The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking: "Dan, I watched that in Intro to Film Studies and it was BORING." Well, you are WRONG. I mean, just look at this photo!

I'm sorry, but this happens to be one of the greatest films to emerge from the Golden Age of Cinema, if not of all time! Sure, it's black and white, and the actors talk all funny-like, and there is a LOT of talking (all funny-like), but this movie is responsible for so much. First of all, I'm willing to wager a hill of beans that Casablanca would not be considered what it is today (if it was even made at all) if this film did not launch Humphrey Bogart into the stratosphere. This was also actor Sydney Greenstreet's first film role (he had done only theatre) which landed him an ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION. Director John Huston was also nominated for Best Writing, and the picture itself for a BEST PICTURE. This was also Huston's directorial debut, and the beginning of a collaboration with Humphrey Bogart which would span a number of features and nearly two decades until the legendary actor's untimely death in 1957.

Lorre and Bogart.

What this film has in spades (pardon the pun), is excellent characters, starting no less Humphrey Bogart himself as Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett's timeless private eye character. Spade drinks, hates himself, is not afraid to slap someone around (man or woman!) and has loose morals--but morals nonetheless. He, like so many subsequent Bogart characters, sticks his neck out for nobody, and despite his scathing wit and blunt honesty, hides a warm little bleeding heart of empathy. Spade is thrown into a convoluted plot of who's-good-and-who's-bad with Mary Astor as femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a woman who enlists the assistance of Spade and his partner Miles Archer. Brigid gradually leads Spade into an intriguing underworld of treasure hunters, led by the massive Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet), and his greenhorn henchman Wilmer. In tow is Joel Cairo, played by the inimitable Peter Lorre. All, it turns out, are seeking the titular long-lost bejeweled sculpture that is rumored to have recently arrived in Spade's town, San Francisco.

I love how Greenstreet takes up the WHOLE frame.

What transpires are a few murders, deception, backstabbing, phone calls, hold ups, mysterious men showing up with packages, adultery, a little sexism, a couple of homosexual insinuations, one-punch knock-outs, and some brilliant dialogue. In fact, the dialogue is what drives this film. You could count the amount of locations and sets on one hand, and pretty much the entire last half of the film takes place in a single apartment. No, it's not for everyone, but the payoff I assure you is well worth it.

Miss Wonderly... or is that Miss O'Shaughnessy?

Aside from the impact The Maltese Falcon had on Casablanca (Greenstreet and Lorre both had very memorable roles alongside Bogart), it was also quite influential in the realm of film noir. Bogart's portrayal of Spade would immortalize him as a fast-talking hard ass with a heart of gold, and would also establish an archtypical detective hero of the film mode.

Astor and Bogart.

Perhaps what I love about it is the sheer effectiveness of it all. It's very theatrical, in the sense that many of the events are spoken of, but little are shown. The power of the word drives the narrative, hand in hand with the power of suggestion: a gun, a knock on the door, a piece of money, or an elevator door. This, to me, is filmmaking at its purest; interesting and dynamic characters, intriguing and unpredictable story, dialogue that tickles me pink, simple yet effective mise-en-scene, and all around smart decisions. Give it another chance. Pour yourself a glass or mug of whatever you're drinking and sit down for the 90 minutes and watch film history unfold.


Dr. Strangelove Legacy

Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is undoubtedly one of Kubrick's finer works, if not his finest. Like many other Kubrick films, it is often imitated, but never duplicated. I put it pretty much at the top of the list, for a number of reasons.

1. Obviously, Peter Sellers. Three characters. Two in the same scene. All before greenscreen/splitscreen/Nicholas-Cage-in-Adaptation. All hilarious. The man was a deranged genius, a child trapped in a man's body. If you have not seen the biopic film "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" and have even an ounce of interest in this enigmatic actor, definitely see it. It may just answer a few questions, and Geoffrey Rush IS Peter Sellers. It's pretty amazing.
2. George C. Scott. He's right there alongside Peter Sellers. The sequence when he, with the excitement of a ten-year-old boy, is describing how amazing it is to see B-52s fly overhead is priceless.
3. Excellent dialogue: "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!"
4. That sexually suggestive mid-air refueling Pablo Ferro-designed opening title sequence.
5. Sterling Hayden. From what I understand he came out of retirement to play this role. Who WHOA I just realized played the Police Chief that Michael assassinates in the restaurant in The Godfather!
6. Slim Pickens riding that H-bomb.
7. James Earl Jones as a young man.
8. The set design: From the war room with "The Big Board" and buffet, to the interior of the bomber, which apparently according to the USAF was eerily accurate to the classified designs of actual bombers!
9. The song "We'll Meet Again."
10. This amazing and revolutionary trailer, also designed by Pablo Ferro:

If you have seen Roman Coppola's film CQ, the trailer for Dr. Strangelove might seem familiar. Have a look at the trailer for the film inside the the film in CQ, Codename: Dragonfly:

Further influence can be seen in the 2009 British political satire, In The Loop (nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the most recent Academy Awards!), both in the subject matter: humorous misunderstandings and miscommunication leading to war, as well as in the promotional materials, like the obvious stylistic references to the above-posted Strangelove poster and the trailer.

