Final tally:
Perkins > Bacall > Gielgud > Connery > Cassel > Balsam > Roberts > Bisset >
(good/bad frontier)
Widmark > Hiller > Quilley > York > Bergman > Finney

Richard Widmark wakes up dead on a train, after asking detective Poirot to protect him the day before. Widmark was the mastermind of a heinous kidnapping in prologue, also a huge asshole, and it turns out all of the suspects had motives, each of them affected by his crime, and conspired to kill him together.

Languorously paced, and centered around Finney’s Mike Myers-like appearance and accent, it’s a near-disaster of a movie kept sporadically afloat by a few good scenes and performances, and a touching ending. Anthony Perkins was Widmark’s assistant – nervous, of course… Bergman is a timid religious fanatic who says “little brown babies” pretty often… Vanessa Redgrave is cute and smiley, having an affair with Sean Connery… Wendy Hiller in weird makeup and weird accent plays a princess.

Lumet made a lotta movies, more than forty and this was about the midpoint. The only other of his movies I’ve written about are his very first and his very last. Obviously a weird year for the oscars – Finney was nominated, Bergman won, and the whole list looks like New Hollywood and Old Hollywood in an ugly clash, trading awards between The Godfather II and The Towering Inferno.

Oh no, it opens with ironic home-video texture. Heavy midnight-movie style-vibes, after the guy from Girls is tempted to murder his baby, and the baby says “you know what you have to do, right?” He needs to tie up a prostitute then kill her with an ice pick. Midnight vibes confirmed when he rehearses chopping up a body, the movie giving us the sound effects in his head over smooth jazz music while he mimes the actions.

Part of the point of Rotterdance is to check out the hot new filmmakers, so this year instead of catching up with The Image Book or Happy as Lazzaro or Anthropocene, I decided to watch only new-to-me directors. In the time since Piercing‘s release, Nicolas “Nicky Fish” Pesce has already made an unloved reboot of The Grudge. Coincidentally, the last time I saw Chris Abbot was also a genre movie by a promising young director whose third feature just came out to not-great reviews.

Mia W appears as the chosen prostitute, and it turns out Chris isn’t as cool and capable in person, but acts transparently like a serial killer (flashbacks to the Second Incident). Also, Mia turns out to be damaged and complicated – we don’t know much about her, but the movie gives us some damaged/complicated shorthand and asks us to trust it. This proves difficult when the movie’s logic falls apart… Mia stabs herself in the bathroom then takes him to her place in Diorama City… he calls home from the hospital and his wife (Laia Costa, Alia Shawkat’s costar in Duck Butter) now appears to be in on the murder plot, even though last time we saw her Chris was lying about going on a business trip?

This is all played for absurd comedy – it’s really a laugh-a-minute sex-murder movie. They do finally tie each other up, but she finds his journal, drugs him, beats the shit out of him with a can opener, turns the tables, etc. Wendell Pierce appears for four seconds in a split-screen – why?

Mike D’Angelo in AV Club:

The playfulness works beautifully, even though it bears little resemblance to [Audition author Ryu] Murakami’s deep dive into two badly broken psyches … Re-conceiving the tone was a smart move on Pesce’s part — a faithful, ultra-grim adaptation would likely have been unbearable. Trouble is, he loses his nerve … The movie turns ugly, but the ugliness hasn’t been earned.

Intense cops-and-robbers movie bouncing between long Tarantino hangout scenes and grossly brutal action, connected by a plot that throws typical movie morals out the window. Zahler’s Haneke-like trolling of his audience is revealed when the climactic bank robbery begins and a new mother who just returned to work is graphically murdered. But most of the movie is spent sympathizing with cops Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, suspended for being caught taunting and brutalizing a suspect, slowly justifying their turn to crime. These guys are underpaid and oversupervised by paper-pushing weenies, and they’re just stealing from other criminals, so what’s the problem? At least Zahler doesn’t let them get away with it, instead rewarding a younger criminal (Tory Kittles of True Detective and Colony) with a family in need, who is maybe less evil than his compatriots.

“I don’t politic, and I don’t change with the times, and it turns out that shit’s more important than good, honest work.” I still can’t believe they made a racist-cop film and cast Mel Gibson. For all the bad morals and outrage, it’s a hell of a good movie, with better suspense and action than the last two, and at least as good dialogue as Puppet Master 12.

Michael Jai White (above, being dragged across concrete) is Tory’s partner, Udo Kier hooks up the cops with info on the heist crew, Vaughn’s wife from Brawl in Cell Block 99 plays the banker, Fred Melamed her boss, Tattiawna Jones (Keyhole) as Vince’s girl, and Mel’s wife is Laurie Holden, the mom in Pyewacket.

