Double Indemnity

  • Title:  Double Indemnity
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1944
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Drama, Suspense, Classic
  • Cast:  Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format:  R1, NTSC, Two-disc Legacy Edition

“I killed him for the money and for a woman.  I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”  Walter Neff

Double Indemnity is one of my favorite movies — because it is such a classic noir film.  And Wilder is a brilliant, brilliant director, especially when he directs dark film noir movies in black and white.  The film has it all – a cold, calculating, manipulative femme fatale, an innocent drawn into a web of crime that destroys him, snappy dialogue, brilliant black and white photography, and an intriguing crime that, in the end, falls apart taking it’s participants down with it.

Part of the brilliance of Double Indemnity is it’s choice of lead actor in Fred MacMurray.  Yep — the guy from Disney flicks like The Absent-Minded Professor, and Flubber, and the dad in My Three Sons (OK, yes, it’s true, all those roles were from the 1960s, or after this movie, but still) actually plays the bad guy in this film.  But, that’s part of  brilliance of the film — MacMurray looks like an average guy, he sounds like an average guy, and we can believe he’s an insurance salesman.  I don’t think the film would have been as successful with standard villian type or “baddie” in the role of  Walter Neff.

But MacMurray isn’t the only piece of reverse casting:  Edward G. Robinson was famous for playing gangsters, tough guys, and baddies.  Yet, in Double Indemnity, he’s practically the good guy.  He’s Neff’s boss Keyes, who ends up investigating the husband’s “accident”.  There’s also a very close friendship between Neff and Keyes.

Double_Indemnity_Neff-Keyes

As with Wilder’s other brilliant Film Noir picture, Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity is told back to front, and thus it’s the tale of a man’s slide into destruction and death.  The film begins with Neff returning to his office at Pacific All Risk Insurance, and using a dictating machine to record his confession (the line quoted at the beginning of this review is practically the first line he speaks).  The film then cuts to scenes showing us what’s happening and winding back to the start.  And somehow, the audience almost forgets that Neff is a dying man as they are completely entranced by the story.

Interestingly enough, the actual murder goes off almost perfectly.  But as the second half of the film develops, the characters’ own guilt (especially Neff’s) and Keyes own intuition and experience at spotting insurance fraud leads, Tell-a-Tale-Heart-like to the downfall of both Neff and Phyllis.

The filming and cinematography are brilliant — the use of  light and shadow to highlight and conceal detail, and the suggestion, as the film moves along, of characters trapped by their own actions, is highlighted by the black and white photography.  It’s a dark film, and only black and white really captures that, especially at the time the film was made.   It’s really only been rather recently that very dark, yet color, films have been possible, previously the amount of light required for the film to properly develop, especially for Technicolor films, made filming in color with the amount of darks in this film, impossible.

There’s also a lot of very fast, very snappy dialogue.  The double entendres fly fast and furious, but even the cut and parry of the dialogue between Neff and Phyllis (Stanwyck) works to emphasize their hot and steamy relationship without actually ever showing you anything.  (Likewise, one thing that makes the murder in this particular film so effective is that it is off-screen, letting your imagination fill in the blanks).

Overall, if  you want to know what film noir is all about — this film, more so than even The Maltese Falcon, is the one to see.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dracula (1931)

Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD (Dr. Who)

  • Title:  Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD (Dr. Who)
  • Director:  Gordon Flemyng
  • Date:  1966
  • Studio:  AARU Productions LTD, British Lion Films LTD
  • Genre:  Science Fiction
  • Cast:  Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Roberta Tovey, Ray Brooks, Jill Curzon, Andrew Keir
  • Format:  Technicolor, Techniscope (early widescreen process)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, Widescreen

This time Dr. Who (Peter Cushing), as he is called in these films, is traveling with his grand-daughter Susan, and his niece, Louise, when a policeman named Tom Campbell mistakes the TARDIS for a real Police Call Box and stumbles inside. The Doctor travels to 2150 AD anyway, and discovers that London has been destroyed in an Dalek invasion. The film’s first half hour or so actually works pretty well, as the Doctor and his companions are split up and manage to meet up with the local rebel / resistance group. The iconic scene from the black and white television story of a Dalek coming out of the waters of the Thames River is repeated in this movie. However, the equally iconic shot of the Daleks crossing the Tower Bridge, waving their plungers, isn’t present.

The Dalek spaceship is actually a very nice model, and it has Thunderbird Two-like jets on the back.  Why, I have no idea, as jets would be rather useless in space. But I digress. The majority of the Daleks are grey in this film, but with silver and periwinkle accents. Yes, you read that right, periwinkle.  And yes, it’s hard to take light purple Daleks seriously. Leader Daleks are red, black or gold. So, overall, the Daleks aren’t the really awful technicolor variety of the previous film.

