John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre

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In this week’s Critics’ Corner, Kyle and Ben talk about John Huston’s classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the Warner Brothers classic which screened recently in theaters for its 50th anniversary.

BEN: I was glad I had the opportunity to see this film on the big screen. I loved the characters and their gritty settings, which lent a realism to their down and out status. I loved the fact that Humphrey Bogart wouldn’t let his character get swindled.

KYLE: Paul Thomas Anderson repeated watched this film while he was working on There Will Be Blood.  I think you can see a lot of both Huston’s influence and Bogart’s legendary performance in the DNA of PTA’s masterpiece.

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BEN: What makes John Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel is the struggle the characters went through to get to the treasure. The story treats their struggle as an adventure, something we don’t see much of today. But when you look at the amount of treasure they managed to get, the amounts don’t seem like much. That’s probably because we tend to think of gold in bars, not dustings like the film portrays.

KYLE: Agreed, it is the Pyrrhic nature of the story that makes its such an important film.  This is an analysis of not only he debilitating effects of greed and paranoia, but also a fable-esque morality tale on the perils of self-centered apathy.  Dobbs’ entire arc is also intriguing, as he is easily the darkest of the central trio.  It’s difficult to root for him because he’s morally compromised from the jump, however as the final act begins, Bogart’s flawless performance subconsciously builds empathy with the audience.

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BEN: It was obvious that this was Humphrey Bogart’s film. As Dobbs’ he makes such a strong case for why he was a leading man. His look was always the same, but his eyes always sought out adventure, and friendships. Which is why Tim Holt as Curtin was a good match for him. They both carried off their respect for one another as partners, but they didn’t necessarily trust each other. And that’s where I felt Walter Huston as the old prospector, Howard was a good third party. He had been in the hills before, he knew where to find the treasure. And, technically he did so twice.

KYLE:  I’m glad you brought up the trust angle.  I think that is probably my favorite aspect of the film, outside of Ted McCord’s brilliant cinematography.  The setting of a lawless land, populated by rogues is then distilled through three personalities at the center, amplifying the feeling of uneasiness that runs through the heart of Treasure.  The dynamics of trust and betrayal that pervade the bulk of the narrative have quite simply, never been outdone without drifting into satire or melodrama.

 

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BEN: The last act truly represents the fulcrum of the triangle started by Dobbs. As a flawed “ideas man,” it was his initiative, and his business sense that allowed them to start the journey. Without Curtin, we wouldn’t have our conscience to guide us, and to keep our compass straight. And, without Howard, we would never have had a journey to go on.

KYLE: That’s a great observation.  In some ways, whenever I view No Country for Old Men, I’m reminded of this, mostly because of the trio of male actors at the center, with each of them representing different aspects of the narrative.

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BEN: It’s truly remarkable that John Huston directed his dad, Walter to an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The younger Huston won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and rightfully so.

KYLE: He also won for director.  Really a once in a lifetime situation.

BEN: They say flattery is the highest form of honor, especially when it comes from Mel Brooks.

Here is the original scene:

Here is the homage:

 

KYLE: That’s amazing!

BEN: I had a blast talking about this one, Kyle. 50 years later and the film is still so remarkably strong for its message and its characters. Until next time!

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33rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival Podcast

SBIFF 2018

It’s time again for our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Frank and Tim recap Frank’s journey this year at the festival, including seeing Emilio Estevez’s new film, ‘the public’ and Susan Kucera’s LIVING IN FUTURE PAST which was presented and narrated by Santa Barbara’s own Jeff Bridges. This year, Frank’s red carpet interviews included on this podcast are with Executive Director of the festival Roger Durling, Gary Oldman, producer Doug Urbanski, Willem Dafoe, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Leonard Maltin, Academy Award-nominated editor of I, TONYA Tatiana Riegel, Academy Award-nominated VFX supervisor of BLADE RUNNER 2049 John Nelson, Academy Award-nominated sound editor of THE LAST JEDI Matthew Wood, GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan Peele, Guillermo del Toro, and lastly Frank talking to Ben Mendelsohn about Podcasting Them Softly’s namesake, KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise has been a long and wild rollercoaster ride so far, with each new addition mining for fresh oceanic mythology to throw at Jack Sparrow & Co., as well as tossing in as much commotion, cameos and FX wizardry that Hollywood will cash out to a lucrative legacy like this. So the anthology arrives at it’s fifth excursion, titled Dead Men Tell No Tales, and it’s nice to know these films still have some wind in their sails, because this is actually a fairly fun and engaging entry, if a little more grey and somber than some of the livelier chapters. The characters have been through enough at this point it’s a wonder they still have their sanity and good looks, although a few have disappeared or fallen on hard times (Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner finds himself in a weird, prophetic predicament here). Jack Sparrow seems to soldier on undaunted though, perma-sloshed on The Caribbean’s finest rum, which is always in shortage, and as much a trouble magnet as ever, chased here by ghosts from his past, and I mean that quite literally. Jack himself is stuck in a bit of a drudge when we reconnect with him, cooling his heels in jail after a spectacularly botched bank robbery with his old crew (ever hilarious Gibbs present and accounted for). He’s shanghaied into another series of hijinks by a mysterious young lad (Brenton Thwaites) who’s searching for something, while the ghostly crew of a marooned Spaniard ship is searching for Jack. It’s captain, a spooky spectre called Salazar (Javier Bardem) has a personal bone to pick with out hero, dating back to the rascal’s teenage years. Played with sallow devilish glee by Bardem, Salazar is actually probably the scariest villain in the series so far, which isn’t saying much but it’s nice to get a little spine tingle from the combo of his work and the eerie special effects. Geoffrey Rush’s seemingly immortal Captain Barbossa returns again too, and sort of gets more and more garishly ridiculous with each incarnation, but Rush somehow manages to sell it, the champ. There’s a female heroine too (Kaya Scodelario) whose origins are also shrouded, the shrewd military prick that always shows up, played here by Lord Of The Ring’s David Wenham, and a sly cameo from Paul McCartney as another far flung relative of Jack’s. While nothing will ever top Curse Of The Black Pearl, this one both tones down the bloat of Dead Man’s Chest and reigns in the mania the nearly derailed At World’s End, as well as giving some life where blandness crept into On Stranger Tides. It’s not the best of the series, or even silver medal, but does the trick nicely and tries a few neat variations on the formula.

