Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shaun of the Dead

I don't know anything about zombie movies. It's a somewhat gigantic gap in my film expertise, but I've never been really inclined to fill it. It's simple really, I've got a distaste for excessive gore, and for the most part the people I knew who were into the zombie films would hype them up based on the gore and the totally awesome violence. So, while I liked action movies with car crashes and stuff with cool and glossy shooting styles (I've mentioned being a Bond fan?), gore just turned me right off. It's a shame that, because I love Shaun of the Dead, and I probably don't get most of the jokes.

"But Devin, you handsome devil you, why would you watch Shaun of the Dead, a zombie movie featuring zombies?" Ah, but you see, while I'm a zombie movie neophyte, I have a deep and undying love of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. It started with Hot Fuzz, a love letter/parody of glossy action movies. I like those! It was clever, it was silly, and it poked fun at action movies while simultaneously being a damn good action movie. So, I went back and watched Spaced, which was a fantastic sitcom, filled with clever references to all sorts of things that the creators clearly loved. So it only makes sense that I watch Shaun of the Dead, no matter how little I know about zombies.

So with Shaun of the Dead, we get Simon playing Shaun, who is basically Tim from Spaced, a lovable slacker who goes to the pub every night. His girlfriend is getting tired of his lovable slackerosity, as girlfriends tend to do in these kinds of movies, and is especially sick of his fat slob best friend played by Nick Frost. Eventually, she breaks up with him, and then zombies show up, proving once and for all that the best cure for any relationship troubles is hordes of the living dead.

This is a fantastic action movie apart from being a fantastic parody of a doubtlessly fantastic genre I know absolutely nothing about. I bet there were all sorts of incredibly clever references to the films of George Romero, or other Zombie things. Unfortunately, I haven't got a clue what any of those are. What I do know is that the script is very well thought out, and there are all sorts of moments of subtle foreshadowing that almost always pays off brilliantly. Almost everything that happens before the zombie hordes has a payoff later in the film. Stuff like a jukebox suddenly starting up with a sad song during an emotional moment eventually leads to the frankly brilliant Queen-based zombie beating sequence. The clever little callbacks reward viewers for paying attention, and strengthen the already great jokes.

More than being a great movie, more than being funny and clever and constantly entertaining, more than providing lots of great action and thrills and whatnot, Shaun of the Dead convinces me that maybe there's something to these zombie movies that I've managed to avoid all my life. But then again, could they be as good as this? I'm still not sold on the gore, and I probably wouldn't have liked it nearly as much if it wasn't so hilarious on top of being action packed and whatnot. Regardless, I imagine that I'm going to have to see a George Romero movie now. Edgar and Simon, you've sold me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Confession: Today's Movie at Random wasn't at random. In fact, I foolishly purchased it on impulse, and I'll probably buy it AGAIN on Blu Ray. The really sad thing is, I hadn't even seen it before I bought it, but then again I knew I'd probably like it. Why? It's a Bond film, I can't resist them.

A little bit of the origin story of this little project. Once upon a time, specifically the year before the release of the last Bond film, I had decided to watch all the Bond films in order, and post my impressions of them, on a Livejournal of all things. This is what got me hooked on talking far too much about movies. I actually managed to watch them all, though the series was abruptly halted after the last Sean Connery one due to various factors, including a big move and a flighty connection. Some were good, some really weren't, but even the really terrible ones (The Man With the Golden Gun, Die Another Day) I still treasure.

So, why do I like this series so much? Part of the reason has to be my love of action movies and car chases. A well done fight scene or car chase is more entertaining and difficult to execute than pretty much anything else. Do it wrong, and they can be a headache, but do it right they can be tense, gripping, exhilarating and even very pretty.

Just being a consistent action series doesn't really explain my love of the series though, there's something else. I like, more than anything, about how it's about a world governed by people with wealth and taste. Bond himself makes frequent reference to fine drink, clothes, and cigars. The villains' lairs are designed both to take over the world, but look really cool and modern, designed as much by modern interior decorators as the most evil engineers. Yes, the dastardly plans are often nonsensical, and everyone has an alarming tendency to over explain themselves, and nobody thinks that they should kill Bond right away, but that doesn't matter.

