Saturday, July 18, 2020

In Lieu Of A Hook- In Defense Of One Woman Vigilantism-Frances McDormand’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)-A Film Review

In Lieu Of A Hook- In Defense Of One Woman Vigilantism-Frances McDormand’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, 2017 

I frankly don’t know what to make of this film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which I do know rightfully won Oscars for two of the actors in this effort. One for the righteous Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes and the other as supporting actor Sam Rockwell as Jason Dixon. My quandary though is about what the cluster of themes are supposed to represent. What that means in “film speak,” in what I mentioned in one recent film review piggy-backing off of long time film critic and my longtime companion, Sam Lowell, is that I don’t have a “hook,” something to turn this review on. Sam’s safety valve suggestion which mainly is good for older films, black and white films from the 1940s and 1950s which he made his reputation on, wrote what many until recently anyway considered the definite classic on the genre, is to take on the “American slice of life” aspect when all else fails or you are stuck.

I am not sure though in this case this film tells us much about contemporary America, at least anything that you can put a hook into. A suggestion that this film is the current classically fashionable “fight” between the Eastern intelligentsia and the redneck backwoods “good old boys and girls” who sense of justice and political correctness are worlds apart seems snarky. A cinematic replay of the 2016 American presidential campaign, interfered with or not, doesn’t put this round peg in the square. Moreover, the way the whole political correctness aspects play out makes me believe (and Sam too when I asked for candid and serious advice) that the producers have missed out on the Occupy Movement, more importantly what #Me Too stands for, and most decisive of all is that it is clueless about race, about what Black Lives Matter which after all started in real Ferguson, Missouri and either they didn’t hear the news or were more comfortable with stale old clich├ęs about the matter. I make no pretense to have the pulse of the racial question right in this country but if I knew that when I was making a film like this I would not flaunt that ignorance straight up.

Maybe it is best to lay out the storyline and let the emotions wrought by the situation stand in for a hook. I don’t like the idea but I also don’t like the aforementioned slice of life pitch either. Mildred, played by McDormand, is the bereft mother of a raped and murdered teenage daughter by person, or persons unknown. Also in the mix the ditched wife of a wife-beater husband and devotee of intergenerational sex having copped a holy goof nineteen- year old girlfriend after ditching Mildred in a fit of his 27th mid-life crisis. Mildred is far from over the grief of losing that daughter and the local police’s seeming readiness to throw the case deep into in the cold files. Down the road from her house are the three billboards of the rather inelegant and unfashionable film title and she decides to move things off of dead center by renting the long unused signs to shame/egg on/belittle the efforts to find her daughter’s murderer.

Needless to say the cops, especially top cop Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, and one of his young deputies, a wacko cop, Jason Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell did not like this aspersion on their commitment to solving this or any crime. The townspeople in general back them up on this and so stoic and determined Mildred stands essentially alone in seeking some rough justice in this wicked old world for her beloved and mourned daughter. To add fuel to the fire (no pun as will be mentioned shortly) Willoughby is dying of cancer and before the whole deal had gone down commits suicide which some contend Mildred’s seemingly unwarranted campaign had a hand in. With the top cop’s death Jason goes into overdrive first crashing and trashing everything in sight and then when he is fired by the new sheriff in town, a black man no less, he get’s “religion”  about what a cop is supposed to, and not supposed to do.

Meanwhile Mildred still on a rampage turns into a one woman guerilla unit firebombing the police headquarters not knowing that Jason was inside. He got out but had severe burns over a good part of his body. Guys like Jason though never get a break, whether the deserve one or not, and when he does try to solve the case after hearing a random bar conversation which might be related to the daughter’s murder and collects DNA surreptitiously from the suspect it turns out there was no match. Which leaves Mildred and Jason now confederates on that so-called suspect’s trail as over-the-top vigilantes.

See what I mean about where the hook is despite the two excellent acting jobs. In the end though maybe the query of the title of this review can stand in-in defense of one woman vigilantism. Hope that will do.        