-Nate Hill

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer is less of a film than it is a visceral, ‘fly on the wall’ glimpse into the breathless plight of a rugged troupe of villains from various parts of the world, thrown into an impossible situation together, a lean, mean, anti-cinematic survival picture that has one of the most suspenseful set pieces ever filmed, now a legend and showcase in Friedkin’s rough n’ tumble career. The story focuses on a quarter of thoroughly rotten human beings who are an inspired choice to light as protagonists: a disgraced New Jersey hitman (Roy Schneider), a corrupt French banker (Bruno Cremer), a dangerous gangster (Francisco Rabal) and an Arabic terrorist (Amidou). They’re a heinous bunch, each on the run in their own way, but each’s situation is their own fault, which is the setup for the purgatorial horrors that befall them in the remote South American jungle. Each cast out into the primal ether of that region, their collective hope for a modicum of redemption, not to mention financial stability, comes in the form of a nightmarishly dangerous task: transport several giant tanker trucks across the region, each loaded with enough volatile nitroglycerin to blow a crater in the jungle. It’s low concept that pays off for high thrills, especially when monsoon season conveniently shows up right when our quartet are trying to navigate the trucks over a horrifically rickety set of of wooden suspension bridges, a sequence so unbelievably white knuckle, so deeply frightening it’s a wonder and a half it was allowed to be filmed. There’s a twisted catharsis in seeing these unsavoury fellows put through such fresh hell, but they’re so violently resourceful and charismatic that by the end of it we’re rooting for them, by both default and earned respect simply for the desperation of their situation. A simple, brawny piece of cinema that uses it’s straightforward story to tap into something more earthy and primeval, as well as a long standing, finely aged example of action/survival cinema and probably Friedkin’s best film to date.

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.

-Nate Hill

Danny Cannon’s Phoenix

Phoenix is a half forgotten, neat little Arizona neo-noir noir that isn’t about much altogether, but contains a hell of a lot of heated drama, character study and hard boiled charisma anyways, which in the land of the crime genre, often is an acceptable substitute for a strong plot. Plus, a cast like this could hang around the water cooler for two hours and the results would still be engaging. Ray Liotta is terrific here in a mid-career lead role as an a police detective with a nasty temper, huge gambling problem and just an all round penchant for trouble. He’s joined by his three partners in both crime and crime fighting, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven and Anthony Lapaglia. There’s no central conflict, no over arching murder subplot and no orchestrated twist or payoff, it’s simply these four sleazy cops just existing out their in the desert on their best, and it’s a lot of sunbaked, emotionally turbulent fun. Liotta vies for the attentions of a weary older woman (Anjelica Huston, excellent) while he’s pursued by her slutty wayward teen daughter (Brittany Murphy) at the same time. He’s also hounded by eccentric loan shark Chicago (Tom Noonan with a ray ally funny lisp) and trying to close countless open cases in his book. Piven and hothead Lapaglia fight over Piven’s foxy wife (Kari Wuhrur) too, and so the subplots go. The supporting cast is a petting zoo of distinctive character acting talent including Glenn Moreshower, Royce D. Applegate, Giovanni Ribisi, Xander Berkeley, Al Sapienza, Giancarlo Esposito and more. I like this constant and obnoxious energy the film has though, like there’s something in that Arizona sun that just drives peoples tempers off the map and causes wanton hostility, a great setting for any flick to belt out its story. Good fun.

-Nate Hill

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