The trailer also, if I'm not mistaken, pulls music from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

This is a really great film, and I am dying to get my hands on a copy of the British television series it is based on, The Thick Of It. Peter Capaldi plays one of my favorite foul-mouthed characters in recent years, Malcolm Tucker. Anyways these are just a few little nuggets that have been in the back of my mind for a couple months.

Kubrick lives!


There are a myriad of fake or reworked or spoofed movie trailers out there, but along with "Brokeback to the Future," this is one of the best, in my opinion. "Shining" a reworking of the Kubrick classic horror-thriller "The Shining." Ha ha. Very clever. I especially like the use the the Peter Gabriel song "Solsbury Hill." Anyways, it is quite well edited together and the shot selections are perfect. Well done. Enjoy.


Blade Runner Art

One of the many reasons I love Blade Runner is for the richness of the environment. The sheer level of detail and conceptualization, the mash-up of a myriad of stylistic sources from Mayan and Aztec designs to Punk style of the 1980s, all makes the whole thing a feast for the eyes. The concept art for the film reveals a high level of attention to detail that went into the creation of Los Angeles, 2019. What I love is how detailed these are, as well as how dark there are, yet at the same time so full of life and colour! Which is an interesting point when one thinks about the film itself, which deals in concepts of reality versus illusion, life versus death. In the 2019 world the filmmakers envisioned, despite the fact that the world is a dying place, life thrives.

Deckard's kitchen

And two fan-made pieces:


Seven trailers that trump the actual movie

Now, feel free to disagree with me, but these are a handful of trailers that I've always thought were much better than the actual film, meaning I watched them endlessly and probably built them up way too much and was just bound to be disappointed. But here they are. Some of them turned out to be mediocre films, or bad films, or even good films, but to me, their pinnacle was actually the trailer.

1. Vanilla Sky (2001).

This wasn't by any means a bad film, but the trailer for me is a lot more intriguing. Vanilla Sky is a muddled remake of, from what I understand, what is already also a bit of a muddled Spanish film, Abre Los Oyos (Open Your Eyes). For some reason, there's something about the atmosphere of it that I didn't like; I didn't want to spend 2 hours in it. I think a large part of it was the Tom Cruise character. I really don't mind Tom Cruise, I think he has become a victim of his own success, but his character isn't likeable at all. Even though he is a totally manipulative jerk in the film who is trying to redeem himself, I didn't care if he did redeem himself in the end. But I do respect this movie, mostly, and it did introduce me to that amazing Icelandic band of bands, Sigur Ros. What appeals to me most of all about this trailer is the music: in particular the Looper (first song) and Chemical Brothers song featured in the last third of it. Director Cameron Crowe probably had something to do with choosing the music for it, as he tends to have a major hand in the musical selections of his works, however, when the best thing about a film is the soundtrack, you have to wonder if maybe the director should have just trusted his music supervisor, and focused a little more on creating a coherent narrative. A lot of the imagery in the trailer is really evocative though, and it is cut together smartly.

2. Jarhead (2005).

Some people felt really strongly about this film, but in the end, I didn't feel much of anything at all. I mean, I kind of get it, from what I recall it is about the emotional toll of going to war, even if a soldier doesn't end up seeing much (or any) action. The boredom and the stress of preparation for combat, and then the anxiety of being exposed extreme situations, death, and conflict, these are all powerful concepts and discussions that should be had, however an interesting film it does not necessarily make. The American soldiers in Iraq (this is about the first Gulf War) were all dressed up with no where to go, and the film is in the exact same situation! So it is kind of a flawed concept to begin with. There is an HBO series called Generation Kill which also tackles similar concepts, and it handles it much better. So just watch that. Or if you don't have seven hours, watch Three Kings instead. That is an excellent Gulf War film, period. So, the trailer. What do I like about it? Mostly, the Kanye West song Jesus Walks. Yes, I can see a theme developing here. Music plays a powerful role in stirring interest in a film, and we will see how in most of the remaining examples here. I watched the trailer over and over when it came out, though now that I rewatch it, I'm not as enthused. Either way, at one time, this trailer really ignited something in me.