Before The Fall-Before The Garden Of Eden Fell Into Disrepair-Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “I Confess” (1953)-A Film Review

Before The Fall-Before The Garden Of Eden Fell Into Disrepair-Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “I Confess” (1953)-A Film Review    

DVD Review

By Lenny Lynch

I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift,  Anne Baxter, directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, 1953

I admit, freely admit that I am a lapsed, very lapsed Catholic of the Roman persuasion although that is no factor in the how or why of drawing this review of an Alfred Hitchcock minor classic I Confess set in Catholic Canada, French-Canadian Canada, Quebec, which is actually a separate country or could be if the Quebecois wanted such an outcome as many have demonstrated for in the past, where my good friend and mentor Josh Breslin’s people came from a couple of generations back. What does factor in is the still scarred, scary, bizarre ritual (ritualistic cleansing at least) memoires of facing the inquisition in the confessional box in the person of the parish priest, one Father Lally who was one son of a bitch on dragging out every last sin out off his charges and pronouncing high dungeon penance that would make many a knee weary down at the blessed altar rail. (Many years later it came out, came out during the scandalous cover-ups and then exposes of the sodomites in the pulpits in the Boston Catholic diocese that good old Father Lally was giving absolution gratis for his favored boys who confessed to all kinds of sexual fantasy sins that the bastard then made them pay for scarring at least one of maybe two generations of innocent boys. He died before any of them got any satisfaction of seeing his crimes exposed and sent prison bound. Money will never wash away the crimes against humanity that Father Lally inflicted on this troubled world. As least for believers there is the satisfaction that he will burn in hell for eternity and maybe a few can get some solace from that.)

But all that has nothing to do with the plot of the film except that the sanctity of the confessional, the so-called penitent-priest confidentially plays a big role in this film. A rather extreme way that the privilege which after all is a legal privilege in a court of law and no something church ordained although maybe it had its roots in that way back when which can be looked at. Penitent X (I don’t want to violate that sanctity even as a lapsed, very lapsed Catholic) has committed murder, maybe not murder one but murder nevertheless and maybe murder one if X had done it in the act of a robbery which would make it felony murder. He and his wife work for Priest A, played by Montgomery Clift, at the rectory and after he committed the dastardly crime he confessed in the confessional to Priest A. He is home free or at least he thinks he is since he has some kind of understanding that Priest A will not snitch on him to the coppers, and he doesn’t.

Where things get dicey is that way back when before he was ordained, before he got “religion” after being in the military during World War II he had a torrid affair with a woman who subsequently married somebody else but was still in love him. Why that matters is that she and Priest A were seen together the night of the murder and he can’t explain where he was at the time of the murder. Looks like the big step-off for a guy just doing his job. Things get a little better after a trial in which the good priest is found not guilty although that standard is not the same as innocent and the festering parishioners are ready to nail his ass to the wall over the romance stuff. Before they can get the tar out though Penitent X’s wife tells all her husband was the murderer and for that act of sanity he kills her and then runs like a bastard to get away. No way will he do so though as the coppers nab the bastard and he buys nothing but six feet of hard dirt for his troubles. Yeah, nothing here made me want to jump back on the priest-ridden bandwagon as much as I hate to see an innocent guy, a straight-laced priest with a sullen past come close to the big step-off.      

Friday, July 17, 2020

Once Again Through The Sherlock Holmes Miasma-Round Up The Usual Private Eyes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s-Based “Voice Of Terror” (1942)-A Film Review

Once Again Through The Sherlock Holmes Miasma-Round Up The Usual Private Eyes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s-Based “Voice Of Terror” (1942)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Seth Garth

Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror, starring foppish Basil Rathbone, fellow fop Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, 1942

Finally, I have gotten rid of the lame idea of having to do “dueling” reviews with young pup Will Bradley in this seemingly endless series of Sherlock Holmes flics. This is the series where Sherlock, played by aging dandy Basil Rathbone, and his male companion, make of that what you will, funky Doc Watson, played by foppish Nigel Bruce have been resurrected from late Victorian times to World War II times when it really was touch and go whether there would be some sun setting on the British Empire courtesy of Hitler’s Third Reich.

In this either twelve or fourteen series I can’t get a straight answer about how many they did they do their bit, do more than yeomen’s work, maybe OBE work to stem the freaking Nazi tide, a movement that had more than a few supporters in high places in old London town. Hell, the joint was crawling with them. In the previous ten or so reviews I have under the guiding hand of our esteemed site manager, Greg Green, aka the guy who hands out the assignments and hence esteemed, had to “battle” young Bradley for the true meaning of the Holmes myth. Greg’s idea, foolish idea if he dares to print this, was to have an old-timer vs. fresh look at the films to see what flushed out. I will not bore the reader with the details of that dispute, essentially a question of challenging the myth about the supposedly platonic Holmes-Watson relationship with hard evidence or their then closeted love for each other and their joint knee-deep involvement in every criminal operation from illegal drugs to armed robberies and more in greater London using the private eye gag as a cover. Against Will’s unbelievable naivete, really head in the sand, both on the true sexual relationship between the two men and the way they really supported themselves in the lap of luxury and idleness in their Bake Street digs.  

But enough of that, and good riddance, since Greg has now seen that the younger generation does not give a fuck about the old has-been Holmes and Watson and get their idea of this match-up from later Robert Downey, Junior-type interpretations of the Holmes myth. So with the film under review Voice of Terror I will just do what my old friend Sam Lowell, a fellow reviewer who is now, rightly so, under siege in his own older-younger writer wars called giving the ‘skinny.”

Apparently not trusting the vaunted foreign and domestic intelligence operations, MI5 and MI6 (the latter the one that one Bond, James Bond, took out of disgrace after Kim Philby ran the organization a merry chase during the early post-World War II Cold War period Winny Churchill kept warning about) the British intelligence inner council, you know the lords and such who ran things into the ground called in Holmes and by extension Watson to stop the flow of Nazi saboteurs and propaganda flooding Merry Olde England in post Munich, post Neville Chamberlain times. They really were running amok creating mortal terror among the ordinary citizenry especially with their radio broadcasts, their voice of terror broadcasts, about bad things happening in the country before they happened. Have everybody on edge. Looked like curtains for old John Bull (and his colonial tyranny).          

Off to work, off to figure out who was running the operation, the hearty team is stopped in its tracks when one of its operatives is killed trying to find out who is working for the filthy Nazis and where. All of this leads to two things first grabbing that operative’s wife Kitty, played by screaming Evelyn Ankers (who is not the dreaded voice of terror in this one like she was in a series of forgettable horror films, okay) and pumping her for information about the last words of her late husband. This is nothing but a ruse, an inner circle joke between Holmes and Watson since the last word was “Christopher,” meaning the dark and mysterious Christopher Wharves which they were quite familiar with from their trolling for “dilly boys” who worked the area and whose services both men were very familiar with. (If you are not familiar with the term “dilly boys” look it up but remember that reference to their sexual preferences and you will not be far off.) Be that as it may this was also the hideout of the key German operatives who had their own off-beat sexual proclivities to take care of. In any case through either Holmes or Watson’s stupidity they and Kitty were “captured” casing the area. Eventually they escaped as to be expected and found out that a German espionage operation was planned for southern England.

Off they go and from this point on you have to do some serious suspension of disbelief. As it turned out as almost anybody could tell who has read at least one detective novel in their lives this had to be an inside job. And it was. One of the esteemed members of the inner council was a traitor (remember I told you the sceptered island was swarming with Nazi sympathizers in high places) and that was that. Well not quite because Kitty in her attempts to thwart the Nazi scum took a fall, got killed holding off the leader of the Nazi thugs. A good soldier. Here is where that “suspension of disbelieve” comes in. Of course a member of the inner council could not be a British traitor, this before the Philby Cambridge spies exposes, no way, so the gag is that that person was an impostor, a German of similar appearance and status, sent as an infiltrator to England after killing the real guy. What gave him away. Well the real guy had a scar from an early age. The imposter’s was only about twenty years old and so it was another case of “elementary, dear (note the “dear”) Watson.” WTF. And you wonder why I have spent some considerable time bursting this balloon, taking these overblown amateurs to school who guys like Larry Larkin, Sam Spade, and Phil Marlowe, would have had for lunch and still have time for a nap.    

I Wasn’t Planning On This But These Days We Have To Start Thinking About Restarting An International Anti-Fascist United Front-Reflections On Dick Powell’s “Cornered” (1945)-A Film Review

I Wasn’t Planning On This But These Days We Have To Start Thinking About Restarting An International Anti-Fascist United Front-Reflections On Dick Powell’s “Cornered” (1945)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Frank Jackman

Cornered, starring Dick Powell, Walter Slezak, Morris Carnovsky. Luther Adler, directed by Edward Dymtryk, produced by Adrian Scott, 1945

I took this film review with all hands. This anti-fascist film Cornered from 1945 which featured performances by two  men, Luther Adler and Morris Carnovsky and two men director Dymtryk (who would later turn stoolie to protect his oh so very precious career) and producer Adrian Scott, who were to be very soon on the notorious and scandalous Hollywood black-list as the post-World War II red scare Cold War night descended on the Western World is just the vehicle I needed to express some things about what is going on in the United States in an age when the fascists here (and internationally) are hearing the siren call of their return to the glory days. I had not thought as I passed my sixth decade that I would be spending time, much time anyway, worrying about the rise of the fascist movement kindled by events emanating from the White House and other high spots in the Western firmament. So be it. The fascists were buried deep down in some hole and as this film, this now cautionary tale film, points out they are keen to arise like phoenix from the ashes. As the main notorious villain and object of an international manhunt, Jarnac, played by red scare Cold War black-listed Luther Adler, said when confronted by the anti-fascists toward the end of the film as long as there are hunger men (and women) ignored by the “winners” in the global economy there will always be people like him ready to follow any half-mad adventurer. Good point, and a good reason to seriously re-start that international anti-fascist united front while there is still time, while the fascists and their allies, acknowledged and not so, are still relatively small in numbers. Remember 1933 was too late and maybe 1923 had been too (the year of the Munich putsch attempt).             

I should explain that when I mentioned I grabbed this film with “all hands” I was understating the case since the reader may not know that I have not done a film review since the days of the East Bay Other in the late 1970s before it folded like many other alternative hard-copy operations. Then I was primarily interested in French cinema, Godard, Truffaut, Celine, Dubois and other European cinematic efforts with an occasion scape handed to me by editor Sally Simmons doing film noir material helped by my association with Sam Lowell who wrote the definitive book on the subject back in the 1970s. Sam, a guy I grew up with in North Adamsville and I spent many an ill-advised (then) afternoon watching noir double-features at the old Strand Theater which was our home away from home when things got too crazy in our respective large households.

As I mentioned this film can stand as a cautionary tale for our times as well as a summing up for what happened, what ignited the backdrop to World War II. The fascists, called other names like Nazis and ultra-nationalist but fascists will do these days, rose up to smite the calm Europe, the so-called calm Europe from the days when World War I was thought, even by rational men after the carnage, to be the war that ended all wars. But like all mass movements which built up a head of steam they expanded internationally, had supporters who went the German and Axis tanks rolled in across Europe acted as fifth columns, acted in defense of the new world order as if their lives depended on it. Which it did if they lost. But when they were riding high, well, scum, like the main villain Jarnac, a Frenchman, a Vichy when the Fascists came storming into France, taking Paris and leaving the south to be administered by collaborators worked like seven dervishes to keep their power and place. Among Jarnac’s actions, the one that drives the action of the film and which will eventually lie him low he summarily had a cadre of resistance fighter shot and buried in their hideout caves. This Jarnac then left for parts unknown leaving little or no paper or physical trail behind him except that he was to be considered dead, not real dead but fake dead so you know which way the winds will blow hereafter.     

Among the resistance fighters executed in the caves was the too short time married wife of one Canadian Air Force pilot,  Gerard, played by Dick Powell last seen in this space, according to Seth Garth who did the review, in the film adaptation of  Raymond Chandler’s Private Detective Phillip Marlowe classic Farewell, My Lovely ( on screen titled Murder, My Sweet) also directed by Edward Dymtryk, who wanted to know, and know fast as you will find out, who ordered the execution of his own people, of Frenchmen, of his wife so it was personal with him. From various sources we find out that it was Jarnac and his underlings who did the dastardly deed and that Jarnac was presumed to be dead as already mentioned. Marlowe was a tough as nails no nonsense P.I. and Gerard is no less a tough anti-fascist fighter cum enraged widower. The chase is on. 

Not surprisingly, take note, Gerard, picks up Jarnac’s trail in Buenos Aires, meaning that Jarnac was not without resources, contacts or organization. (The “take note” part is today “on the low” there are similar resources available for fascists and their allies to do their dastardly work.) Of course Buenos Aires was a favored watering hole, a pleasant waiting area, for legions of fascists on the run as the clamp closed down on them in Europe so plenty of intrigue and cash are on the line. Getting nowhere for a while Gerard meets an independent agent who will sell his services to the highest bidder, played by Walter Slezak, who is out to make as many dishonest dollars as he can by working the rat hole circuit of scum fleeing Europe. He leads Gerard to Madame Jarnac, the widow, but she is really just a front, hired help to keep the charade going.

From that meeting on it is tag team who will get to Jarnac first-enter what Gerard thinks are some unsavory characters but who in reality are anti-fascist fighters looking for Jarnac too-to bring him to Nuremburg-style justice-to see him hang high if it comes to that. Gerard though keeps getting in his own way (which he will admit at the end) and after fake news Madame Jarnac gives him a sliver of information about where Jarnac might be meeting others to pull off some nefarious caper on the road back to the glory days, to power he is doggedly on the trail. Winds up grabbing Jarnac and killing him to the chagrin of the anti-fascist agents. It can’t happen here, it can’t happen again. Believe that if you will and dismiss this as a nice political thriller. Then look at today’s world headlines. Jesus.