Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Hurt Locker, The Long Good Friday, Scarface (1932), The Last Laugh

The Hurt Locker, by Katheryn Bigelow, 2008

It took a long time before I got around to seeing The Hurt Locker. I really should have seen it in the theaters, but for some stupid reason, I didn't. Well, I saw it, and like everyone said, it's pretty awesome. It might go down as one of the few times the right movie won the Best Picture Oscar.

Jeremy Renner stars as a leader of a military bomb squad in the Iraq war. He's cocky, has a reckless attitude, and seemingly a death wish. The movie doesn't necessarily have a plot, so much as an episodic series of bombs, each situation elevating in intensity from the last, as the men count down the days, wondering if they'll survive to the end of their tour of duty under this guy.

The performances are all around great, especially Renner. I can see why Marvel wanted him as Hawkeye now, though he had little opportunity to show these traits in The Avengers. Director Kathryn Bigelow, who has been around and doing solid work for some time now, steps up her game big time. The movie is well shot and edited and loaded with tension of both kinds: between the characters and in diffusing the bombs. I really have nothing negative to say about The Hurt Locker. Great movie.

The Long Good Friday, by John Mackenzie, 1980

You know, I couldn't get into The Long Good Friday at first, but it became more and more engaging for me as it went on, all the way to the end. The last ten minutes or so are excellent. It might just have been the time of night that I watched it, which I think was pretty late, or maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention at the start. Either way, I know it's a well regarded film, and I liked it enough.

The Long Good Friday is the movie that really put Bob Hoskins on the map. He plays gangster, trying to become a legitimate businessman (with funding from the mafia, whaaaaaaat?). When his men start getting picked off by someone, he goes on a violent manhunt trying to find the culprit. Hoskins' character is pretty nuts, leaving a trail of bodies wherever he goes, and by the end, even the mafia has second thoughts about associating themselves with this guy.

It's pretty good, probably actually better than I'm giving it credit for. Really strong performance by Hoskins. I was sad to hear about his recent retirement due to Parkinson's. The guy was great in a ton of stuff.

Scarface, by Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, 1932

Forget the Al Pacino/Brian De Palma remake, this is the classic Scarface. Based loosely on Al Capone, this Howard Hughes production is probably about as over the top and violent as a film in 1932 could possibly get.

Scarface is Tony Camonte, played by Paul Muni, an ambitious gangster, second in command to Johnny Lovo, who runs the south side of Chicago. Camonte begins to eye both the Irish-run northside of the city, as well as the leadership position held by Lovo. He even makes moves at stealing away Lovo's girl. Eventually, Camonte's ambitions get the best of him, and, you know, a hail of bullets.

Scarface is pretty excessive, even for a Pre-Code movie. I read that Howard Hughes just had Howard Hawks make the movie how he wanted it, and they would worry about getting it through the system later. That was pretty ballsy at the time. As a result, we got one of the first truly great gangster films, and still one of the best ever.

The Last Laugh, by F.W. Murnau, 1924

F.W. Murnau, best known as the director of spooky silent masterpieces Nosferatu and Faust, brings us a smaller and more personal, but no less interesting film. The Last Laugh is the story of an old man (played by future Nazi Emil Jannings), content in his job as a hotel doorman. His increasing age and infirmity are making it harder to do his job, and his boss reassigns him to the undignified job of a bathroom attendant. The old man falls into a depression, his life has lost all its meaning, and becomes a laughing stock to all his friends and family.

That's pretty depressing, right? What a horrible statement on life to have to hear, huh? Well here is why the movie is great: After all that heavy stuff, the audience is given a reprieve. A title card comes up and says something along the lines of "This is where the story should end, but we took pity on this guy and decided to give him a break". The final act of the movie is an improbably joyful payoff, where the doorman randomly inherits a bunch of money and lives like a king, while those who treated him poorly are punished.

The film flat out tells us that this isn't how real life works, that this is just a fantasy, but despite that knowledge, we still take joy in his happiness, and leave the movie feeling a little better about things. The Last Laugh is, ultimately, a movie about the very purpose of going to the movies. They're a brief escape from the harsh reality of life.

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