Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

 

 

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

 

 

 

IN A LONELY PLACE is something different. It’s one of the great American movies from the first half-century of the art form but it feels more intensely personal than many of the finest of the studio era. It takes place in Hollywood but there’s nothing bright or sunny about it. It looks like a noir and acts like one in a couple places, but really it’s a dark character piece and the central mystery is primarily internal and existential in nature. It’s a Hollywood noir, maybe. There aren’t many like it; that’s for sure.

 

 

 

Dorothy B. Hughes wrote the novel upon which the film was based. Edmund North is the writer who adapted it. The film’s star, Humphrey Bogart, owned the production company which produced the film. Nicholas Ray was the director. Ray made effective, striking genre films — i.e. THEY LIVE BY NIGHTTHE RACKETON DANGEROUS GROUNDMACAO — and later made films that were even more distinctive and bound for glory — i.e. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and JOHNNY GUITAR. He’s one of the lesser-known of great American directors. At the time the film was made, Nicholas Ray was married to its leading lady, the incomparable Gloria Grahame. Not long after its release, the marriage ended. 

 

 

The story of IN A LONELY PLACE is as follows:  Bogart, in a role reportedly close to his heart, plays Dixon Steele, a belligerent screenwriter who is assigned a crappy book to adapt.  He hires a pretty hat-check girl to come to his apartment and summarize the book for him so he doesn’t have to read it.  When something terrible befalls the girl, the police pick up Dixon for questioning.  Grahame plays his neighbor, Laurel, who saw him with the girl the night before.  She’s his alibi.  They become an item, but his erratic and explosive behavior leads her to wonder whether the cops are right to suspect him after all.

 

 

 

The suspicion drives the plot, so of course one couldn’t call it peripheral, but IN A LONELY PLACE is truly about what transpires between Dixon and Laurel. It’s hardly a typical whodunit. Whether he did it or not is important to the film primarily because of what it means for him and for her. If he’s a murderer, that’s bad, but what if he isn’t, and the film somehow ends in broken hearts regardless?

 

 

This is a doom-laden and tragic love story that is dark as night.  It’s not a date movie.  It’s kind of the anti-date movie.  Doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful though.  May not be easy or reassuring, but it says volumes about men and women and how we so often are to each other.

 

 

If you’ve never seen IN A LONELY PLACE, please turn off the computer and head down to the Metropolitan Museum Of Modern Art today.  This is a classic and a masterpiece and a bunch of other clichéd descriptions which actually apply in this case.

Killer title, too.

 

 

IN A LONELY PLACE screens at 6:30pm on Saturday at MoMA. Highest possible recommendation.

 

 

— JON ABRAMS.

@JONNYABOMB

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Angel Baby

 

“You’ve got to be ready for moments like these, ready to drown your ruined heart as soon as it starts beating again.”  — from ANGEL BABY.

 

In 2013, Elmore Leonard left us, and I took that pretty hard. If there is any silver lining to that loss, it’s that his influence reverberates through the work of several younger writers. I’ve read plenty and as much as it counts, my vote for the best of all of them is Richard Lange, whose book of short stories DEAD BOYS and first novel THIS WICKED WORLD I snapped up and can’t recommend any more highly.

 

DEAD BOYS  THIS WICKED WORLD

 

 

This new novel, ANGEL BABY, is about Luz, the beautiful wife of Rolando, a.k.a. El Principe, an abusive drug kingpin in Mexico who escapes across the border to California, helped by Malone, a doomed man who isn’t much of a lifeline. They’re pursued by a man named Jerónimo, a deadly assassin who won’t ever relent, because Rolando has his family’s lives under the trigger. There’s also a crooked American cop looking to get the money Luz swiped from Rolando, because there are a lot of different breeds of bad people in this world and therefore in this book also. Luz will walk right through the crossfire, because she has a daughter on the other side, the subject of the story’s title. 

Now, that’s not a far cry from an Elmore Leonard plot, though I’d halt the [favorable] comparisons there and emphasize the uniqueness of Richard Lange’s writing, which has a flavor and a legitimacy and a sadness all its own. Lange is more of a street-level poet.  His prose and dialogue feel real and believable, yet they resound with fatalistic import. There are lines in this book that can break your heart and the heartbreak aftershocks last long after the speedy read is done.

