Five Cool Things and Knives Out

Who needs Disney+ when we've got the Criterion Channel?
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Disney+ launched this week and it seems to be all anyone can talk about. When it was initially announced, I was excited about it. Figured I’d subscribe the very first day, and thought it might be a replacement for Netflix.  Now that it's launched, I find I’m not all that interested.  The thing is I already own the good Marvel movies, or I’ve watched them recently, and the other ones I’m not all that keen to see again.  Ditto with the Star Wars films.  There are some Disney animated films I’d like to see again, but those aren’t the type of films I want to watch regularly, which makes paying a monthly fee for the ability to see them kind of dumb.  Ditto all the old live-action films.  There are things like The Mandalorian that look really interesting, but not so much to get me to subscribe at launch.  I’ll likely subscribe in a few weeks once The Mandalorian has run its course and the various kinks have been worked out with the service.  I don’t think it will ever be the Netflix replacement I was hoping for, but it will definitely something I’ll subscribe to every few months to catch up on whatever new thing everybody is talking about, and to let my daughter watch all the silly kid stuff I loved when I was her age.

I refuse allow to subscribe to more than three services at once.  That’s too much money spent on what would be more content I could possibly enjoy.  And who needs Disney when the Criterion Channel is still putting out some of the best cinema the world has ever known?  And with that here are the cool things I consumed this week.

Klute

Jane Fonda won an Oscar for her portrayal as Bree, a high-class call girl who assists Donald Sutherland’s private detective, John Klute,  in a missing person’s case.  The missing man is a rich white dude who seems to have written Fonda a bunch of dirty letters.  The police question her about it and she admits receiving the letters but doesn’t remember ever meeting the man.  Later, Klute talks to her and they form some kind of a bond and he uses her to make contacts in her world of pimps, prostitutes, and drug pushers.

Directed by Alan J. Pakula, in the first of what has become known as his paranoia trilogy (the other two being The Parallax View and All the President’s Men), makes the film into more of a character study than a whodunnit thriller.  Bree seems to enjoy the freedom and money the life as an expensive prostitute gives her, but it leaves her empty inside.  Klute is a stoic, rarely showing emotion and keeping everything bundled up.  As they grow closer, each is able to open up in their own way and fall into a relationship they know will never actually work.  Sutherland is terrific but it is Fonda who is the standout.  She earns that Oscar and then some.

Black Hole

black hole by charles burns.jpgCharles Burns's graphic novel is a seminal work that won numerous awards and is often considered in the running for best graphic novel ever.  It was originally released as a 12-issue limited series that was published over ten years via two different publishing companies.  I can’t imagine reading this thing one issue at a time over such a long span of time.  Thankfully, it has been compiled into one volume which you can tear through pretty quickly.  Or take at your leisure as it can be overwhelming.

It is set in Seattle in 1970 and focuses on a group of teenagers who smoke pot, have sex, and generally behave as unambitious teenagers do.  But then a sexually transmitted disease enters into their group.  And this ain’t your daddy’s STD, this thing creates weird mutations like forming mouths in your neck, or scale-like skin, and little tails on your backside.  The beauty and the horror of the story is how this affects the teens.  It ostracizes them, forcing some of them to move out into the woods, but it's really just one more thing that makes being a teenager terrible. We don’t see them visit doctors or call the CDC, they all just accept it.  It doesn’t even stop them from having sex with one another.  This mutation is another reason to be sullen, but never enough to bring them out of their ennui.

The art is in black and white with the blacks being heavy and thick.  Some pages seem to be almost entirely made up of black.  The characters are ugly and weird.  They are strange and passionate (and passionless in the way teens can be).  It is a wonderful depiction of life as a teenager, but with crazy alien mutations.

Detour

cc Detour.jpgIs this the ultimate film noir?  Shot on the tiniest of budgets with unknown actors and littered with technical errors, Detour, the 1945 movie from director Edgar G. Ulmer, should have been lost to the ravages of time.  But something about it sticks with you. It is not the best film noir ever made, but it encompasses everything that genre is about perfectly.  Its soul is dark as the night, its characters bleak and save, and the story is pure pulp.