3. Code 46 (2003).

I don't think anybody saw this film, other than myself and the two people who I watched it with. It was pretty bad, and quite incoherent, which is a shame because I think it had really good intentions, and on paper sounds like an awesome film that I would like to watch. Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton (a wonderful actress I would like to dedicate an entire post to) star in this mystery thriller set in the near future (my absolute favorite time period for a film to be set--I'm looking at you, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Children of Men, Gattaca, etc.). I initially found out about it in a magazine article which talked about the production and how the producers were traveling the world to find existing futuristic settings and architecture in front of which to stage their film. Anyways, maybe this film will resurface in the future as a lost and misunderstood film, though I doubt it. After watching it with my friends, I actually was compelled to show them the trailer, just to justify my desire for making them sit through it! Thanks, friends. The trailer isn't particularly stunning, it just teases you with a number of interesting concepts.

4. Where The Wild Things Are (2009).

This might be one of the finest and most stirring trailers ever, and I don't mean to exaggerate. When this came out last year, EVERYONE was going batshit crazy over it. It has a fantastic Arcade Fire song, the source material is extremely dear to many, many people, director Spike Jonze is a skilled and beloved member of the cinema world, and the imagery is whimsical, youthful, exciting, and emotional (that sequence of shots of Max running away or towards the camera are amazing!). This was by no means whatsoever a bad film, I quite enjoyed it, it just didn't have a lot of material to go on. You have to give Jonze credit for not ruining something so precious as a children's story (I'm lookin at you, Tim Burton and Ron Howard!), and he stayed true to Maurice Sendak's vision. But it did portray quite well some of the turmoil, conflicts, and tough decisions that kids have to go through. Many films that take place inside someone's imagination or dreams tend to go over the top on the imagery level, but Where The Wild Things Are kept it regulated.

5. Bronson (2008).

Boasting to be the new generation's Clockwork Orange maybe isn't the smartest way to promote a film, nor is tailoring your style closely to a master filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick. I mean, by all means, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you'll often still land in the stars, however sometimes you'll just float away into deep space. I think that's about as far as I can take that analogy. This film is adrift in style with no real substance. And unfortunately, many of the funny moments in this trailer just don't work in the actual film. The film feels pretty much just an extended version of the latter half of Clockwork Orange when Alex is being rehabilitated, and well it's just a little dull. The lead performance of an almost unrecognizable Tom Hardy, in the actual film, is over-the-top and in the end wears thin. Clockwork Orange was so successful because in a way it is funny. It's a satire. The contents of this film just do not wink at the camera, there's no passion, and I never really got what the filmmaker was trying to convey. Yes, this guy is crazy, but unlike Clockwork Orange, it says nothing about whether society is crazy too. Yes, post-war England is drab, and people do bad things, but...? And is it unsensitive of me to say that Bronson's (the character's) crimes aren't heinous enough? He is kind of a petty criminal in the whole scheme of things, so why is he such a problem? Why doesn't he just shut up and serve his short sentence? All this being said, this trailer is wicked, it got me excited, and if you enjoy the style and imagery of a Kubrick film and are yearning to see something new from the late master, take a spin through this trailer, and then ponder how awesome A.I.: Artificial Intelligence could have been had Stanley Kubrick stayed alive long enough to direct it.

6. Pineapple Express (2008).

Am I wrong to say that this trailer almost single-handedly launched MIA's song Paper Planes into the stratosphere? Thug life!

7. Miami Vice (2006).

Sigh... what could have been! So much talent and promise here! Director Michael Mann is responsible for one of the greatest films of the 20th century and pretty much my all-time favorite: Heat. His profound examination of the 1990s LA crime world is almost certainly the best cops and robbers film, features a massive ensemble cast of fantastically nuanced performances, and still resonates today (in fact, Christopher Nolan cited it as a major source of inspiration for the Batman-Joker dichotomy in The Dark Knight). It somehow took a relatively simple concept, blew it up to epic proportions, and delivered in spades. The near-three-hour running time feels like nothing as we are intimately shown that detectives and even criminals have feelings. Amazing. I could talk about Heat forever, but we are here to talk about Miami Vice. Michael Mann created the seminal 80s television of the same name, and here revisited it with a passionless cast. Somehow, everyone in this film is a grouch, and Miami comes across as a bleak land of pain and suffering. But the trailer is awesome, again because of the bumpin Jay-Z/Linkin Park mash-up song. I also just love the imagery too. Make no mistake, this is an epic film as well. No expenses whatsoever appeared to have been spared, and the money is on the screen: jet-boats, Ferraris, lear-jets, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, dance clubs. Unless you are a die-hard Michael Mann fan, I wouldn't recommend this film. Just watch the trailer, let your imagination ponder how cool it all could have been, then YouTube the finale of the film for that amazing Mogwai song that plays it out. There's one thing Mann always knows how to do, and that is a powerful end-scene (Again, Heat).