In a slight return to comparisons, Lange’s depictions of California and Mexico have a verisimilitude I’d venture to liken to John Fante, though Lange’s work is more readily cinematic. An Edward Hopper painting sprung to life, maybe. If there is a movie, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, Michael Mann would knock it out of the park. The gut-punching romanticism of ANGEL BABY is right up that alley. Read if you like. Or if you don’t! It’s good enough to stand on its own merits, a unique blend of border noir, hard-boiled crime, and corrido music.

ANGEL BABY is everything you could want in a crime novel: protagonists who can frustrate and move you, villains who are scary as all hell, action that feels alive, and emotional impact that lingers. Richard Lange’s work is bruising and vital. I can’t wait for his next book.

 

SWEET NOTHING

 

This piece was expanded a little from my article on the best books of 2013. Find out more about ANGEL BABY on the book’s official site and on Richard Lange’s author page.

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

 

 

I didn’t expect to like this movie, not even a little bit.  I figured, by all appearances, that it was going to be cutesy.  Normally, I’m revolted by cutesy.

Horrible.

Horrible.

 

Guess what?  (500) DAYS OF SUMMER was totally cutesy, and still somehow I dug it.  There is an aspect of recognition at work – I can relate to some of the experiences enacted here, and the locations are very familiar to me.  There is also an ace pair of lead performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and some nice supporting comic balance from the underrated Geoffrey Arend.

 

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Most of all, the moral of this story (which, as is promised early on, is about a boy and a girl but is not a love story) is one I needed to hear at the time I heard it.  It’s something I’ve understood and internalized over the last few years but it was nice to hear it said.  You can have your heart broken – more than once! – but you can not allow your broken heart to turn black.  It doesn’t do you any good to be embittered towards a girl who doesn’t love you (back/anymore/at all) – feel grateful for the experience and be always ready for the next one, which can easily be right around the corner.  Even if it comes complete with a cutesy name.

 

MINKA

@jonnyabomb

Smashed (2012)

In retrospect, it kills me that I didn’t manage to see SMASHED anytime last year.  It absolutely would have clinched for my year-end top ten.  I even know which movie it would have supplanted:  FLIGHT, a movie which covers similar territory.

Like FLIGHT, SMASHED deals with the topic of alcoholism with unusual potency and attention to detail, with an astounding central performance and with harrowing scenes of hitting bottom and going even lower.

Unlike FLIGHT, SMASHED has an unsubtle, lovely soundtrack that doesn’t threaten to undermine everything else good about the movie.

NO + MEW

Director James Ponsoldt, between SMASHED and this year’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW, has cornered the market on low-fi and true pictures that deal with addiction in surprising, disarming, and sneakily affecting ways.  He wrote SMASHED with Susan Burke, and assembled a tremendous cast that includes never-fail ringers like Aaron Paul (“Jesse Pinkman” on Breaking Bad), Octavia Spencer (FRUITVALE STATION), Bree Turner, Mary Kay Place, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman.

NO

Those last two, by the way, I am now officially willing to follow to the ends of the earth, due to the fact that everything they do together (Parks & Recreation, Axe Cop, THE KINGS OF SUMMER) is so resolutely charming.  Her role, as a sympathetic school principal dealing with a young teacher who lies and comes to work drunk, is probably smaller than his, as a fellow teacher who helps that troubled co-worker find her way into a support network but has his own weird issues going on.   But both are indelible in this film, as is the entire cast.  Everyone in the movie is funny, sad, and disarming.

MEW

But SMASHED is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s victory most of all.  Already beloved by genre fans for her roles in horror and action movies, she proves definitively that she is one of the most under-utilized great actresses of her generation with her role as Kate, a schoolteacher who decides to get sober despite the fact that her husband and main running buddy (Aaron Paul’s Charlie) isn’t ultimately willing to do the same.  Winstead’s performance isn’t showy or grandiose, which is a sacrifice.  You don’t get fancy awards for underplaying.  Instead, she plays it like a real person.  Kate is a person you could know.  She’s a person you quickly come to care about.  She’s a person you worry about.  She’s a person you can hope for.  That’s more noble.  That’s true acting; playing a part with honesty, without underlining everything for the cheap seats.