It stars Tom Neal as Al Robert, a musician working at a bottom of the barrel night club, but that’s ok because he’s got a girl who sings there and they are in love.  They are gonna get married, but then she decides to take one last shot at stardom and moves to California.  He stays behind in New York for a time.  When he gets to missing her too much, he hitch-hikes his way to California.  In Arizona, he meets a gambler who says he’ll take him all the way. They drive long and hard.  One night when Al is driving and the gambler seems to be asleep, it starts to rain.  Pulling over, Al discovers the man has died in his sleep.  Fearing that no one will believe the truth, Al moves the body to the ditch by the road, steals his clothes and wallet, and takes off.

Just when he thinks he’s made it safe, he picks up Vera (Ann Savage), another hitchhiker at a gas station.  Turns out the gambler had picked her up before and she figures Al must have killed him and uses that knowledge to get her hooks in him.  Nothing good for Al happens after that.

Ann Savage is delightfully terrifying as Vera.  She snarls every line and plays the character like a woman who knows life is short and mean so she might as well tear through it will all the vengeance she can.  Al is a sad sack of a man, unable to get himself out of any circumstance that befalls him.  The direction is great, though the budget is non-existent, forcing the sets to be shoddy and there to be ample use of pretty pathetic back projection.  But it works.  It works like gangbusters.

Woman in Hiding

woman in hiding blu-ray.jpgIda Lupino stars in this film noir about a woman who gets married then immediately regrets it.  Turns out, her husband killed her father in order to run the local mill and he has no qualms about ending her life as well.  When an accident leads everyone to believe she’s dead, she heads out of town to figure out her next move. There she meets a friendly drifter who may or may not be turning her in for the reward. The story is a bit silly, but Lupino is great and the cinematography is gorgeous.  You can read my full review here.

Wilco Live

wilco-tulsa-Pfahlert.jpgWilco is my most favorite band making music today.  I’ve loved them for nearly two decades.  They started out as a roots-rock band, making what they used to call alternative country.  Then, they started adding interesting sonic textures with experimental sounds whilst still keeping a pop-friendly backbeat.  They’ve made ‘70s style, classic-sounding rock and more.  They are always changing, always adventurous. For a long while, they could do no wrong in my book. Every album was fantastic.  The last few records (including a couple of solos albums by frontman Jeff Tweedy) have not quite been my cup of tea.  They weren’t bad; they just weren’t the instant classics the others were. Their newest record, Ode to Joy, falls into that category.  It is introspective and soft.  It doesn’t quite have that classic Wilco sound that makes me want to burst with happiness.  But it is growing on me.

This is especially true after catching them live a few weeks back.  I’ve seen them a half a dozen times before and every show is my favorite.  This one especially so.  We saw them at the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It's a smallish club that used to be a country ballroom where Bob Willis helped create Western Swing music.  Now, it hosts all sorts of interesting musical acts from a variety of genres.  It is one of my favorite places to see live music.

It is usually standing-room only (sometimes they do bring in seats) with a low stage allowing you to get pretty close to the band.  I’m of the age where I’m no longer interested in jostling with the crowds for an hour before the opening act starts so the wife and I sat in some benches before the show began.  Amazingly when the opening act started up, we were able to slip in on the side just a few feet from the front.  Even more amazingly, when Wilco came on, we didn’t get the usual rush of jerks elbowing their way in front of everybody.  We were maybe 15 feet from guitarist Nels Cline, which was just about perfect.

The show was a rocker.  They did a nice mix of the new stuff (which sounded great, giving me a new perspective on the album) and older songs.  Wilco are always great live but here they seemed looser, able to have more fun.  Nels is an intense guitarist who makes solo records full of loud, dissonant noise.  Wilco usually lets him solo in most of the songs but they keep him reigned in a little.  This night, he let loose. Everybody did and it was brilliant.

Knives Out

After making the most controversial (and most interesting in my opinion) Star Wars movie, director Rian Johnson has created an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery for his next film.  It received massive buzz on the film-festival circuit and will hit theaters on November 27.  I’ve actually avoided, as much as I can, any information about the film because I hear this one is best to know very little about it before going in.  I can say it has a crazy great cast including Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, and Christopher Plummer.  The trailers looks bonkers fun. Cinema Sentries own Matthew St. Clair gave it a good review, which you can read here.

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