Periwinkle_Daleks_cropped

However, after a promising start, the film wanders as various members of the Doctor’s group get lost, reunite, get captured, reunite again, etc. Plot involves first a rebel attack on the Dalek spaceship, which seems to go well, but ends a dismal failure. (And yes, that was an effective portion of the film.  The TV Series Doctor Who, which is much better than these films, is often at it’s best when the Doctor doesn’t completely win). After the failed attack, each of the survivors separately makes their way to Bedfordshire and the Daleks’ mine, either as prisoners or in hopes of rescuing the prisoners. Finally at the end, Dr. Who, foils the plot of the Daleks to drop a bomb to the core of the Earth in an attempt to crack the Earth in some sort of plan to re-fuel their spaceship.

I will say the acting is a bit better than the previous film. However, Susan’s been dumbed down considerably, and she even manages to “twist” her ankle.

Again, I only have this because I got it in a set, for free, from a friend. And I have it as a collectible.  But it’s really not a good movie. BTW — bit of trivia, Bernard Cribbins, who plays Tom Campbell, more recently played companion Donna Noble’s grandfather in the recent television series of Doctor Who.

Recommendation:  Don’t Bother.
Rating:  2 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Double Indemnity

Dr. Who and the Daleks

  • Title:  Dr. Who and the Daleks
  • Director:  Gordon Flemyng
  • Date:  1965
  • Studio:  AARU Productions LTD, Regal Films International LTD
  • Genre:  Science Fiction
  • Cast:  Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey
  • Format:  Technicolor, Techniscope (an early widescreen process)
  • Format:  R1, NTSC, (Widescreen)

“Anyone can understand science if they put their minds to it.”  – Dr. Who

“Why did they want to kill us? We came in peace.”  — Thal
“You are different from them, and they are afraid of anything different. And what people are afraid of, they try to destroy.”  — Dr. Who
“If we could reason with them.” — Female Thal
“They are beyond reason, they wish only to conquer.” –Dr. Who

I am a big, big fan of the wonderful British television series Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2001-), which is part of the reason I don’t really care for this film. I’d seen it before and remembered it as being pretty awful. I did luck out an get a free second-hand copy from a friend (in a set with Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 AD, and Dalekmania) so I could add it to my Doctor Who collection without actually having to pay for it.

The film is basically a re-make of the Terry Nation Doctor Who serial, or episode, “The Daleks” (aka “The Dead Planet”). However, it takes considerable liberties with what it borrows. For example, even from the very beginning it was clear the Doctor wasn’t human, but an alien from another planet. Fairly quickly into the series, it was revealed the Doctor was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. However, in this film, the Doctor is an eccentric Human inventor (called “Dr. Who” no less, rather than “the Doctor”) — a rather tired plot device often found in Disney live action films of the 60s and 70s (and often played by Dick Van Dyke or Fred MacMurray). Also, in the TV series — Susan was a teenaged girl (and somehow the Doctor’s grand-daughter), and Barbara and Ian were her human teachers. In this, Susan is about five years old, Barbara is also the Doctor’s grand-daughter, and Ian is Barbara’s boyfriend.

Dr. Who, as he’s called in this film, shows Ian his TARDIS, which he invented. Soon they are whisked off to a mysterious dead planet. The Doctor sabotages his own machine because he wants to explore a nearby alien city. They run into Daleks. They discover they are suffering from radiation poisoning.  They get a drug that cures the radiation sickness from the Thals. The Daleks decide to destroy the Thals. The Doctor convinces the Thals to fight. They sneak into the city and stop the deadly countdown of another “Neutronic” bomb and destroy the Daleks. Dr. Who finds his missing component to the TARDIS and they leave.

Taken by themselves, many of  these plot elements are identical to the televised serial (which ran as seven, thirty-minute episodes or parts), but the television serial, in spooky black and white is, in many cases, much more effective. For example, the cliffhanger of an early episode has Barbara being attacked by something she can see but the audience can’t …  all the audience sees is the infamous Dalek plunger. This cliffhanger builds suspense – what is attacking Barbara? What does it even look like? The film skips the scene completely and the first time we see the Daleks, there are several of  them — it technicolor glory.

The brightly-colored Daleks are another problem. Most of the time in Doctor Who, even in later color episodes, the Daleks were all grey (with some black). This uniformity stressed the uniformity and conformity of the Dalek characters. Also, some analysts have suggested the grey-and-black was reminiscent of Nazi uniforms.

