Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mystery #4 - Laura (1944)

Internet, do you know what this is? That's right: It's a Whodunit. It's not that I don't like the other movies that aren't Whodunits, but for me, the Whodunit is the pinnacle of all the sub-genres of mystery. I like learning the answer as the characters do, and gathering clues and guessing. It's like a movie and a game, all in one. And Laura is definitely a Whodunit. It's also yet another film noir film, although it's not nearly as cynical as the other one's have been. It starts with a murder, and the whole movie goes through the investigation until the murder is solved. There is a twist in the middle, and the twist is bizarrely similar to the one in The Third Man, although unfortunately it doesn't bring Orson Welles into the movie. Vincent Price is in the movie though, which I didn't even notice until about halfway through because his character isn't creepy at all and he isn't wearing a mustache.

Laura, of the title, is the murder victim (Or is she?) and Vincent Price and some other guy are her suitors, and Dana Andrews is the detective investigating the case - he falls in love with Laura through the investigation, too, so we have a sort of love square. It's actually really hard to guess who the murder is in this movie. I had suspected everyone at one point or another, but I never had a really certain guess. I was thrown off until the very end.

This movie isn't really special like most of the other one's are. Most of them have a dramatic twist, or founded a genre, or are controversial, or have Orson Welles in them or something like that, but Laura is just really good, I guess. It just stands out for itself. I've noticed that most of the movies on this list are from the forties and fifties, and very few are modern. I guess that's because it's not really a genre people use any more. That, or people don't know how to do it anymore.

Laura is a good movie, and I liked it. I don't know I'm going to particularly remember it though. It was very good, but really nothing particularly special. I'm going to remember The Maltese Falcon better, for example. I was really happy to finally see a classic Whodunit, though.

Mystery #5 - The Third Man (1950)

The Third Man is another film noir movie, which means it was very cynical and depressing, which is always nice. However, because of the way the sound is recorded, and because everyone has a weird accent and everyone's German, I found it really hard to understand the dialogue in this movie. It was therefore really hard for me to follow the storyline of the movie, so I felt really disconnected from the movie. I didn't absorb the themes or the characters or the moral dilemmas or anything. It was just another slightly-muffled film noir movie, although it did have a really cool-looking Ferris wheel toward the end, which was great visually, and another image at the end that really stuck with me, with trees and a car and a girl walking. It looked really great. But that was about it.

Other than those things, and the balloon salesman, there really was only one thing about this movie that I feel will stick with me. Orson Welles is in this movie. He's only in it for...maybe ten minutes, but he is a scene-stealer, I tell you. I knew that Orson Welles was supposed to be a really good actor, but I'd never seen him in anything before this, and I didn't know what he looked like. He has top billing on the Netflix instant menu, so I had figured that he was the main character. The guy who actually plays the main character, Joseph Cotten, isn't really all that impressive, and I was really confused. "Is that Orson Welles?" I said to myself. "Well he doesn't seem all that special at all." And then, probably an hour into the movie, the actual Orson Welles showed up, and the minute he started talking I knew - That is Orson Welles. He was amazing. For me, he made this a good movie. All of his lines were good and meaningful and well-delivered, and I could actually understand him, and I almost knew what the movie was about for ten minutes. It was like some crazy, life-changing acting-viewing experience.

The point is, Orson Welles is very good, and he makes this movie awesome. Without him, it's just another film noir movie with a Ferris wheel. I didn't even give a summary of this movie - that's how much Orson Welles takes up The Third Man.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mystery #6 - The Maltese Falcon (1941)

North By Northwest was mystery number seven, and that movie ranks higher in the Thrillers list, so I'll watch that latter. The Maltese Falcon is the first film noir movie ever, unless you count M, and is the first Hard Boiled Detective movie. It's the first movie I've ever seen with Humphrey Bogart in it, and as it turns out, he's pretty awesome. Peter Lorre is also in this movie, and Internet: I love Peter Lorre. He's great - probably one of my favorite actors from the Golden Age. He's a small creepy Eastern European man and he almost always plays the character he plays in The Maltese Falcon - A somewhat sympathetic and ineffectual, yet still creepy, villain. He's awesome.

The Maltese Falcon is a Sam Spade movie - Sam Spade is the film noir protagonist. Is he a good guy? Is he a jerk? We don't know! He's very unflappable though - nothing phases Sam Spade. This movie is just such a classic movie. I'd never even seen it before, and it was still so familiar. It's been parodied so often and it launched a whole genre, and it's obviously a very influential movie. It was really cool to watch it. The Maltese Falcon is just a fun movie. I really enjoyed watching it. Everyone had trench coats and fedoras, and Sam Spade had an awesome secretary and he uses slang that I can't really understand but it's okay because it sounds cool. I'd totally gladly watch this again. It was cool.

I'm still not totally sure exactly what this movie is about, mostly because of the slang, but I do know that this little team of criminals is trying to get hold of this fancy, expensive bird statue (The Maltese Falcon) and Sam Spade is aiding them and thwarting them at the same time and his partners dead. It's very confusing - I'm still not sure if I've exactly sorted everything else, but it doesn't really matter because I enjoyed it regardless. This is just a fun movie. It's just awesome. It's definitely my favorite movie so far, even though it still wasn't a Whodunnit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mystery #8 - Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet is David Lynch movie mostly about the dark, violent underbelly of idyllic small-town America, and frustratingly, is still not a traditional mystery. I'm not even sure what the mystery might be in this movie, although admittedly that might be because I was cross stitching for big chunks of it. There's really not much for the audience to figure out, and there aren't any answers, anyway. This isn't really a major failing for the film or anything, but I was kind of hoping for it. Ah well.