So, then Quantum of Solace, the newest one. Well, in an attempt to be topical, we've got a story based on the environment, with a villain named Dominic Greene just in case you didn't get it. More importantly, however, James and his new lady friend Camille Montes are out for revenge against people who killed their loved ones, and Greene is the connection to the people they personally want to kill. Plus, there's the new supervillain club, Quantum-because-some-other-guy-owns-the-trademark-to-SPECTRE, and governments making friends with known jerks to serve their own ends. This all sounds a lot more complicated than it is, because it's pretty much there to give an excuse for more action scenes.

Luckily, they're good action scenes, even though some use a lot of CG. I did prefer the lack of CG in Casino Royale, I'll admit, but the action here is well edited and the CG actually is pretty smoothly integrated. One of the great things is that there are often action scenes and another sequence edited in which comments on and enhances the action. The absolute best of these is Bond and his girl simultaneously in the final battle against the primary villains. It even has callbacks to previous films, one of which is actually much cleverer than the entire plot (a girl covered in oil posed like the Goldfinger girl).

It's also nice to see the film continuing trends set by Casino Royale, which was arguably the best film in the series. Daniel Craig's Serious Bond is a bit more believable than the former, less serious Bonds, and I like how he's becoming a character rather than a source of bullets and wisecracks. More importantly, the female characters are finally beginning to become real people, rather than some breasts that need to be saved. For a series that can be accused of objectifying women, it's interesting to note that the worst entries are the ones where the women aren't very compelling characters, and who can't really handle themselves without a man around (See again, Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day). Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko, might even be more capable than Bond, if less experienced in the killing arts. She knows how to manipulate the men around her, and if she's reckless in her quest for revenge, at least she has a pretty good reason to be. It isn't very often that Bond throws a hitch in the girl's grand plans. It's also a rare instance where Bond and his female friend actually need each other to achieve their distinct goals, and where they don't leap into bed together. Plus, I liked how her revenge informs Bond's decisions later on, and allows for some growth in his character.

The best female character though has to be M. Judi Dench - or rather, the writers realizing that they have Judi Dench in the role and she's a pretty great actor - transformed M from a man in a chair who gives the order to an active participant in the adventures. Her struggles with her wayward agent, and conflict about whether or not she should trust him or throw him to the wolves are probably the most believable moments of the movie. M is somewhere between boss and parent here, with Dench allowing her character some vulnerability beneath the hardass she has to be to maintain respect.

Since this is a Bond film, I feel the need to note the song, and this one isn't great. I suppose it's well composed, but there's the sticking problem of Alicia Keys' voice. I know, she's a famous pop star or whatever, but she doesn't have the range or power for the song. She sounds very thin on the high notes, and kind of weak compared to Jack White, who's also on the song. It's not very often where I find a voice conspicuously ill-matched to material, but here she sounded like she was picked out at random at an American Idol audition. Maybe she's better in her own material, so I don't want to be too mean to Alicia, but she almost ruined the song. That said it's not the worst song, it doesn't even approach The Man With The Golden Gun or Die Another Day.

There's also the matter of product placement, the problem being that there is a lot of it. There always has been, and I suppose at this point I shouldn't be bothered by it, but when a character shows up in a Ford Ka, which is a fairly dull, but recently introduced compact car, you know the branding has run amok. If she has to drive a Ford, give her something cool! Sony gets in there too, giving Bond a phone made out of lies. The interface works way too smoothly, and is a bit too obviously fake. Sure, the secret service probably has better phones than mere mortals, but can't they make the GUI even a little similar to real phones?

I admit that the plot was weak, and that it was just as much about clever editing as it was about the silly green storyline that was mentioned on occasion. But then again, I am a fan of clever editing, and I'm a fan of this film. Not the best in the series by any means, and I preferred Casino Royale with its story over this with its flimsy narrative between action scenes, but I liked it. It proves again that nobody can do explosions like the Bond series, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Apocalypse Now: Theatrical Cut.

It's well known how difficult the shoot of Apocalypse Now, and Francis Ford Coppola's descent into insanity during it is well documented. So Apocalypse Now being clearly the work of a madman is almost a given. Don't assume that is an insult, the film is about madness and insanity, so who better than make a film about madness than someone who's going insane?

The short story - though being 157 minutes, it isn't actually a very short story - is that Martin Sheen is in the army, and is sent to kill Marlon Brando. On the way, he encounters a number of steadily less sane events and people, which somewhat prepares him for what he has to do in the end, though I suppose each event makes him that little bit more crazy. Of course, I'm skipping a lot, because I don't like plot synopses.

