#393- Shaft

Quick recap: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

I’m talking about SHAFT

Fun (?) fact: Isaac Hayes originally auditioned for the role of Shaft but lost out to Richard Roundtree. He stayed on  to write the theme song, eventually winning an Oscar. I can dig it.

Thoughts and observations:

Alright, baby, let’s get to it! I L-O-V-E-D every single thing about this movie. Now it could be that I haven’t been around humans in months or maybe it’s the weird nostalgia I get when 1970s New York City is featured in film, but everything Shaft did was exciting. The action scenes were wonderful but I enjoyed myself just as much watching Shaft do such things as: get his shoes shined, sit in a coffee shop and my favorite-sit on the edge of the desk. How can someone be so cool so effortlessly? I never really understood what his job was or his connection to all the bad guys but it didn’t matter. As long as you were cool, he was cool, baby.

Race is of course a huge part of the film and one that I feel so uncomfortable talking about. All I can write about is my own experience and my own opinions so that’s what I will try and do. It was so frustrating to hear Shaft echo the sentiments about not trusting the police when we are having the same exact conversations 50 years later. Maybe the N-word isn’t used as regularly as it was in 1971…….but that’s about it. The concept of a Black hero is one that still resonates today. It’s so much easier to imagine one guy kicking everyone’s ass rather than expect a community to agree to tear down the effects of systematic racism. Shaft is the perfect escape movie for times like this. He helps Bumpy Jones find his daughter despite knowing how bad the guy is because that’s what you should do. It doesn’t matter the criminal record or past decisions, when someone needs help, you do it. Even if it is the police causing the problem in the first place. Even if you have no concept how the other person lives, that’s what you do. It might not look as cool as Shaft made it look but helping your community is something he totally digs.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Au Revior Les Enfants

 

#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh

#385- Sabotage

Quick recap: A movie theater owner somehow gets involved with a terrorist group who want to SABOTAGE London. His wife and her little brother get dragged into the mess as well, which is usually how these things go.

The opening scene is a ‘Webster’s dictionary defines…’ trope

Fun (?) fact: Sabotage is not to be confused with the title ‘The Secret Agent’, the book the film is based off of. And also not to be confused with The Secret Agent, also directed by Alfred Hitchcock the same year but about something completely different.

Not many dames in this movie and only one spinning newspaper

Thoughts and observations:

This feels like my millionth Hitchcock film and although there were several director tropes I recognized, Sabotage still feels novel. I think what sold me is that the audience knows who the bad guys are from the very beginning so the tension comes from finding out when they will get their comeuppance. I really enjoyed the characters although I never really understood the relationship between Mrs. and Mr. Karl Verloc. They were married, obviously, but the two didn’t seem to match at all. Plus, there’s the dirty business of not knowing that her husband was a wannabe terrorist.

The best part of Sabotage is how dark it goes for a movie made in the 1930s. SPOILERS AHEAD. YOUVE BEEN WARNED.

I connected with Stevie, the little brother, early on in the film and appreciated how he could bring light into some really dark scenes. When Verloc told him to drop off the film canisters (along with the bomb) at Piccadilly Circus, I wasn’t worried because Hitchcock is known for building suspense. I actually just assumed that the bomb would be a dud so I audibly gasped when it went off and blew the bus up (along with Stevie). Hitchcock said he regretting killing a character the audience had learned to sympathize with and promised to never to do it again. Until Psycho, that is.  It’s a dirty trick but really effective.

The end of the movie was also a whirlwind that I’ll keep from spoiling except to say that although there is a resolution, people were still killed and harm was done. I appreciate when the main characters don’t live happily ever after but are instead left to pick up the pieces.

Watchability score: 4/5

Up next: Alice

 

#375- The Ear

Quick recap: A Czechoslovakian couple finds their house bugged by the Communist party and they fear Ludvik, the husband, is about to be taken away.

No matter who is after you, there is ALWAYS time to pose

Fun (?)fact: You’d better believe this film was banned! 20 years actually, not seeing the light of day until 1989.

maybe it was censorship and maybe it was because the world wasn’t ready for newspaper hats

Thoughts and Observations: 

  • This movie was as if someone watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and said, ‘ This is fun, but what if we added Communists?’
  • But unlike that film, the couple in The Ear didn’t seem believable as a real couple and there were way too many mood swings to keep up with
  • On the other hand, their house really was bugged with listening devices which would add stress on any marriage
  • My favorite aspects of the film were the flashback scenes as Ludvik recalls every conversation he had, looking for clues that they are on to him. A simple question from a friend takes on an ominous tone and everyone seems in on the deception. But are they really?
  • Although listening devices were found, the end of the film has Ludvik being offered a promotion so I guess that’s a happy ending? It sure didn’t seem like it was.
  • And I still wonder if Ludvik was actually working against his party or if he was just really paranoid? He burned a lot of documents but he didn’t seem to know if they were incriminating.

Final review: 2/5. I liked the tension build up but there was so much talking and fighting that the action took a backseat and I became bored.

Up next:

Earth