Blue Velvet is about a small town youth named Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan, by the way), which unfortunately only reminds me of the town in Footloose, who gets mixed up in amateur detective work when he finds an ear in a field and is plunged into the violent and sexual world of the criminal underworld. Isabella Rossellini is also in it. Blue Velvet reminds me a lot of A Clockwork Orange. Both of the movies are extremely violent and sexual, and both of them use music that doesn't match the actions of the movie - A Clockwork Orange uses classical, and Blue Velvet uses 50's, crooner-style music. The similarities really end there, I guess, but they're still pretty strong to me. Blue Velvet seems a lot more polished and cleaner than A Clockwork Orange does, but the sex and violence in A Clockwork Orange seems less, I don't know, gratuitous. A Clockwork Orange seems to be actually trying to say something about sex and violence, while Blue Velvet just seems to be violent. And sex-filled. It's not that I have any inherent problem with these elements being in fiction, but I feel like there should be some sort of use for them. When I compare the two movies, Blue Velvet just comes up short. It doesn't raise any moral questions, it doesn't make you think, it's not depressing in an artsy way. A Clockwork Orange does all of these things, and I think that makes it a better movie.

I guess the point is that I didn't really like Blue Velvet. It was alright - I didn't really dislike it, either - but when I think of the other two movies that I've watched in this genre, I can come with specific reasons I liked them. The ending of The Usual Suspects was so well-presented that it filled my heart with joy and triumph all the way through the credits, and everything in Dial M For Murder was so cleverly presented beforehand that the movie didn't have to explain itself. I really can't think of anything in Blue Velvet that I specifically thought was good, though. I can't think of a reason for it to be a good movie. So, if I were the American Film Institute, and of course I'm not, so that makes a difference, but if I were, I would have put Blue Velvet below both The Usual Suspects and Dial M For Murder.

I have high hopes for the next movie though - Chances are very high that it will be an actual mystery.

Mystery #9 - Dial M For Murder (1954)

Dial M For Murder is my first ever Alfred Hitchcock movie (Who was, as I'm sure I don't need to point out, a knight), unless you count the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I don't because I really wasn't paying much attention to it. So far, things seem to be boding well for the master of horror and suspense, because I really liked this movie. I was entertained through the whole thing, it was well-done, all of the actors were really good. It's not even supposed to be one of the better Hitchcock movies out there. It was not, though, actually very mysterious at all. It was a mystery in the sense that it was about solving a crime, as the American Film Institute defines it, but it was not a mystery in the sense that the audience doesn't know anything.

You see, Dial M For Murder is about a man who plans to murder his wife by blackmailing someone else to do it for him. He helps out the murder by getting his wife out of bed by calling their apartment, which is where the title comes from. We learn all of this in the first half hour or so of the movie, so their really isn't much mystery for the audience. I was hoping for some good old-fashioned Who Dunnits, but out of the movies I've watched so far I haven't got one. The Usual Suspects wasn't really even about solving a crime so much, either. The movie doesn't want you to think too hard about who Kaiser Soze might be, and therefore the culprit is. There simply isn't that much mystery in Dial M for Murder, despite it being labeled as such. Sure, people solve a mystery, but not the audience, which I've always thought was essential in a mystery.

But that's beside the point. I did really like Dial M for Murder. What's crazy about this movie is that every single element that ever becomes even slightly important in the plot has been introduced earlier. The movie never has to explain itself because we've already seen what's happened, which is terrific. I haven't seen a movie like that before. It's so neat and put together and knows exactly what it's doing all of the time. I read on that Alfred Hitchcock meticulously planned every element of his movies for months before they were filmed, and often became depressed during filming because it was comparatively boring. I don't have any trouble believing this. Everything in this movie is there from the beginning, and nothing comes out of nowhere. It's absolutely fantastic.

Grace Kelly is the wife in this movie, and she seems...nice. I don't really know anything about Grace Kelly, other than the fact that she was supposed to be very elegant and married into the royal family of Monaco, and this is the first time I've ever seen her in a movie. I was hoping it would be more exciting than it was, since she's such a big movie star, but she didn't really stand out anymore than the rest of the cast. The guy who played the murder, Ray Milland, was very good - He was very menacing and sophisticated and charming at the same time, qualities I personally always look for in a murder - and John Williams, not the composer, I assume, was a competent police officer, which is always a comfort. Police are very often useless in fiction, and I don't like that. It's scary. And of course Alfred Hitchcock was in it. I think that one of the things I'll enjoy the most about watching Hitchcock movies is looking for Hitchcock himself. I already knew where he was in this one - it's a pretty famous example - but I'm ready for the hunt in future movies. I'm actually very excited about it.

And speaking of future movies, here's to one of them actually being mysterious in the future. And as for endings, I've decided not to spoil them, but anything happening in the first half of the movie is fair game.