In essence, this is a lengthy criticism of the Vietnam war, and war in general, focused more on the mental costs of it rather than being especially political. Nobody seems to know why they fight, they just do it, and will continue to do it until they're killed themselves. They do increasingly awful things for no clear purpose other than to do them, forgetting about their humanity in the process. They become paranoid, delusional, and broken.

So, it's good then. The imagery is a strange combination of beauty and horror, the music is amazing and it probably is at least part of the reason people still care about the Doors. It's even surprisingly popular for a film that is quite disturbing, with lines and scenes being parodied and referenced pretty much everywhere.

This is a very personal project, a portrait of the mind of Francis Ford Coppola as he went steadily more insane. Even insane, he knows how to make an amazing film, with stunning imagery and a compelling story. Maybe more great directors should go to the Philippines and lose their minds if this is what results.

(I admit this is not my best entry ever. I'm in the middle of looking for a place to live, so I'm slightly distracted. Next entry will probably be better!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tomorrow We Move

Sometimes in a movie, there's a scene where you know that you've made a massive mistake, and the film is going to be an unbearable waste of time. So, several minutes into Tomorrow We Move, when a character has a tearful monologue about how her deceased husband loved chicken, I knew this was going to be a long haul. At fifteen minutes, I was already sick of the characters and their annoying problems. I didn't turn the movie off though, as much as I wanted to. No, I kept watching, for you, my loyal readers.

It's French, and I think it's supposed to be a comedy. There's a scene where a man talks about an apartment, and he phrases it so he could be talking about himself! Oh, that's comedy! It's about a woman whose mother (I can't be bothered to look up their names) has moved in with her. She then meets an old man (mentioned above) who shows her the aforementioned apartment, which apparently smells bad. Then a bunch of other wacky characters show up at an apartment showing. Hijinx fail to ensue.

Honestly, the first rule of good storytelling is that people have to care about the characters, and you have to care about their problems. In this, the problems were minor, and the characters uninteresting. But the movie kept happening anyway, plodding through its dull story and apparently attempting to be funny, without actually being all that amusing.

And then, just when you think it can't get any worse, it piles on the noise. Music is playing constantly, often under the dialog. Then everyone argues and shouts or something else discordant happens. It's like the film was a challenge, like the director said "yeah, you think this thing is grating now, wait until you see what ELSE I can do!"

It's grating, and it thinks it's funny when it really isn't. You don't want to watch it, and the only reason I did was for the sake of my internet critic cred. So, are there any high points? Well, the lead actress is fairly charming in spite of the void of a character she's portraying. I can see her being very good in a better film. Oh, and I accidentally set it to speed up slightly at one point, and that made it end sooner.

Yeah, the movie isn't very good, and you shouldn't watch it. Truth be told, I shouldn't have watched it either, but I did. Oh, the trials of being an internet film critic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Donnie Darko (and a little bit of Southland Tales)

It's funny how a little restraint and a bit of grounding can make the difference between a fantastic cult success and something so utterly insane that nobody could really get behind it. Take Donnie Darko, for instance, and the second film its writer/director made, Southland Tales. I saw Southland first, and it was so completely out there and gleefully nuts that I couldn't help but be in awe of it. Of course, I have a high tolerance for amusing and creative lunacy, so I liked it, but I'm not going to pretend that the narrative was even remotely sensical.

Donnie Darko, however, shares a lot with Southland Tales, and people love it. Hell, even I quite like it, and it's not because of my love of the crazy. The interesting thing is, they both share stories which place a great deal of emphasis on time travel, time loops, and the end of the world. Hell, they even have strange song and dance sequences for some reason. The difference is, of course, that the world of Donnie Darko is inhabited by recognizably human characters, whereas Southland is narrated by Justin Timberlake in a gun turret, and is focused on a particularly jittery version of The Rock.

Take the titular character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and his freaky eyebrows. He's a fairly typical troubled kid, a character that a huge segment of the population can probably relate to. He's misunderstood, just like they are! He's pretty obviously smarter than most of the people around him, just like they are! He is clearly special and important, just like they are! He speaks with a gigantic imaginary bunny rabbit who tells him to burn things, just like they do! I think the typical trouble kid is a huge part of the cult appeal, since he is a fairly recognizable character, and just like every misunderstood kid in the world to some degree.

