Monday, September 01, 2014

SEPTEMBER SUZUKI


I've chirped endlessly on this blog over the years about legendary B-movie director Seijun Suzuki, his wild color pallettes, his wilder plotlines and those he's influenced. Mostly here.

This September, I will catch up on a few of the Suzuki works I haven't seen. And probably chirp a whole lot more.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

UNDER THE SKIN (2013) - Jonathan Glazer


THE FEMME: Hard to say...no name, no identifiable planet, we're not even 100% sure she's a woman (under her skin). Definitely a lady on the outside though. DEFINITELY. Let's call her "Her" (Scarlett Johansson).

THE FALL GUY: Every single pedestrian male in Scotland. Whatever you do, don't stop for that black cube truck!

HER MOTIVATIONS: Never really explained. We'll assume it's the standard issue sci-fi motivation...harvesting human specimens for some faraway planet. Male specimens, specifically. Like foraging for fat truffles with XY chromosomes.

HER MANIPULATIONS: A mangy fur coat. Fire engine red lipstick. Blank stare. Limbo lighting. An accomplice on a motorbike. Absolutely no inhibitions (at least for the first half of the movie). Zero concern for the welfare of small children. A black pool of death from which no nude man with an erection doth return.

SEXINESS SCALE: 7 (out of 10). It's Scotland. It's Scarlett Johansson. The sexiness is all relative.

BITCH INDEX: Low (Threat Level Green). It's hard to call a computer a "bitch." Scar-Jo's m.o. in this film is not particularly malicious or vindictive. She seems to be just following her programming. Also, it's insinuated she has soft-spot for male humans with disfigurements.

BODY COUNT: Countless. The movie gives no clues as to how long She's been doing this.

LINE TO DIE BY: "You've got beautiful hands. Would you like to touch me?"

POST-MORTEM: Hard to call Under the Skin any kind of noir (alien noir?), but Johansson's character is definitely a fatal lady, a femme that learns human empathy a little too late. Call it The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Eight months in, I'm calling it my favorite film of the year.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014) - Robert Rodriguez


THE FEMME: Ava Lord (Eva Green), unabashed nudist and wife of wealthy tycoon Damian Lord.

THE FALL GUY: Dwight, some guy who used to be Clive Owen in a better movie but is now Josh Brolin with a crewcut in an inferior one.

HER MOTIVATIONS: Certainly not money...she already has plenty of money. Boredom, diversion, maybe?

HER MANIPULATIONS: Unsubstantiated claims of physical abuse by husband and chauffeur Manute (Dennis Haysbert). Wearing the only sparkling blue dress in a otherwise black and white film. Lies, lies, lies all the time. Even more nudity than the lies. Frequently appearing sopping wet, fresh from the bathtub, spa and/or swimming pool.

SEXINESS SCALE: 10 (out of 10). It's Eva Green. Did you see The Dreamers? Casino Royale? Need I say more?

BITCH INDEX: Severe (Threat Level Red). Green's character toys with everyone around her like a bored child burning the wings off bugs with a magnifying glass. And Green herself seems to be toying with this movie, knowing it doesn't deserve her. She uses her non-stop nudity like a weapon...to make the viewer feel undressed. And she's definitely done her noir homework.

BODY COUNT: Only one directly by hand...chauffeur Manute.

LINE TO DIE BY: ??? (I've forgotten most of them...for a hardboiled noir with wall-to-wall voiceover, this movie is curiously unquotable)

POST-MORTEM: There's only one reason to see this tired sequel. Or 300: Rise of an Empire for that matter. It's the Green...not the green screen.

THE COUNSELOR (2013) - Ridley Scott


THE FEMME: Malkina (Cameron Diaz), twin cheetah owner and scheming wife of wealthy drug dealer Reiner (Javier Bardem).

THE FALL GUY: Judging by the eventual ramifications of her cross-border drug seizing plan, everyone else in the movie.