Finally, the acting in the film version of Dr. Who and the Daleks is greatly disappointing. Ian is silly, clumsy, and not at all brave. Barbara is weak, screams a lot, and has no spunk. Oddly enough, the young, yet intelligent, Susan (only five or eight, rather than a teenager), is the most engaging character besides Cushing’s Doctor. The guest actors are no better. One Thal at one point thanks the Doctor with a tone that seems to suggest he thinks the exact opposite. And the Daleks are chatty!  Daleks are not supposed to be chatty. “Exterminate!” “I obey!” That’s about it. Not all the chatter.

Overall the only reason I have this film is I didn’t have to pay for it, and it’s a interesting and bizarre addition to my collection of Doctor Who (TV series) memorabilia. And, I am a bit of a complete-ist when I collect something.

Recommendation:  Don’t bother.
Rating:  2
Next Film:  Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 AD

Dr. No

  • Title:  Dr. No
  • Director:  Terence Young
  • Date:  1962
  • Studio:  United Artists (MGM)
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

The James Bond film that started it all. Dr. No actually flows at a much more sedate pace than more recent Bond films, but it is still classic and still Bond. The first half of the movie actually feels more like a mystery as Bond is sent to Jamaica to discover why an agent has disappeared and the regular radio transmission from the island was interrupted.

Soon Bond suspects something is going on on Crab Key, the local island the natives avoid, and one of the last places the agent is said to have gone. He investigates, running into Ursula Andress on the island (walking out of the ocean in a bikini with a knife strapped to her hip). The two are eventually captured and taken to the underground hideout of Dr. No. Dr. No informs Bond he works for SPECTRE — and organization of criminal masterminds, and that his (nefarious) plot is to knock out US space program launches from Florida. His underground lair also uses nuclear power and is contaminating the island with radioactivity.

Despite being captured, knocked out, locked up a second time, and being beaten by No’s goons – Bond prevails, preventing No from causing a Saturn rocket to crash and blowing up No’s headquarters. There’s also a couple of car chases (in huge 1960s sedans no less), and Bond kills more than once.

Besides Andress walking out of the ocean and the setting in Jamaica, which were referenced in Die Another Day; this film is also referenced in the Bond parody Austin Powers International Man of Mystery with the tan and plastic uniforms with the clear plastic flat-topped helmets.

Connery is also plays Bond with a chilling attitude, that’s almost off-putting in this film. And the pacing is a bit slow. But it’s where a very long series of films started, and it’s a fairly good film in it’s own right.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating 3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dr. Who and the Daleks (Movie Version with Peter Cushing)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

  • Title:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Mutant Enemy Productions
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy
  • Music:  Joss Whedon & Jed Whedon
  • Lyrics:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
  • Cast:  Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Destroying the Status Quo, because the status is not quo.”  — Dr. Horrible

“She talked to me!  Why did she talk to me now?”  — Dr. Horrible (Billy)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is what happens when creative people are told they can’t work.  The project was made during the writer’s strike.  Whedon, who as a member of the writer’s guild, couldn’t write for pay, got together with a bunch of his currently unemployed actor buddies, and produced this – and put it on the Internet for free.  Which is both why it’s so short (roughly 42 minutes) and why it’s in three “acts” (the parts would have been posted separately to allow for easier streaming and download on-line).  Later the movie was edited together and put on DVD.  The DVD also includes “Commentary – The Musical”, which is a full-length musical commentary.  And yes, it is as fun as it sounds.

Plot is actually very much something the average geek, nerd, or dork can identify with — though I mean that in a good way.  Dr. Horrible, aka Billy (Neil Patrick Harris), hosts a video blog, and is very shy around girls, especially Penny (Day) — the girl he sees at the laundromat  twice a week.  Penny is sweet and kind, and works with the homeless.  Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), Dr. Horrible’s nemesis, is built, handsome, and totally clueless about the way he actually treats people.

Dr. Horrible is trying to get into the Evil League of  Evil, run by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin.  He’d also like to win over Penny, but is too shy to really talk to her.  He also manages to accidentally introduce Penny to Captain Hammer — and they start dating, much to Horrible’s chagrin.  He develops his Freeze Ray to freeze time, and a Death Ray, but is about to realize he can’t kill a defenseless and frozen Captain Hammer, when the freezing stops working.  In the ensuing fracas… well, buy the DVD.

The music is fun, and full of some very amusing lyrics.  If you’ve seen “Buffy:  The Musical”, you’ll recognize some of the techniques used here — lots of over-lapping sung lyrics, duets and even trios between the three main characters, and returning themes in the music.  Overall, the storyline doesn’t have a happy ending though, unlike most musicals – but it is 80-90 percent sung, with very little dialogue. The dialogue is only used to connect the various songs; and it’s the songs that actually move the plot along.

