, but Justice League is way better than Batman v. Superman. It’s funnier, it has more action, it has less brooding and darkness, and it’s just plain much, much more fun to watch. Justice League is the kind of movie that should put DC back on the same sort of cinematic path that Marvel has been treading over the past decade.

The movie picks up where the aforementioned Batman v. Superman left off. Superman is gone, having sacrificed himself to save the world. Meanwhile, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begin to recruit an alliance of super-duper people (Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa)) to prepare for what appears to be another alien threat.

That alien threat is one Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), the nephew and second-in-command to the yet-unseen super big bad named Darkseid. Steppenwolf has arrived on Earth to collect three Mother boxes – objects that, when joined together, will grant immense power, etc., etc., etc. Steppenwolf is aided by thousands and thousands of Parademons, bug-like creatures who were once men.

Here’s a brief list of what I liked about the movie. 1) Bruce Wayne has a wry, understated sense of humor that – get this – is also self-deprecating. 2) Jason Momoa kills as a manly-man king of the seas. 3) Gal Gadot is just as terrific as she was in her own movie and in BvS. 4) The Flash is hilarious! 5) There were plenty of tight action sequences that, despite being shown in IMAX, were easy to track. I could see who was fighting whom and with what!

The overall tone of the movie is more in line with what Marvel’s doing – there’s physical fighting, there are biting remarks, there are doubts (our heroes are human-ish, after all), there are touching moments. Everyone delivers, which isn’t always the case in ensemble pictures, but Affleck in particular really stepped up his game as the Bat dude. A lot of people liked his performance in BvS, but I found him stiff and boring. That’s just not true in Justice League. Bats still has a huge ego, still likes to run things, likes to work alone even among his team. And he’s still kind of a jerk. But he’s not a boring jerk; Affleck, finally, gives him a personality! And lo! DC was saved!

Posted in Justice League | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Majority of One – ’61 movie is hopelessly dated, mildly racist

In A Majority of One, Alec Guinness plays a Japanese businessman. I don’t mean that he plays a British man masquerading as a Japanese man, I mean that he’s supposed to be the Japanese man in the first place. Alec Guinness – spoiler alert – was not Japanese and didn’t even look vaguely Asian, and yet there he was anyway. Guinness accomplished his portrayal by kind of squinting, something that I think most of us in 2017 would see as pretty racist. Were there no suitable Japanese actors in 1961? Or even actors with any Asian heritage? Using Caucasian actors to play Asian roles was certainly much more common at that time than it is now. The sentiment on the part of the movie studios was that American audiences wouldn’t go to see a movie headlined by an Asian star. Sadly, they were probably right.

The movie itself is a culture clash in which widowed Mr. Asano (Guinness) and widowed Mrs. Jacoby (Rosalind Russell) meet on a ship traveling from the U.S. to Tokyo. Mrs. Jacoby is Jewish and hasn’t even left New York, and yet there she is, on a transcontinental voyage with her daughter and her son in law, the latter of whom has received a diplomatic posting to Japan amid some tense trade negotiations. Mrs. Jacoby is not a fan of the Japanese, as her only son was killed in WW II, which would have been fresh in the minds of the audience, having occurred less than two decades earlier. Her wariness of Asians in general and Japanese in particular would have been relatable for 1961 audiences. Not so much for us today.

As Mrs. Jacoby and Mr. Asano become more acquainted, they develop a positive relationship – which, ironically enough, threatens to upend the son-in-law’s negotiations with the Japanese government regarding their trade policies. This leads to misunderstandings that, like any good sitcom, are resolved in all good time. But not without some feelings being hurt and some minds being changed.

Guinness does his best to do the job he’s given, but personally I couldn’t look past the fact that this was a Caucasian man playing an Asian man (and not as a disguise, as Sean Connery’s James Bond would do a few years later). Mr. Asano, as a result, feels like a caricature of what Hollywood must have felt Asians were like (or at least how Americans in general viewed Asians). To a lesser degree, Russell is also oddly cast – she, of Irish descent, playing an observing Jewish woman – but the stereotype isn’t as stark as with Guinness’s Asano. Russell, for her part, is entirely believable. (Look for Mae Questel as Jacoby’s bigoted friend and George Takei as Asano’s servant, too.)

Finally, the movie is just too darn long. It’s 2.5 hours! That’s great for an action movie, maybe even a mystery, but not a romance drama that takes place in generally close quarters. The plot is simple enough, and the scenes set in Japan are exquisitely shot, but it’s not enough to lift a movie that simply drags when it’s not being outright offensive by modern standards.

Posted in Majority of One | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The 50 Best Superhero Movies of All Time

Source: The 50 Best Superhero Movies of All Time

Posted in Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Martyrs: sometimes, they have nothing to do with religion

The synopsis for Martyrs on Netflix (where it is not yet available, even on DVD) indicates that the movie’s about a young woman who enlists the aid of her longtime friend to exact revenge on the couple who imprisoned and tortured her when she was a kid. But that covers only about the first twenty minutes of this gory thriller. Then stuff gets weird.

First, a disclaimer. As I was watching this movie, I realized I really didn’t like it. I just didn’t get it. Didn’t know why the plot was moving forward. Wasn’t the revenge over? And then the third act finally arrived. And when I went to bed, I still didn’t like it, but I was wavering. When I woke up the next morning, I had to admit to myself that it was a pretty good movie after all.

In a sense, the plot isn’t quite linear. We first see the women getting the revenge. But then the focus shifts from the original victim, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), to her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), who herself becomes a victim of immeasurable suffering. It’s like watching the events that probably happened to Lucie play out with Anna. I started to wonder what the point or the endgame was. Was this just for the sake of bloodletting?

The answer lies in the title. I certainly can’t tell you why, as that would spoil the surprise. But if you do take the time to watch this movie – and beware, it’s in French, and the version I saw was dubbed, not subtitled – try to stick with it. It’ll give you something to think about, if nothing else.

Posted in Martyrs | Leave a comment