HER MOTIVATIONS: Money and the sport of it all. Brad Pitt's money especially.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Sexual acrobatics atop sports car hoods that put even Tawny Kitaen to shame. Full body cheetah tattoos to match her twin cheetah pets. Gaudy jewelry. A bad dye job. Unsolicited sex talks with ladyfriends. Making lurid confessions in Catholic churches just for kicks.

SEXINESS SCALE: 3 (out of 10). Any major actress other than Diaz, and this could have been an easy 10. Especially given the car hood hijinks.

BITCH INDEX: High (Threat Level Orange). If her plan with the highway tripwire and drug cache interception had worked all the way through, then maybe a Threat Level Red. But using the "bolita" device on Brad Pitt...yeah, that's pretty bitchy. So we'll leave it at orange.

BODY COUNT: Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Green Hornet biker guy, a few of her paid thugs. But Michael Fassbender gets away "Scott-Free"...sort of.

LINE TO DIE BY: "To see quarry killed with elegance, it's moving to me."

POST-MORTEM: The script's all there. Maybe too much there. Some of Cormac McCarthy's philosophical tangents and difference-between-the-sexes diatribes are kinda brilliant, others antiquated howlers. Either way, Ridley Scott is too humorless a director to know the difference. He's all wrong for this flick. And Diaz...though she can do comedy, she doesn't do much for this movie other than polish Bardem's windshield. Brilliantly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE ICE HARVEST (2005) - Harold Ramis


THE FEMME: Sweet Cage strip club owner Renata Crest (Connie Nielson).

THE FALL GUY: Crooked mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack).

HER MOTIVATIONS: Impending foreclosure of her club, compromising photos of a local politician, a strong yearning to escape her iced-over Wichita town. Which all is to say...$$$. See that little pile of cash next to her in the photo? She needs more of that. A LOT more of that.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Small town sex appeal, an indeterminate accent, the fact that she is perhaps the only woman in this town (i.e., this movie) who is neither a stripper or someone's frigid ex-wife. Renata is a businesswoman, dammit!

SEXINESS SCALE: 7 (out of 10). It gets awful cold in Wichita in the winter, especially during a Christmas ice storm. When there's no fireplace or spiked egg nog around, Renata is just the type of cozy flame you want to snuggle up against. But be careful...she's hot to the touch.

BITCH INDEX: Guarded (Threat Level Blue). Other than the fact that Renata only pretends to like you because you just landed two million and the fact that she's been sleeping with Billy Bob Thornton on the side...in the scheme of other scheming femmes this month, she's not that terrible.

BODY COUNT: 0 directly by her hand. She does get a knife to Charlie's throat but only manages to make a nick before he kills her with a bullet to the gut.

LINE TO DIE BY: "It's against my religion to give out personal advice, but you should either sober up or get real drunk."

POST-MORTEM: You're probably wondering why I included Renata (and this movie) in this month's rundown of Fatal Ladies, considering that she is a minor character. A few reasons: 1) I just read the Scott Phillips novel and wanted to give this nifty little crime movie a second spin 2) Because I'm still a little shocked that Harold Ramis (yes, that Harold Ramis) directed it and 3) There haven't been a lot of "gingers" represented here this month. Renata is a worthy ginger. So is this underseen flick.

FEMME FATALE (2002) - Brian De Palma


THE FEMME: Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn), diamond brassiere thief and later U.S. ambassador's wife ("Lily").

THE FALL GUYS: Spanish paparazzo Nic Bardo (Antonio Banderas) as well as her former heist partners.

HER MOTIVATIONS: Other than money and fun...hard to say. Guessing it's just because she really, REALLY digs Double Indemnity (see pic above).

HER MANIPULATIONS: On-the-go bathroom seductions, bad disguises, a handy French doppelganger with plane tickets on the verge of committing suicide, extreme pole dancing skills.

SEXINESS SCALE: 5 (out of 10). And that's really only for the barroom striptease.

BITCH INDEX: Guarded (Threat Level Blue).

BODY COUNT: In her dreams...2 (Bardo and her Ambassador husband). But once the bathtub dream is revealed for what it is...also 2 (her old heist partners), but not by her own hand. Somewhat unbelievably, it's due to the reflection off her briefcase (yeah, ok...).

