Tag: Roger Ebert (Page 1 of 10)

Staff Pick: “House of Games” (1987) is a Neo-Noir Classic

Screenshot House of Games 1987

“House of Games” is a hidden gem. Written and directed by David Mamet, this low-budget film was released in 1987 to positive reviews, but only managed to earn about $2.6 million at the box office.

The film is a neo-noir thriller about a prominent psychiatrist and author (Lindsay Crouse) who becomes involved with a group of con artists led by a shadowy figure named Mike (Joe Mantegna). The film is loaded with twists and turns, and saying anything more about the plot would spoil the film. Crouse and Joe Mantegna are brilliant in the lead roles, and the cast is filled with talented character actors including Mike Nussbaum, J.T. Walsh, Ricky Jay and William H. Macy. Mantegna was born to play this role. His performance seems so effortless. Meanwhile, the film wouldn’t work without Crouse’s impressive performance.

The neo-noir genre in film is a contemporary revival of the film noir genre, which was popular in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. Film noir is characterized by its dark, moody, and often cynical tone, as well as its focus on crime, corruption, and the seedy underbelly of society.

Neo-noir films, on the other hand, are typically made in a more modern era and reflect the social and cultural changes that have occurred since the original film noir period. Neo-noir films often feature similar themes and motifs as traditional film noir, but they may incorporate new elements such as more complex characterizations, non-linear narratives, and new visual and stylistic techniques.

Some common elements of neo-noir films include morally ambiguous characters, femme fatales, urban decay, and a general sense of disillusionment and despair. Neo-noir films often feature complex and convoluted plotlines, as well as an emphasis on mood and atmosphere over traditional plot development.

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Movie Flashback: “The Conversation” (1974)

The Conversation

I’ve wanted to see “The Conversation” for years, and with the pandemic raging I was able to catch up on a number of older movies I had wanted to see. I had high expectations for this one, and frankly I came away a little disappointed.

Some movies just don’t age well, and that’s sometimes true with movies from the 70s. The decade was loaded with brilliant films, and they often live up to their reputation, even after decades have passed. But some of the films that seemed ahead of their time in that decade don’t hold up as well.

I was bored as I watched this film, even though the story throws in some interesting twists. The pacing is painfully slow, which is common from films of that era. And I can often appreciate the slower pacing of these films, particularly compared to the sensory overload we sometimes experience with many modern films. But too many of the scenes in “The Conversation” seemed unnecessarily long. I kept waiting for the story to move along, and by the time we reached the twists at the end I was just waiting for the film to end.

The story behind the film is interesting, and one comes away impressed with the direction of Francis Ford Coppola and the acting by Gene Hackman and John Cazale. Roger Ebert loved it, but the slow pace was too much too overcome to get into the story.

Ebert writes:

Coppola, who wrote and directed, considers this film his most personal project. He was working two years after the Watergate break-in, amid the ruins of the Vietnam effort, telling the story of a man who places too much reliance on high technology and has nightmares about his personal responsibility. Harry Caul is a microcosm of America at that time: not a bad man, trying to do his job, haunted by a guilty conscience, feeling tarnished by his work.

Ebert provides some excellent perspective, and as a work of art the film is brilliant. Less so, however, as a work of entertainment.

“The Conversation” was nominated for “Best Picture” in 1975, the same year that “The Godfather, Part II” took home the Academy Award. Coppola had quite a year! Yet “The Godfather, Part II” was so much more entertaining than this film.

I realize I’m in the minority in my opinion of this film. Reading the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with a fresh score of 97% from the critics, it seems as if each of them are trying to outdo one another in heaping praise on this film. I only found two critics that agreed with me. Fred Topel called it an “outdated techno-thriller,” which summed up my thoughts nicely. The other, John Simon from Esquire Magazine, noted, “The icy fascination soon succumbs to two forms of excess. One is Coppola’s growing infatuation with the technical aspects of his subject… The other is a mystery story that thickens into ever greater contrivance, improbability, and opacity.”

The critics who praised the film often citing the building tension and suspense. Sadly, I experience growing boredom and impatience.

I can only recommend this film to cinephiles and wannabe film critics who need to see this as an important film of the 70s. I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable or gripping film experience.

John Fever

A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

THE MECHANIC

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