MEW + AP

I feel so fondly towards this small, sweet, special movie, but I’m not sure I could express myself anywhere near as well as the late, great Roger Ebert did in his review.  Please seek it out – it’s one of the most beautiful pieces he ever wrote, and it will convince you, if I haven’t, that SMASHED is a film well worth the attention you give it.

@jonnyabomb

MEW + OS

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976)

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

You may have noticed that I’ve talked about MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED a lot.  I wrote about it only once, for my friend’s spotlight on Underrated Comedies.  As I wrote then, this isn’t only an underrated comedy in my eyes.  In my opinion, this may just be the most underrated American film of all time.  Am I exaggerating?  Read on, amigos.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, DRAGNET, and three James Bond movies.  It was directed by Peter Yates, best known for classic tough-guy movies such as BULLITT and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.  One of the producers on MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED is Joseph Barbera — that’s right — one half of the insanely prolific Hanna-Barbera cartoon team.

All of the above credits may begin to hint at the unique atmosphere of MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED — I could call it “cartoonish realism” if I thought the term might ever take off.  The story concerns an independent ambulance company competing against rival services in addition to the proper channels. They’re barely-legal L.A. outlaws, riding into life or death situations. Most of them do it for the kicks.

The veteran driver is nicknamed “Mother” and that’s the only name he’s known by. He’s a man of simple pleasures: He likes getting massages from pretty ladies, keeping a fully-stocked cooler in the rig, and “buzzing” gaggles of nuns with his siren as they’re crossing the street.

That’s Bill Cosby.

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The new guy is Tony Malatesta, a former police detective nicknamed “Speed” due to the bogus drug allegations that recently got him shitcanned from the LAPD.

That’s Harvey Keitel.

And the knockout receptionist with larger ambitions is nicknamed “Jugs” (which she hates, by the way.)

That’s Raquel Welch.

Those are three very different stars, which means that the movie is a collection of very different tones. This movie brims with raucous comedy and sober tragedy, on a scene-to-scene basis.  Somehow it all hangs together cohesively – credit to the sure hand of Peter Yates.  But even with that said, it’s probably still not what you’re expecting.  Cosby’s got a potty-mouth, for one thing!  Your Cosby Show memories will be forever changed once you hear him say “Bambi’s mom had great tits.”  But even as he’s doing that, he’s rocking some real pathos too.  His performance here is way more HICKEY & BOGGS (see that too, please) than GHOST DAD or LEONARD PART SIX.  There’s a real depth to his acting that could be frankly shocking even to longtime fans of his comedy.

Meanwhile, Keitel was best known at the time  for his work with Scorsese – he appeared in TAXI DRIVER the same year – but even though he’s cast as the straight man here, he’s totally down to play. And Raquel Welch, a sexual revolution in human form, is easily their equal and frequently their better. It’s one of her best-ever roles.

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Add to that a supporting cast that includes L.Q. Jones, Bruce Davison, Dick Butkus, Larry Hagman in brilliantly gross & bastardy form, and the sorely-underappreciated character-actor great Allen Garfield (THE STUNT MAN) as the low-rent boss of the gang, and you have one of the most fun movies of the 1970s, and arguably one of the most unheralded.  Name another great movie from that year – ROCKY, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK – and then ask me if I’d rather watch MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED.  Apologies to Stallone, Hoffman, Redford, and Duvall, but I think you already know my answer.

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Ride with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

And check out this fun photo-article on the film’s shooting locations.

Bring it On (2000)

 

If you want to know something about me, I originally saw BRING IT ON in the theater — with my mom.  We both enjoyed it but probably for different reasons.  Something for everybody, I guess; you know how it is. 

 

Bring it On (2000)

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about cheerleading movies on this site.  It is not what one could call my métier.  As a human male with working parts, I certainly do appreciate the image of the all-American cheerleader, but I tend to prefer movies about monsters, werewolves, and fists being thrown, which is why I loved BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER so much.  Chocolate, meet peanut butter.

