Dark Passage

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dark Passage (C-). I finished my viewing of the four films starring Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep) and Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep) with this 1947 release. It’s a strange film. A convicted murder named Vincent Parry (Bogart) escapes from prison, and the lovely Irene Jansen (Bacall) picks him up and takes him back to her swanky San Francisco apartment even though she seems to know who he is. A shady plastic surgeon alters Parry’s face, but Parry’s plan to hide at a friend’s apartment until he heals is ruined when his friend is murdered that very night. The whole movie just has a weird sort of vibe to it, but it isn’t terrible — it just isn’t very good.

Couples Retreat

New review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Couples Retreat (C-). I saw this comedy at the dollar theater, and the price was about right. Four couples go off to a fabulous island resort where relationship-building exercises will supposedly be optional. But when they get there, they are told that the exercises are most definitely mandatory, and hilarity is supposed to ensue when the goofy French relationship expert Marcel (Jean Reno, Ronin) puts the hapless couples through various zany, off-the-wall stunts. The hilarity is seldom in evidence, but there is a fair amount of crudeness and lameness to make up for it. I was amused at one scene in which the tyrannical Marcel orders the couples to line up facing each other and strip to their underwear; all four women (including Kristen Bell, When in Rome) have flawless Hollywood figures, while the men range from average (Jason Bateman, Juno) to walrus-like (Faizon Love, Elf). Although I did laugh a small handful of times, I am confident you can find something better to spend your entertainment dollars on.  Trivia — this movie was directed by Peter Billingsley, the child star of the classic A Christmas Story.

The Big Sleep

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Big Sleep (B). This 1946 release is based on a novel by Raymond Chandler. Humphrey Bogart (Key Largo) stars as hard-boiled L.A. private investigator Philip Marlowe. A wealthy widower hires him to handle what looks like a straightforward case of blackmail — the widower’s flighty younger daughter has run up some gambling debts. But the case turns out to be anything but straightforward as murders begin to pile up, and the widower’s older daughter (played by Lauren Bacall, Kay Largo) turns Marlowe’s head while concealing secrets of her own. It’s an enjoyable film, even though I couldn’t follow all the twists and turns of the plot. (Amusingly, the extra features on the DVD report that Chandler himself couldn’t explain who killed one particular character or why.) Bogart and Bacall have chemistry, and there is some entertainingly snappy dialogue, such as between Marlowe and a cute female cab driver. There’s even a scene in which Marlowe, needing to spy on a shady character from a bookstore across the street, smoothly seduces the bookstore’s proprietress (who’s quite attractive herself, once she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down). Fun stuff.

A Scanner Darkly (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick. This is the last selection in the Library of America volume Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. This particular novel was first published in 1977, and it was made into a movie by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) in 2006. The sci-fi elements are really fairly limited. Basically, it’s about an undercover narcotics police officer who is himself an addict. Sometimes he goes to HQ to report, in a high-tech disguise called a “scramble suit,” so that even his superiors don’t know which of the addicts he is reporting on he actually is. The book’s strength is its depiction of drug addiction and the psychoses and paranoia experienced by the addicts. Apparently it is based on some of Dick’s own personal experiences (an “author’s note” at the end of the novel says so), which I suppose is why the novel comes across as so believable. Definitely worth a read.

Avatar

New review from The Movie Snob

Avatar (B). I recommend that you see this movie in its 3D incarnation, because the visual effects really make this movie. I mean really make it, in the sense that they are the only reason to see it. The plot is a ho-hum story about corporate malefactors and military crazies dealing out harm to a wholesome and spiritual indigenous people on a remote planet called Pandora. One soldier infiltrates the alien race by becoming one of them through an “avatar,” or alien body that he mentally controls through some funky technology. (It works a lot like the mechanical surrogates did in the movie Surrogates.) The acting is nothing to write home about. And the movie is definitely too long at 162 minutes. But the special effects really are incredible. The aliens and alien monsters and the whole alien world are amazingly realistic, but so are the scenes involving military helicopters and other hardware. The melding of live actors and digitized aliens is flawless. And the 3D effects are exceptional as well. I call it a B, because it is definitely worth seeing, but a movie can’t get an “A” on special effects alone in my book.

Key Largo

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Key Largo (C). I continued to work my way through the four-DVD set “Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection” with this 1948 release. I was prepared to love it because I am so fond of the awesome 80’s tune it inspired. Alas, it is a pretty mediocre piece of entertainment. Humphrey Bogart (To Have and Have Not) plays a soldier back from WWII who’s at loose ends and makes his way down to the Florida Keys to visit the father of a war buddy who got killed. He meets the father (Lionel Barrymore, Grand Hotel) and also the widow (Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not) at the hotel they run. But the hotel is shortly taken over by a bunch of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson, Illegal), and Bogie will have to use all his street smarts to help the good guys survive the night. Oh, and there’s a hurricane coming. The whole thing reminded me of Rawhide, which I reviewed in this space a while back. Anyhoo, nothing special about this one, even though Claire Trevor (Stagecoach) won a supporting-actress Oscar for it.

To Have and Have Not

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not (B). The back of the DVD case bills this 1944 release as “The Movie That Brought Together Bogart and Bacall,” and so it did. The 19-year-old Lauren Bacall (Dogville) co-starred opposite 44-year-old Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca), and apparently it was very nearly love at first sight for the two. The plot closely resembles that of Casablanca. Harry Morgan (Bogart) owns a small fishing boat he operates out of the Caribbean island of Martinique, where he tries to stay out of the struggle between the Vichy officials who control the island and the outlawed French Resistance. But when a beautiful but down-on-her-luck American (Bacall) crosses his path, he finds himself tempted to put neutrality aside in order to help her. A pretty good movie, but it’s no Casablanca. And although Bacall is pretty enough, I wouldn’t say she’s as beautiful as some of the other stars of the day, like Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca) or Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind). There is a decent “making of” feature on the DVD that discusses the Bogart-Bacall love affair, and a horrific vintage Looney Tunes cartoon called Bacall to Arms.