Overall, a fun, amusing, and somewhat strange short film.

List of  Musical Numbers (Titles approximate)

  • Laundry Day — Billy
  • Bad Horse Chorus
  • Caring Hands for Homeless Shelter — Penny
  • A Man’s Gotta Do, What a Man’s Gotta Do (Dr. Horrible)
  • A Man’s Gotta Do — Captain Hammer
  • Thank You for Saving Me — Penny
  • Evil Inside me Is On the Rise — Dr. Horrible
  • Some Kind of Harmony is on the Rise — Penny
  • Story of a Girl — Penny
  • A Brand New Day — Dr. Horrible
  • So They Say — Captain Hammer
  • Everyone’s a Hero in their Own Way — Captain Hammer
  • Society is Slipping / Say It Was Horrible —  Dr. Horrible
  • Here Lies Everything, the World I Wanted at My Feet – Dr. Horrible

Recommendation:  A Must See
Rating:  4
Next Film:  Dr. No (James Bond)

Die Another Day

  • Title:  Die Another Day
  • Director:  Lee Tamahori
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Dame Judi Dench, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Pierce Brosnan’s final foray as James Bond is hardly his best, and I remember disliking the movie when I saw it in the theater. The only reason I ended-up with a copy of Die Another Day was I bought it at a “two fer” sale, and I was more interested in the other movie. And when I watched the DVD for the first time this past summer, after watching all of Brosnan’s other Bond films — it does disappoint.

However, watching this movie tonight, standing alone without watching the other Brosnan Bond films before, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. It really is the typical action-packed Bond film. This film is unique in that it starts with Bond at his lowest point – not only does a mission go wrong, but he’s captured, imprisoned and “the secretary disavows all knowledge of his existence”, – sorry, I couldn’t resist that. But seriously, Bond is tortured and kept alone, in prison, for 14 months. He is led out to a firing squad, then traded for another political prisoner. Upon his return to the UK he discovers he’s now a burned spy. But, knowing he was set-up, Bond sets out to clear his name and finish his botched mission.

This quest sends him to Cuba, and Iceland, before returning to North Korea, where he was captured before. The plot involves Blood Diamonds (which throughout the film are referred to as “Conflict Diamonds” – the politically correct wording still irritates me. Call ’em what they are, “Blood Diamonds”, please), and a huge satellite capable of reflecting the Sun’s rays to Earth, basically creating a second Sun, and, when focused, a very nasty pinpoint laser. Oh, and gene-replacement therapy, which somehow gives people new identities and new looks, as well as having a nasty side-effect of permanent insomnia.

If this sounds complex – it is. The film might have been better if it was simplified (note:  not dumbed down, just less of a mess) a bit, maybe cutting out the entire North Korean plot, and keeping the bad guy what he is – a deluded wealthy megalomaniac, faking a new diamond mine to launder blood diamonds, while developing an terrible super-weapon. Ah, well.

The other thing I noticed this time around, and I honestly don’t know how I missed it previously, because I’ve seen most of the James Bond films, and all the classic ones – are all the references to other Bond films. There’s the beautiful Bond girl walking out of  the ocean in a bikini (Dr No) only this time it’s Halle Berry. There’s Bond using a small re-breather tube (Thunderball). There’s somebody nearby being cut in half by a laser (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”  Goldfinger), and in Q’s lab – there’s the knife-shoe from Goldfinger, and the human jet-pack (Moonraker? One of the Roger Moore films, anyway). They don’t come off as homages, but more as a series which is stealing from itself.

However, I will say this – the cast all did a great job. Brosnan is gorgeous as always, and his acting is perfect – I love the twinge of angst underlying his characterization of Bond. Halle Berry is actually quite good as the American agent (though that theme’s also not new to Bond; nor is the idea of pairing Bond with a young female agent from another country). Judi Dench, John Cleese, and Samantha Bond are wonderful in their re-occurring roles as M, Q, and Moneypenny. And no way is Brosnan getting too old to play Bond – he’s just distinguished. And still gorgeous. Though I must admit , I twitched a bit at him bedding the characterof Miranda Frost, who really did look young enough to be his daughter.

Overall, a standard James Bond film. Not quite as much fun or “high popcorn value” as usual because Bond’s tortured at the beginning of the film, and his suffering flashbacks to it (though all the torture scenes are in the opening sequence and credits, except the flashbacks), but still worth collecting as it is Brosnan’s last Bond film.