Bring it On (2000)

 

BRING IT ON arrived towards the end of a still relatively recent era in American movies, the late 1990s, where multiplexes were flooded with films about high school.  Some of them were DOA — dated on arrival — but BRING IT ON was one of the best-made of them, so I imagine it still holds up.  The director was Peyton Reed, making his first feature after plenty of TV comedy including the influential Upright Citizens Brigade show.  That’s a more anarchic pedigree than most teen movies had at the time.  The script by Jessica Bendiger is pretty sharp to begin with — it has great character names, one of my favorite aspects of good comedy scripts.

Bring it On (2000)

 

Kirsten Dunst, two years before SPIDER-MAN, played Torrance Shipman, team captain of the Toros, the team’s cheerleading squad.  Dunst is pretty mopey in the SPIDER-MAN movies but I imagine her performance in BRING IT ON is what got her that part:  She’s determined, energetic, and smiles in several different ways in this movie.  BUFFY‘s Eliza Dushku provides a nice, sarcastic balance as Missy Pantone, a new student who reluctantly becomes an important member of the team, and Jesse Bradford has never been as likable anywhere as he was here, as Missy’s brother and Torrance’s love interest.  Then again, I’m endeared to almost anybody in a Clash T-shirt.  Gabrielle Union is the best part of the movie by far, as Isis, the leader of a rival cheerleading squad (the Compton Clovers, brilliant name) who accuses the Toros of lifting their routines.  It turns out to be true, but it was Torrance’s predecessor who did the dirty deed.  Without belaboring the obvious, because the movie doesn’t either, it’s refreshing to see a teen movie that goes in on the issue of race and white America’s cultural appropriation of blackness.  BRING IT ON was also ahead of the curve on gender issues and homosexuality, as two of the Toros are guys, one straight and one gay.  If any of this were foregrounded too much, the movie could have been insufferable, but the writing, direction, and actors all play everything with a winning lightness of touch.

Bring it On (2000)
All of that is true, but what’s truly impressive about BRING IT ON is Peyton Reed’s control over the film’s tone.  The movie has a sweet, believable teen romance and a slightly more steely but still charming series of competition sequences building up towards its climax, yet it still manages to include things that could sink a different movie, like a bikini car wash scene and a truly astounding cameo by Ian Roberts of the Upright Citizens Brigade as Sparky Polastri, a choreographer who the Toros bring in as a specialist to help them develop new moves.  I would put this cameo up with Sam Kinison’s in BACK TO SCHOOL in the realm of hysterically bizarro outsized characters that somehow manage not to run away with the movie.  I’d definitely see an entire movie about this guy, though I applaud the filmmakers’ restraint in using him sparingly.

 

Bring it On (2000)

 

So while BRING IT ON is not normally my kind of movie, it ends up being a movie I feel kindly towards.  It doesn’t shy away from the question of sex appeal but it takes a playful approach.  It’s savvier and snappier than most high school movies, and lighter and funnier than most sports movies.  Of course I’m way more interested in the Gabrielle Union character than the Kirsten Dunst character, but this is a Hollywood movie after all.  Until somebody lets me write my own, I’ll take cultural transgression in any dosage I can get it. 

 

BRING IT ON plays tonight at 92Y Tribeca in lower Manhattan.  Take a parent and have your own mildly awkward experience.

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

I haven’t been updating Demon’s Resume remotely enough, but a good part of that reason is because I’ve been way more active over at Daily Grindhouse.  All of the writers there are great and I encourage you to bookmark the site.  I’m very happy to be a part of that.  For the people who follow me through this site and might like more frequent updates on what I’m up to elsewhere, I’ll do a better job of keeping you posted by providing the links.

Here’s my examination of John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.  I’m pretty proud of it.  I’m a lifelong admirer of Carpenter’s work and in this piece I spent some time discussing it in minimum and also connecting it to the rest of his filmography.

Below is a poster gallery, via Google search and copyright the respective owners.

And as always, my consciousness streams on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

 

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)