LINE TO DIE BY: "Hey, how come you're the only man in this room who doesn't want to fuck me?"

POST-MORTEM: I kinda dug Femme Fatale when it came out, but then I think I was just craving some new De Palma at the time. Rewatching it a decade later, the whole Cannes golden bra seduction-heist at the beginning seems a little desperate, De Palma lampooning himself and his Mission: Impossible past. And the "bath tub" dream revelation feels forced in the context of an otherwise boilerplate thriller. Lynch explored the shifting identities/extended dream thing with far more panache in Mulholland Drive the year before. Also, it helped tremendously that he had Naomi Watts as his lead and not John Stamos' ex-wife.

AUDITION (1999) - Takashi Miike


THE FEMME: Former ballet dancer and present-day blank slate, Asami (Eihi Shiina).

THE FALL GUY: Widowed bachelor Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi).

HER MOTIVATIONS: Lots of childhood trauma with the burn scars to prove it, her short-lived dancing career cut off by injury, garden variety jealousy, non-garden variety insanity.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Deceptive politeness and passivity aided and abetted by paralytic agents, razor-edged piano wire, acupuncture needles in places they're not supposed to go, vomit in places it's not supposed to go (a dog's food bowl).

SEXINESS SCALE: 1 (out of 10). That is, unless you're into the whole wounded Japanese schoolgirl thing.

BITCH INDEX: High (Threat Level Orange)...but only when the torture begins.

BODY COUNT: 1 murder (the bar owner where she once worked) and a handful of gruesome maimings (her ballet instructor, Shigeharu). Honestly, once Asami starts working the piano wire on you, you'll prefer to be murdered.

LINE TO DIE BY: "Deeper, deeper, deeper" (which in Japanese sounds like "Kitty, kitty, kitty").

POST-MORTEM: I'd only seen Audition once before (when it came out) and remembered it as being gruesome all the way through. Really, it's just the last 15 minutes, give or take. But those 15 minutes...still highly squirm-inducing even after all the bad torture porn imitators (Eli Roth and Co.) that followed. The trick here is, you actually feel for the character being tortured and even the one doing the torturing. Makes all the difference, folks.

BASIC INSTINCT (1992) - Paul Verhoeven


THE FEMME: Police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), aka "Lisa Hoberman" in college.

THE FALL GUY: Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), aka "Shooter" by the rest of the force and crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone).

HER MOTIVATIONS: Extreme jealousy, extreme possessiveness, a short-lived Single White Female style college romance with Tramell, an on again, off again sadomasochistic relationship with patient Curran.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Fluid identity, lax privacy policy with patient files, strategic passivity in the bedroom, possible possession of a blonde wig (if you buy into the "Catherine didn't do it" theory), possible handiness with an ice pick (again, if you believe Catherine actually just prefers drinks with "rough edges"). Also, a Bart Simpson key chain. Cute!

SEXINESS SCALE: 8 (out of 10). Stone got all the fevered attention and accolades for her far showier star-making, leg uncrossing and re-crossing performance. But watch a little closer and you'll find Tripplehorn is no slouch in the smoldering department, either as a blonde or a brunette. Even if she does wear underpants.

BITCH INDEX: If Beth really is the killer then it's High (Threat Level Orange). If not, then Low (Threat Level Green). Either way, Tramell is by far the bigger "bitch" here, innocent or not...Severe (Threat Level Red). And that's why we all loved her so.

BODY COUNT: 5. Rock star Johnny Boz, possibly her old college professor, possibly her first husband, Officer Nilsen ("Hey, Shooter"), Detective Gus Moran ("Cowboy")...the saddest elevator offing of all time. Oh, wait, I just remembered Charles Martin Smith in The Untouchables...

LINE TO DIE BY: "What was I supposed to say? Hey, guys, I'm not gay, but I did fuck your suspect?"