Nuit Blanche (2010)

WOW. A friend of a friend posted this on Facebook. Thought I would pass it on to my corner of the internet. A wonderful, powerful, simple, and beautiful little short black and white film called Nuit Blanche, directed by Arev Manoukian, which "explores a fleeting moment between two strangers, revealing their brief connection in a hyper real fantasy." Have a look!

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

And then watch the stunning "Making Of":

Making Of Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.


Tirez sur le pianist (1960)

Part comedy, part drama, part film noir, part western, Francois Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianist (Shoot The Piano Player) is a little bit of everything! It's his second feature, after The 400 Blows, and if his debut was an autobiographical story that, along with Godard's A bout de souffle, launched the French New Wave, this is a manifestation of that boundless energy and experimentation that the movie has come to symbolize. The film is both a rejection of the stuffy films of his French forefathers and a passionate homage to American B-cinema. In the mise-en-scene we find many references to film noir, as well as westerns and comedies, from the way scenes are lit and shot, to the way characters hold and use a gun.

The performances are great too. Truffaut used real life pianist Charles Aznavour as his lead, a piano virtuoso Edouard Saroyan, who, after the suicide of his wife, gives up and becomes a simple bar pianist. There he falls in love with the waitress. Meanwhile, his brothers are in trouble with some gangsters who they bilked out of their share of heist money. There are some familiar faces if you have seen other films of the era (Daniel Boulanger plays Ernest the gangster is a detective in Godard's Breathless, while Albert Remy who plays Chico, is Antoine's father in Truffaut's The 400 Blows).

Some of my favorite sequences are between the gangsters and Fido, Saroyan's little brother. They abduct the kid, but then the three of them behave like school children together, getting along marvelously, bragging about their new gadgets and toys, and arguing over who is better at what. And that may be the greatest strength of this film. It's quite eclectic and uneven at times, but it is made up of so many great moments, little scenelets and exchanges between characters. It is also just a lot of fun to watch, especially if you love cinema. Lots of little details and ideas are present, lots of imagination and innovation, as well as a very palatable sense of Truffaut's love for all things film.


North by Northwest (1959)

Ahhhh North By Northwest. Quintessential Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe not my favorite Hitchcock film, but it pretty much contains all the elements that I enjoy about spy stories. The classic wrong man scenario. A man is mistook for a secret agent and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy. If you have not seen this, put it right at the top of your list.

And to entice you, here is the famous crop-duster sequence. This scene really shows Hitchcock's mastery of camera placement, movement, and editing. Here is a man who knew exactly what this scene was going to look like before and during the filming. So many of these shots I love, many for their simplicity. I mean, look at the first shot of the two men standing on opposite sides of the highway. I would hang that one my wall! It shows what a smart director can accomplish with the most basic elements: a man, a location, and an enemy. Note the absence of music until the very ending. In fact, if music was there (and you can watch this scene on YouTube with music, should you so desire) it would be much less powerful. The sound of the airplane is all that is needed. Only some sparse dialogue sets up the scene, and that last words spoken are the most ominous: "That's funny, that plane's dusting crops where there ain't no crops."

Hitchcock understood that the unknown is much more frightening and more intimidating than anything: he leaves the identity of the pilot unknown, we never see if it's more than one person in the plane, and we never get even a point-of-view shot from the plane. The audience is put squarely in Carey Grant's shoes. And I find this sequence terrifying. It is so effective at creating a nightmarish scenario. We are placed in an endless flat environment with plenty of room to run, but nowhere to hide. I don't mean to exaggerate when I say I think this is one of the greatest movie sequences ever filmed.

Click here to watch on YouTube.


I'm Here (2010)

This is a new Spike Jonze short film! It's called I'm Here and is about a lonely librarian robot discovering love in the modern age! It uses the same technology of costuming and motion capture that Jonze used in his film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. The actors wear the robot costumes, but the face is the only thing that is animated. And it works extremely well! I love the music and sound of this short, and I also love the robots. It's just really well done. Sponsored by Absolut. It appears as though corporate financing is the new internet short film way!