Recommendation:  It’s OK, good to add to the collection of the Bond complete-ist, and I’ve seen worse Bond.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dead Poets Society

  • Title:  Dead Poets Society
  • Director:  Peter Weir
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  Touchstone Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“In my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  — John Keating

“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice, but the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said ‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation’, don’t be resigned to that.”  — John Keating

Dead Poet’s Society is an extra-ordinary movie about an extra-ordinary teacher.  English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) is the teacher most of us always wanted to have, some of us were lucky enough to have, and if you’ve ever taught or tried to teach — the teacher we strive to be.  Keating doesn’t simply read to his students, or have them read poetry aloud.  Rather, he brings poetry alive by bringing his students outside the classroom – to look at the pictures of past students and remind the current ones how short life can be; or having them read a line of poetry aloud then kick a ball (again outside).  Whether it’s a exercise in what creates conformity, or having students stand on his desk to get a view — Keating not only knows how to reach his students, and turn them into admirers of the great poets, but he touches and changes lives.

However, as one might guess in a movie set at a conservative boys-only prep school in the 1950s, where all the boys have had their entire lives mapped out from day one by their parents, Keating’s unconventional style is noticed and Not Approved by the conservative staff.  It may have gone OK, but for the life of one student, Neil Perry.  Neil is, at heart, an artsy type.  At the opening of the movie, Neil’s father decides he’s taking “too many activities” and forces him to drop the school annual (yearbook).  From the look on Neil’s face, the audience can tell it’s his favorite activity, but Neil caves and does what Daddy tells him to, because he feels he has no choice.  Later it’s Neil who revives Keating’s “Dead Poets Society”, a social club for reading poetry, writing poetry, and Carpe Diem or “Seize the Day”, the un-official anthem of the film.

Neil, later discovers a nearby school is holding open try outs for a play and as he’s always wanted to try acting, Neil goes ahead and tries out, gets the part, and forges the necessary permission slips.  He keeps the entire deal secret from his over-bearing, conservative, egotistical father.  His father does find out, though, and forbids Neil from having anything to do with “that acting nonsense” – he’s to become a doctor.  Neil doesn’t know what to do – so he sees Keating.  Keating tells him he has to talk to his father again, to explain his passion, that he wants to try the stage, just once.  Later, Neil lies about talking to his father and goes to the play.  As Puck in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Neil is a smash success.  But his father sees him on stage, and gets angry.  He takes Neil home and tells him that not only would there be none of this acting business, but he’s pulling him from school and he will be sent to a military academy.  That most certainly sounds like hell to Neil – he kills himself.

After Neil’s death, the school blames everything on Keating, who’s fired.  But the last image of the film, of the Dead Poet’s Society boys, calling Keating “Captain, my Captain”, and standing on their desks in a salute is breath-taking, and will make you cry.

Peter Weir’s direction is stunning in this movie.  From lovely, beautiful, monochromatic shots — such as the boys running off into the blue, misty, night sky and literally disappearing; to the white, snowy scene right after Neil’s death, when his roommate, Todd, throws up and runs off out of grief; there are plenty of gorgeous shots of the beautiful scenery in this movie (in Delaware according to the credits), but Weir also films people with a deft hand.  He uses light and shadow well.  And he brings out emotion, beautifully, in a film with basically all male characters (there’s a few girlfriends here or there, but that’s it).

Dead Poet’s Society is a film that changes whenever you watch it.  Initially, (and yes, I saw the film when it came out in 1989), it seemed like Neil’s father was a complete jerk, and completely to blame for Neil’s death – and the way it was blamed on Mr. Keating.  Last time I watched this film, when I first bought the DVD (another $5.00 special no less!) – I detected a hint of anti-homosexuality, theorizing that Mr. Perry’s hatred of acting and the stage, and anything artsy at all, was actually because actors were thought to be “all gay”, especially in the 1950s.  Thus, his attacks on Neil’s interests in writing and acting.  This time around, I noticed Neil’s complete inability to talk to or challenge his father – though his father certainly didn’t make any sort of conversation possible.  And the treatment of Keating is still really horrible and unfair.  It’s a testament to the director’s skill that he can get so many different reads from a single movie.

And it goes without saying, that Robin Williams is brilliant as the unconventional Mr. Keating.  Robert Sean Leonard is brilliant as the tormented and artistic Neal.  And a very, very, VERY young Ethan Hawke gives a wonderful performance as Neal’s new roommate Todd.  All the performances in the film are stunning, even the characters you dislike such as Neil’s father, and some of the more conventional teachers at the Welton Academy.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Die Another Day (James Bond)