POST-MORTEM: For the purposes of this post (and maybe my sixth viewing of the imminently rewatchable Instinct), I'm going to say the Shrink did it and not the sexy crime writer. I'd like to think Curran and Tramell have a vigorous and healthy retiree sex life somewhere in Marin County, all due to the tantalizing threat of that ice pick constantly waiting under the bed. Also, I'd like to forget there was such a beast as Basic Instinct 2.

Monday, August 18, 2014

THE HOT SPOT (1990) - Dennis Hopper


THE FEMME: Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), southern belle spouse of a Texas used car dealership owner.

THE FALL GUY: Harry Madox (Don Johnson), drifter, petty thief, semi-professional salesman, volunteer firefighter (but only when he needs an alibi).

HER MOTIVATIONS: Extreme small town boredom. A fierce resentment of good girl dealership brunette Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly). And, of course, a hot spot in her loins for drifter Harry.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Odd jobs and petty chores designed to get you back to her empty house. Sexy shaving rituals. Handguns as foreplay. Skinny dipping as foreplay. Abandoned grain silos as foreplay. Abandoned lot automobiles as foreplay. Anything as foreplay, really. Dolly doesn't discriminate.

SEXINESS SCALE: 9 (out of 10). For a bottle blonde with visible roots and a tenth grade education, Dolly (i.e., Madsen) really puts her best assets to work in this film. The only reason she doesn't get a 10...I mentioned a 20 year old Jennifer Connelly was also in this, right?

BITCH INDEX: High (Level Orange).

BODY COUNT: One. Her husband...a heart attack in the sack, if you couldn't guess.

LINE TO DIE BY: "There's only two things to do in this town. You got a TV? No? Then you're down to one."

POST-MORTEM: I've always thought of The Hot Spot as an underrated little '90s noir. Rewatching it again, I still feel the same. It lags in a few plot points, but the acting and tone...hot, hot, hot.

BLACK WIDOW (1987) - Bob Rafelson


THE FEMME: Catherine (Theresa Russell), a freelance trophy wife and professional chameleon with a string of rich dead husbands in her wake.

THE FALL GUYS: Countless rich dead husbands (Dennis Hooper, Nicol Williamson) but this time a fall girl...federal agent Alex Barnes (Debra Winger).

HER MOTIVATIONS: Dollar dollar bills, ya'll. And perhaps a burgeoning Sapphic attraction to Winger.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Frequent costume changes. An advanced knowledge of poisons and inheritance loopholes. "Ondine's curse."

SEXINESS SCALE: 2 (out of 10). To be honest, Russell was sexier in Straight Time. I think she's one of those actresses who's less sexy when she's TRYING to be sexy. Debra Winger on the other hand...effortless. But then I'm a sucker for husky-voiced brunettes (see also: Lizzy Caplan).

BITCH INDEX: High (Level Orange). Also, the color of one of Russell's fright wigs.

BODY COUNT: Countless. I threw in the towel early on.

LINE TO DIE BY: "The black widow...she mates and she kills." Also the one-sheet tagline.

POST-MORTEM: Black Widow does not hold up well, a descendant of those heady late '80s days when film noir became a bad word and therefore morphed into "psychological thrillers." That said, I think I would have enjoyed a little more at least if Russell and Winger had swapped roles.

BODY HEAT (1981) - Lawrence Kasdan


THE FEMME: Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), bored Florida wife of wealthy industrialist.

THE FALL GUY: Sleazy and frequently sweaty ambulance chaser, Ned Racine (William Hurt).

HER MOTIVATIONS: $$$. Also, sex. But mostly $$$$$$$.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Short fire-engine-red skirts, legs that won't quit, lips that won't quit, accidental sno-cone spills, back porch wind chimes, a secret knowledge of wills and estate law, a secret connection for acquiring explosive devices, a dear old friend that looks just like her from behind (body switch anyone?).

SEXINESS SCALE: 11 (out of 10). Turner is OFF THE CHARTS desirable in this flick. Scorching hot, no matter the season, no matter the state. That said...

BITCH INDEX: Severe (Threat Level Red). Tangle with a woman this greedy, this flammable and your death is assured.  Worse...your lifetime incarceration.