You have to watch it in your browser, but if you have a good internet connection it shouldn't be a problem.


Sigh... So awesome.

When the Maybach Exelero Concept car came out, everyone was saying that was Darth Vader's Car. Turns out Vader drives an Ariel Atom, and his stormtroopers rock the Lotuses. These pictures are all so great on their own that it's kind of a shame to post them all together, but I couldn't decide which one to put up so I put em all up. They make me sigh because they are so awesome I wish I had thought of them and had the means to do them myself! If I had lots of money and sports cars, I would totally take pictures like this.

Pixels, by Patrick Jean

Pretty cool little short film about pixels from old school video games taking over the world! Very well done. By Patrick Jean.

From here.


Passenger Side (2010)

So I just heard the tail of an interview on Q this morning about this movie. You may have too. It sounds interesting and now that I see the trailer, well it still sounds interesting and in a way it looks exactly as how I was expecting.

Road trip movie of sorts? Check.
Two guys driving around California etc. in an old BMW? Check.
A young Canadian filmmaker? Check.
Named after and featuring this awesome Wilco song that I listen to in my car all the time? Check!

So I'm going to make an effort. Limited release in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver on April 26th I believe. Starring Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette. Written and directed by Matthew Bissonnette.

Here is the trailer.


The Bloody Olive (1996)

Take a look at this fantastic little short film directed by Vincent Bal. It's a tongue and cheek noir from Belgium with more twists and turns then a pretzel factory, all the way up to the end! They obviously had a lot of fun putting together this enjoyable little homage to the deception, backstabbing, and surprises found in the films from the great era of classical film noirs. Enjoy!


Double Indemnity (1944)

Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson (Fred MacMurrary and Barbara Stanwyck)

It's been a little while since I've seen this, but it's on TV periodically and if I happen to flip to it I always end up watching it. Double Indemnity is a fantastic little noir. It has all the ingredients: doomed protagonists, murder, lust, fraud, paranoia, deception, unease, tension, and anxiety! Despite how this list of qualities might make you feel in real life, in the film world it is a perfect cocktail for a noir thriller.

Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) is a smoothtalking insurance salesman who, with unhappy housewife Mrs. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), conspires to collect on the life insurance of her stuffy husband. Neff convinces Mrs. Deitrichson to have her husband change his insurance plan to include "double indemnity"--meaning it pays double if his death is accidental. The lusty duo elaborately plans the murder of Mr. Dietrichson so that it looks like an accident. Of course, even with all the planning, it never goes as smoothly as intended, which is where the incomparable Edward G. Robinson comes in. He plays Neff's colleague, Barton Keyes, an insurance adjuster who is sure there is something fishy going on with the Dietrichson file. A huge pay-out to someone who just recently changed their plan is always a giant red flag. He begins probing the case, without guessing that the very conspirator is sitting right across the office.

It's a great film, and writing and reading about it just makes me want to watch it again! It's got gorgeous cinematography, excellent direction by Hollywood master Billy Wilder, fun performances by some very talented actors, and a creative narration structure in which Neff confesses the whole scheme right from the top to the audience and his colleague Keyes by way of a voice recorder. This is a highly recommended film and a textbook (and very celebrated) example of the film noir mode.

Neff and Keyes.

The Go-Getter

Last summer a friend of mine randomly brought this film over to watch one night. What followed was, despite the dorky poster, a great little indie film starring Lou Pucci, Jena Malone, Maura Tierney, and the supercool Zooey Deschanel, and featuring the music (and a cameo) of M. Ward. Now this is also significant if you are a fan of musical act She & Him which is composed of, you guessed it, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.

The film is about a young man named Mercer (Lou Pucci) who sets out to locate his estranged brother to inform him that their mother has died. Mercer impulsively steals a car, and the owner (Zooey) calls him on her cell phone which she had left inside. They proceed to have continuing dialogue as Mercer continues on his quest to locate his long-lost sibling. There are a series of vignettes in which Mercer encounters various eccentric folk on his journey, and the scenery is gorgeous as he dreamily flows through Oregon, Nevada, and California.

The film is heavily autobiographical, according to writer-director Martin Hynes, who after losing his own mother to cancer and having his marriage collapse, set out on a soul-searching road trip. Martin Hynes, also an actor, starred as George Lucas in the previously mentioned short film George Lucas In Love, by Joe Nussbaum.

I've included a dream sequence from the film (hmmmm, there could be a whole post on good dream sequences!). Have a gander, if it catches your interested, go rent the film! I put on it my stamp of approval.

I found a better poster for it: