The Big Knife is a sensational depiction of the movie business along the lines of Sunset Boulevard. But while Nora Desmond delusionally vied to force her way back into the movie business that left her behind, The Big Knife‘s protagonist will do whatever it takes to be left alone by its ruthless power brokers. Based on Clifford Odets’ abrasive play and directed by Richard Aldrich, The Big Knife has a lot of great things going for it, including a terrific cast and wonderfully contrasting lead character, but ultimately it’s way over the top and meanders too much to really have the fatalistic impact it seems to be going for.
John Cusack has been cashing checks on the DTV circuit lately. Thrillers like The Numbers Station, The Factory, and Frozen Ground have allowed him to essentially phone it in, which is a sad state of affairs for such a solid actor. One of the last films where Cusack got to fully embody a character and make it clear that nobody else could play the role was Harold Ramis’ comedy neo-noir The Ice Harvest. He plays mob lawyer Charlie Arglist, a patient, calm man whose employment clashes with his inherent kindness. Watching Cusack’ less-is-more approach makes it tough to imagine anyone else in the role. His smirks, collected demeanor, and knowing gaze penetrate the colorful cast of characters he encounters on an icy Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas. When the mayhem clears, Arglist still manages to have a sense of decency about him. The Ice Harvest is a fine example of neo-noir in the thematic tradition of a man way in over his head.
This one’s a pretty decent, yet wholly underwhelming “wrong man” film in which a drunk Korean War veteran is accused of murdering a young girl. A Crime Against Joe has a pretty drab script, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on to be engaging. There’s a cool high school graduation pin subplot, for example, that leads the protagonist begrudgingly down memory lane to see which of his fellow alumni is framing him for murder. Other than that element and a few other fun aspects, A Crime Against Joe fails to really pack a punch.
Here’s a great little caper set inside London’s Tate Museum. Starring versatile noir favorite Dennis O’Keefe, The Fake is a strong example of that overused word in film criticism: “romp.” Yeah, I know, I just used it, but it really is adequate in this situation. More, The Fake is a “condensed romp,” with minimal locations and characters. There’s still a bit of that hard-edged noir aesthetic, but overall it’s a fun, lighthearted crime film that’s the sort of perfect lazy Sunday afternoon fare people spend hours penetrating Netflix for. While no means a classic, The Fake has enough unique things going for it to make it a blast to watch. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a mystery where the color lapis lazuli was a major clue?
I was lucky enough to attend Fantasia Fest last month in Montreal. I watched a lot of great movies and ate a lot of good food. Mainly croissants. SO many croissants.
Here’s a round-up of my reviews from the festival, which sported some of the nicest, most helpful volunteers and employees I’ve ever experienced. The Fantasia folks are wicked nice and genuinely excited about film. They know how to throw one damn good fest too. Despite earning some mean blisters that put me on my back for a few days, I can’t wait for the 2015 Fantasia Festival. Montreal is a beautiful, exciting city and Fantasia matches its home’s vibe.