BODY COUNT: 2, both burnt to a crisp (her husband, her dear old friend). The unseen Spaniard dude on the beach at the end is probably next.

LINES TO DIE BY: "You don't want to lick it?" (re: the sno-cone spill in her cleavage)

POST-MORTEM: Still remains one of the best neo noirs of all time. Certainly the best of the '80s. If you don't believe me, just watch this clip of arsonist Mickey Rourke lip syncing Bob Seger.

CHINATOWN (1974) - Roman Polanski



THE FEMME: Evelyn Mulray (Faye Dunaway), wife of deceased L.A. Water and Power tycoon, daughter of most evil man on the planet, Noah Cross (John Huston).

THE FALL GUY: Detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a nosy parker with the nose bandage to prove it.

HER MOTIVATIONS: Equal parts obfuscation, romantic attraction and fact-finding.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Threat of lawsuit, followed by a hefty finder's fee. Classy hats and veils, blood red lipstick, a generous bedside manner than involves luxuriously twisting your armpit hair post-sex. A slight stutter whenever her father's name is mentioned. Also...secrets, secrets, SECRETS.

SEXINESS SCALE: 5 (out of 10). Evelyn may dress like the discreet socialite she is, but she also wears her "damage" on her sleeve. Dunaway is a stunner as always, but her character here is more victim than predator. And, thus, harder to lust after guilt-free.

BITCH INDEX: Low (Level Green). Sure, Evelyn has a nasty habit of lying about her alarmingly twisted family tree ("She's my sister! She's my daughter! She's my sister and my daughter!!!"). But can you really blame her when it looks like an inverted bonsai? Also, she helps Gittes out of several scrapes when she doesn't have to. She looks like a femme, talks like a femme, but deep down you can tell she's a good (if a little cracked) egg.

BODY COUNT: Herself. Sadly. By stray Chinatown gunshot.

LINES TO DIE BY: "I don't get tough with anyone, Mr. Gittes. My lawyer does."

POST-MORTEM: Forget it, Jake...it's Chinatown. What else is there to say?

Monday, August 11, 2014

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) - Billy Wilder


THE FEMME: Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), one-time star of silent screen...now a profoundly delusional cougar on the make.

THE FALL GUY: Desperately out-of-work and car-less L.A. screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden).

HER MOTIVATIONS: One word...stardom. Or a return thereto. OK, extreme loneliness as well.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Extravagant displays of wealth, a free run of her ginormous Sunset Boulevard mansion, usage of her vintage automobile, lavish dinner parties with no other guests, Kabuki line readings and Charlie Chaplin impersonations, multiple suicide attempts, cigarettes that hold themselves (see above), strange funeral rites involving deceased pet chimps.

SEXINESS SCALE: 1 (out of 10). I hate to hate on the older ladies, but clueless, celebrity-obsessed Norma is what they call in the biz "a real boner killer." The late in the game plastic surgery (see above) helps a little but not much.

BITCH INDEX: Guarded (Threat Level Blue). Sure, Norma has no qualms about shooting you in the back when you burst her Hollywood fantasy bubble and try to escape her gilded cage. But she can barely hoist the gun she's so dramatically verklempt. Maybe she should've gotten a fancy holder for the gat instead of the cigarette.

BODY COUNT: 1 (waterlogged Joe Gillis). 2 if you count the chimp. 3 if you count the ruined soul of butler/secret first husband Max (Erich von Stroheim).

LINES TO DIE BY: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!" (presumably before the rhinoplasty)

POST-MORTEM: Sunset Boulevard...still the ultimate in doomed May-December couplings. Next time they repo your car, seriously think about just taking the bus.

GILDA (1946) - Charles Vidor


THE FEMME: Gilda Munson (Rita Hayworth), knockout redhead nightclub chanteuse and new bride of Argentinian casino owner Munson.

THE FALL GUY: Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), casino manager and "minder" of Gilda (a job many a guy wouldn't mind).

HER MOTIVATIONS: A torrid love-hate relationship and past history with Johnny back in the States. A zestful love of life that knows no bounds (or chastity belts). Gilda would probably tell you to "blame it on Mame." But, really, it's all her fault.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Standing room only strip-teases, private backroom chanteuse-ing, rampant infidelity and jealous husband-baiting, a hair flip introduction for the ages.

SEXINESS SCALE: 9 (out of 10). This is NOT the girl you bring home to mom. For she will probably end up sleeping with mom. Dad, too.

BITCH INDEX: Low (Level Green). Other than her rampant infidelity and general life-of-the-party harlotry, Gilda is not really out to hurt anybody. If you're on the right side of her "good time," you might even have lots o' fun.

BODY COUNT: Zero. Gilda's love comes with all the complications of a gorgeous, free-spirited femme, but it proves less than lethal. The only real murder here is perpetrated by Uncle Pio, the washroom attendant.

LINES TO DIE BY: "I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something, what do you think?"

POST-MORTEM: A mildly diverting story and an INCREDIBLY enticing Hayworth. I have trouble calling this one true film noir though.

MILDRED PIERCE (1945) - Michael Curtiz


THE FEMME: Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth), Mildred's full-time spoiled rotten daughter and part-time hack piano player.

THE FALL GUY: Technically, her father Bert for Monte's murder. But, really, for about everything else her mother Mildred (Joan Crawford).

HER MOTIVATIONS: A profound sense of entitlement, unrepentant social climber tendencies, an aversion to anything resembling manual labor, an aversion to anyone resembling Mildred, her mother.

HER MANIPULATIONS: A constant dissatisfaction with her mother's career achievements and/or the family wealth status quo. Sleeping with her mother's second husband. Shooting her mother's second husband and framing her father for it. Expensive piano lessons (I'm guessing).

SEXINESS SCALE: 2 (out of 10). Veda is a cutie-pie by '40s standards, but, oh, that entitlement...what a turn-off!! It she were alive today she'd probably live in a Williamsburg loft and be a character on Girls. Or, worse, have her own reality show on Bravo.

BITCH INDEX: Severe (Level Red). Again, the entitlement. Really, Veda, is that any way to treat your own mother?

LINES TO DIE BY: "With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls."

POST-MORTEM: James M. Cain at his most sympathetic, melodramatic (not necessarily a bad thing). We feel bad for Mildred. We wish she would have aborted Veda in the first trimester. Really we do.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) - John Stahl


THE FEMME: Spoiled socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney).

THE FALL GUY: Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), who bears a striking resemblance to her deceased father.

HER MOTIVATIONS: Serious Daddy issues (see the dumped ashes in the urn above), an unparalleled tendency toward extreme jealously.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Machinations involving family doctors, scathing literary critique, strategic whining and pleading, non-accidental miscarriages, non-accidental drownings, her own suicide.

SEXINESS SCALE: 7 (out of 10). Though Ellen is relatively chaste by today's standards (she even dumps Vincent Price outright before officially tying the knot with Wilde), make no mistake...this is one hot Technicolor noir ginger! This is mostly due to her intensity, what she's willing to do to have you ALL TO HERSELF. Her stockings may never come off in the course of the film, but, rest assured, this femme is all about the STATIC CLING.

BITCH INDEX: Severe (Level Red). When a woman is willing to take the life of her unborn child by tumbling down the stairs just to spite you, it's safe to say she's kind of a bitch. When she's willing to take HER OWN LIFE to spite you and frame her own sister, she's most definitely a bitch. But when she's willing to coolly watch your disabled brother drown in a lake and not lift a single oar to help, she's something else all together. She's Walter White.

BODY COUNT: 3, possibly 4 (her unborn child by stair-fall, Richard's disabled brother by way of aquatic neglect, herself by purposeful poisoning, maybe her own father...we don't quite know for sure, do we?)

LINES TO DIE BY: "I'll never let you go. Never, never, never."

POST-MORTEM: Shot like a Technicolor romantic melodrama, but with the blackened soul of a hardcore noir. This one sneaks up on you. Leave Her to Heaven...just make sure Ellen Berent stays buried deep in hell.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) - Billy Wilder


THE FEMME: Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), bored Glendale housewife with a honey of an anklet.

THE FALL GUY: Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), flat-foot Los Angeles insurance salesman.

HER MANIPULATIONS: Convincing Walter to fudge a phony life insurance policy on her wealthy husband, then convincing him to help her leave his dead body on the railroad tracks.

HER MOTIVATIONS: A double indemnity payout worth $100,000. Also, her contempt for hubby Dietrichson and, arguably, her love for Walter...though you'd be ill-advised to argue too fiercely for that.

SEXINESS SCALE: 5 (out of 10). Phyllis' sexuality is generally subdued, strategically employed. Apart from appearing at the top of the stairwell in nothing but a towel and that aforementioned anklet, she mostly keeps the hormones in check.

BITCH INDEX: High (Level Orange). She will turn on you on a dime and with little shame. Worse if you have more than a dime to your name.

BODY COUNT: 3, that we know of (her husband, her husband's former wife when she was a nurse and...spoiler alert...Walter Neff)

LINES TO DIE BY: "No, I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I'm rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That's all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn't fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me."

POST-MORTEM: Phyllis may not be the sexiest femme of all time, but she is among the most devious in the granddaddy noir of them all that still delivers DOUBLE even after multiple viewings.

Friday, August 01, 2014

AUGUST: FATAL LADIES


For the last two months on this blog, the fairer sex has gotten the short shrift. British gangsters, Japanese yakuza...these are male-dominated worlds, "sausage fests" for better or worse. Unless you're a gun moll or a prostitute, well, you probably didn't get much bandwidth. This month, however, that extra X chromosome will finally get its due with a vengeance. August is the hottest month already, so why not?

And I do mean a VENGEANCE. We're talking femme fatales here, ladies and gents. And, gents especially, do be on the lookout. Because these "fatal ladies" will gladly rip your heart out while taking you for every last penny. Or, worse, convince you to commit murder for them instead. Beware of bored, beautiful wives with wealthy husbands and healthy life insurance plans. Beware of smokey cabaret nightclub singers. Beware of aging silent screen starlets in decrepit mansions. Beware the best-selling crime novelist with a tendency to cross and uncross her legs.

Beware the scheming seductress in all her myriad guises...both in color and black & white.

Some of the selections will be old favorites. Others will be new (old) ones that I wasn't able to catch last month at Film Forum's fantastic Femmes Noirs festival. New or old, we will put these elusive spider women under the microscope and see what makes them tick. That is, if they don't stub us out like Lucky Strikes beneath their stilettos before we have the chance.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON (2007) - Takashi Miike


Another middling yakuza effort from Miike, this one based on a PlayStation 2 game. By no means a textbook ninkyo eiga or even a run-and-gun jitsuroku, Like a Dragon follows several sets of characters in the course of one scorching night (sound familar?). None of them are particularly compelling, which I'm guessing has to do with the fact that they were sourced from game play avatars in the first place.

There's the overly sentimental Luc Besson style story of a stoic ex-yakuza who helps a little girl look for her lost mother (above). There's the Warriors-inspired bad yakuza who prefers to incapacitate his opponents with line drives from his Louisville Slugger (below).


There's the Pulp Fiction Honeybunny and Pumpkin thread of two convenience store employees who decide to start sticking up other stores for cash. Meanwhile, an even more inept (and air conditionless) bank heist is taking place downtown. In one of the few amusing scenes, the hooded assailants treat their captive hostages to an impromptu sushi break. After that, I began to snooze.


I never thought I would lump Takashi Miike and Woody Allen together in a sentence, but, seriously, both of these guys are prolific to a fault. More than two films a year (Miike gets close to ten sometimes) and quantity really starts to trump quality. That said, I'm still excited about the upcoming Yakuza Apocalypse. I'm talking about the next Woody film with Colin Firth in the lead yakuza/Woody surrogate role, of course.