After another good True/False fest, and a killer first half of the day with Bisbee and Shirkers, we ended on a lightweight heist film, with strong truefalsian elements, but whose protagonists made Katy fully angry. Tim Grierson nailed it in Paste:

Crafted to be a breezy, self-conscious heist film — the characters study Rififi for inspiration, and a key fantasy sequence is scored to the remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation,” which was memorably used in Ocean’s ElevenAmerican Animals uses a lot of giddy flash to make a sobering point: These callow losers are incredibly privileged white males with little reason to execute this crime except for the fact that they’re bored. But despite strong performances from Peters and Keoghan, who both hook into their characters’ suffocating vapidity, Layton never entirely makes the case that his movie has much more intellectual heft than his protagonists. American Animals is a zippy, forgettable film about dunderheads, which isn’t the same as having a sharp perspective on those boobs.

The real fun comes in the first half as we meet the real boobs via interview footage and see their stories played out – sometimes in multiple versions if the narrators mix up their details – by the great Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and his wild buddy Evan Peters (Quicksilver in the X-Men movies). Peters flies to Amsterdam to meet Udo Kier and see about fencing some rare books, which they clumsily steal with the help of two more dudes (including Everybody Wants Some!! lead Blake Jenner) in the more sordid second half. Katy wishes we’d closed with the Mr. Rogers movie instead.


Musicians seen this year: Mary Lattimore, Lomelda, Esme Patterson, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Burney Sisters, Nevada Greene, Samuel James, The River Arkansas, Ohmme, Molly Healey, Skyway Man,

Food and drink from our old favorites: Craft Beer Cellar, Cafe Berlin, Cafe Poland, Main Squeeze, Nourish, International Tap House, Gunter Hans, Pizza Tree… plus good stuff from Seoul Taco, and next time we’ll skip Flat Branch and not venture into 44 Canteen unless we have no movies scheduled afterward.

Esme Patterson at the Missouri Theater:

The Logans (Tater Channing, Riley Keough and one-armed Adam Driver) would like to rob the Motor Speedway, so they break heistmaster Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison. Joe brings along his dimwit brothers (Brendan Gleeson’s son and Dennis Quaid’s son) and they get to work, avoiding Tater’s nemesis, the loudmouth sponsor of an energy-drink racing team (Seth MacFarlane?).

It’s been a month and I forgot to take notes, so I’ll make this quick. There’s light fun in watching the plan come together, then a bunch of additional fun afterwards when the plan seems to have failed, the FBI investigation by Hilary Swank and Macon Blair has come up empty, and they unveil the plan-behind-the-plan, enriching the locals who helped them along the way. Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking was fully satisfying (I couldn’t wait, so have also started watching The Knick). Writer Rebecca Blunt is the subject of some controversy. Mostly it made me wanna watch the Oceans trilogy again, but there are some suspicious user reviews of the blu-ray multi-pack on amazon.

Pretty straightforward cops and robbers movie given unexpected depth by having its bank thieves rage against a local bank’s predatory home loans. Director Mackenzie (I somewhat liked his Asylum and Young Adam in the pre-blog days) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) fill the movie with plenty of incident and suspense but include enough time for the four leads to hang out and relate to each other, so in the climax when the killing starts, the stakes seem much higher.

Pretty man Chris Pine is the brains behind the bank heists, has even consulted with a lawyer on the subject of robbing branches of the bank that will soon foreclose on his family land, then opening a trust with that same bank so they’re not inclined to cooperate with police investigating him for the robberies. Because you see, Pine has discovered oil on the property, and after a life of farming in poverty, he’s finally got a chance to leave something to his kids. So there are some typical movie coincidences at play here, but the anger at the banking system comes through loud and clear (funny that I watched this the day after Office).

Pine’s less stable older brother Ben Foster (one of the angels in Northfork) is his partner in crime. The great Jeff Bridges plays a mumbly old, jovially racist lawman with partner Gil Birmingham (Jacqueline’s dad in Kimmy Schmidt), whose death still comes as a shock even though that’s the sort of thing that happens in these movies. Great epilogue with Bridges meeting Pine for the first time for a civil chat, each simmering with rage over the deaths of their respective partners.

M. Singer:

Sheridan previously wrote the outstanding drug-war thriller Sicario; he specializes in stories that don’t sacrifice intelligence for excitement, set in moral minefields where even relatively honest people can be undone by a single wrong step.

A.A. Dowd:

It’s quite a feat, orchestrating a crime thriller that feels at once relaxed and urgent, that delivers an endless supply of comic banter without compromising its underlying tone of elegiac regret … Viewers may find, in that grand Fugitive tradition, that their sympathies are divided, especially once Hell Or High Water begins pulling its two plot strands together, clarifying its outlaws’ motives, and building to the fatalistic finale it absolutely earns.

Rewatched Rififi recently after reading that this is supposed to be a parody. Instead of a team of experts successfully pulling a heist then getting killed off by rivals in the aftermath, we’ve got a team of incompetents who botch the planning and the heist itself, escaping with their lives and nothing more.

Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto, a croaking Eugene Pallette type) is arrested ineptly breaking into cars, forms the heist master plan but gets edged out of the group. Peppe the boxer (ladies’ man Vittorio Gassman) takes over, teams with aged Cappanelle, tough-looking mama’s boy Mario, new dad Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni, a couple years before La Dolce Vita) and suave mustache man Michele who keeps his virginal sister Carmelina (Claudia Cardinale in her first year in the movies) locked in their apartment. The plan involves Peppe dating a girl who lives above the shop they plan to rob, gaining access to the building through her.

L-R: Mario, Michele, Cappanelle, Peppe and Tiberio:

By the time of the heist, Cosimo is dead (run down by a bus trying to purse-snatch), Tiberio’s arm is broken, Mario is fooling around with Carmelina, and Peppe’s girl has quit her job. They break in anyway, fail to get the safe, just steal some food from the kitchen, knock down a wall, then slink away. Reads like there’s a ton of comic business, but for an Italian comedy it’s actually pretty subdued.

Mario meets Claudia Cardinale:

Based partly on an Italo Calvino story – what?

Tony (Jean Servais of Le Plaisir and Thomas the Impostor) is a down-on-his-luck gambler (is there any other kind of gambler?) just out of jail. His ex-girl Mado has taken up with dangerous gangster Pierre Grutter. But Tony’s family-man brother Jo has a plan for a jewelry heist that will get ’em back on top, so they recruit a couple more guys.

L-R: Jo, Mario, Tony, Cesar (Dassin himself):

What follows is one of the best heist scenes in the movies – a half-hour of tense work with no music or dialogue, tunnelling through floor of an above apartment (using inverted umbrella to catch their own dust), disabling alarm by spraying its insides with a fire extinguisher, then drilling the safe, all barely in time as outside, police notice the getaway car.

Bunuelian nightclub – set designer Alexandre Trauner worked on both pictures:

Viviane (Magali Noel, a Fellini hottie in Satyricon and Amarcord) singing the film’s theme song:

Safe escape is made, but Grutter and his gang (including a dopehead brother) know who’s behind the heist and figure they can take Tony’s ramshackle gang. Safecracker Cesar is kidnapped after giving a pocketed jewel to Viviane (she thinks it’s fake anyway), later executed by Tony. Mario (Robert Manuel of La Vie est un roman) and his wife Ida are killed by the Grutters, and Jo’s young son is kidnapped. Some confusion ensues and Jo gets himself killed after his brother has already retrieved the kid. Great scene as Tony speeds home with the kid and money in back seat, outrunning his fatal gunshot wound.

Tony drives his nephew home:

Cesar death scene:

Dassin’s triumphant euro-comeback after getting blacklisted from Hollywood, winning him best director at Cannes.

J. Hook on the heist: “It is a scene you’ve seen before (shameless imitators have been cannibalizing it for decades), but you will never see it so purely, respectfully done as here.” His article is nice, gushing about the movie’s greatness then finally revealing how and why that greatness might have come about.

Tony with Mado:

Gangsters at Mario and Ida’s house:

Perfect movie about the perfect crime.

Johnny is Sterling Hayden (not a very “Johnny”-looking actor, but this was his second Johnny after Johnny Guitar), perfect-crime-planner, with a demeanor nearly as serious as the Dragnet-style voiceover guy who keeps telling us the time. He tells his girl to meet him at the airport, then proceeds to pull off a racetrack robbery with a bunch of inside men and a professional horse-sniper (Timothy Carey, a few years before his opus World’s Greatest Sinner).

Barman Joe Sawyer (in movies since 1930) and cop Ted de Corsia (private eye in Lady From Shanghai) and money man Jay Filppen (of Run of the Arrow) are on board, but sweaty, nervous cashier Elisha Cook Jr (12 years after playing the sex-crazed drummer in Phantom Lady) gives up too many details to his bitch of a wife (Marie Windsor, whose follow-up was Roger Corman’s Swamp Diamonds), which she relays to her boyfriend – who beats Hayden (and the money) to the post-heist meeting place. Everyone gets shot – everyone, even Elisha’s wife who wasn’t even there, and Timothy Carey after insulting parking lot guy James Edwards (of The Steel Helmet). So now it’s just Hayden, who rushes to the airport among heavy police presence, with all his cash in a just-purchased flea-market suitcase with broken locks. After pulling off the perfect crime, Hayden forgot to plan a perfect getaway.

Watched on the Plaza’s big screen in HD. No screengrabs, but here’s a wonderful photo of the male supporting cast from Criterion’s site:

Amazing looking movie, shot by Lucien Ballard (who started with Josef von Sternberg) and produced by James Harris (who’d later make the bizarre Some Call It Loving). Writer Jim Thompson also did Paths of Glory, and his novels would be adapted for Coup de torchon, The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me.