Just being a troubled teen might endear him to young audiences, but the real appeal is that most of the other characters are pretty typical as well. His parents, played by Holmes Osborne and President of the Twelve Colonies Laura Roslin, aren't made out to be villains or the reason why he's so messed up. They're just normal parents, trying their best and clearly in love with each other. I've seen a few cases of parents being portrayed as some sort of strange evil that's stopping the kids from being themselves, but the Darkos could be any happily married couple. Yeah, their son isn't perfect, but nobody his age is, and they're at least trying.

His sisters (one of whom is played by Jake's real sister Maggie Gyllenhaal) are normal too, in fact, the entire family is quite normal. Maybe not perfect, but quite natural and it's easy to see elements of any family in there. The characters would probably work in any story, but here we get a tale filled with strange happenings, imaginary rabbits and all manner of inexplicable events. The normality of the family allows the abnormal to be that much more compelling.

And that reality is why Donnie Darko is a well regarded movie, while Southland Tales is not. Honestly, their stories are several midgets away from being the same, but Donnie Darko combines the believable with the unbelievable, the sane with the insane, and the normal with the nutty. By abandoning the more banal, Southland divorces itself from reality and is much harder to see the appeal of. It's nice to see that good characters really make all the difference.

Just so everyone knows, updates are coming Tuesdays and FRIDAYS now, because after a few months I found that Thursday was just too close to Tuesday, making the second entry a mad rush more often than not, and then it's a long wait until the next one. If I don't like Fridays I might switch it again, but it should be fine for now. I had originally planned on doing Tuesday and Thursday because NOBODY updates on those days. I sort of understand why that is now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

4 for Texas

Here's a little lesson about tone.

The tone of a picture should, ideally, suit the story you're telling. For example, if you're telling a story centered around several misunderstandings causing problems, ideally it should be comedic. On the other hand, if you're telling a story with a high body count revolving around the theft of a large amount of money and the devious schemes to get it back, it probably shouldn't be at least moderately serious. Not saying that an action movie should be all frowns and angry eyes - I love the James Bond series, so if I said that I would be marked out as a hypocrite - but when people are shooting each other, if they're clearly enjoying themselves, they will seem somewhat deranged. Even Roger Moore at his most campy had the good sense to frown when shooting a man in the face.

So when Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra are grinning like idiots and not really reacting when everyone around them is gunned down, they don't seem like lovable outlaws, but instead psychopaths. The most glaring example is Dean Martin joking merrily with a recently deadified stagecoach passenger. Wouldn't a normal person be at least a bit bothered? A man just died here, I'm not expecting a heavy emotional sequence, but could we have a moment of minor distress maybe? Something?

This movie is ostensibly about two men - Sinatra and Martin - fighting over the fortune they found in the stagecoach. They're scheming to get money out of each other, with the help of a bunch of wacky characters who orbit around them. Hell, the Three Stooges make a cameo, so this is clearly a wacky comedy, right? It's certainly played like a wacky comedy, with lots of quips, wacky setpieces, and a score designed to underscore amusing moments.

It's really about a pair of men who fit the clinical definition of psychopathy scheming and devising ways to screw each other out of money that never belonged to them in the first place. They're murderers, thieves, and con men, indifferent to the lives ruined and ended in the wake of their schemes. They show no indication of emotion or empathy, just greed and ambition. It's a significantly more disturbing movie than it would be if they would have toned down the lightheartedness.

I wonder if it's intentional, maybe a touch subversive. In spite of the claims in the first lines, there aren't any good guys. The only thing about the bad guy that makes him different is that he's not especially charming, and weirdly probably less psycho than the two heroes. Don't think too hard, and it's a silly comedy, but I'm one to think too hard, so I'm a bit disturbed by it. If you're like me, you might be too.

(In a strange side note, I am writing this while listening to Dean Martin. Funny how things turn out.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

21 Grams

Imagine, for a moment, that you've just written a script. It's going to be made into a movie starring Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts. That's a pretty exciting proposition, but on the way to the script meeting, you drop it and all the papers are scattered around. Do you, a) carefully reconstruct the script in the proper running order, maintaining some sort of sensible continuity, or b) just shove it all together not paying too much mind to how it's all fitting together, hoping that you can pass it off as some sort of innovative non-linear story.

If you selected b, congratulations, you're Guillermo Arriaga, and that script got you nominated for a bunch of awards.

I'm not being fair, but I couldn't help but feel that the movie begins in a disorganized jumble. Scenes happen without any clear indication of how they relate to the other scenes, or how they could possibly fit into a greater narrative framework. As soon as you get a glimmer of what's going on, the scene changes and there's no clear indication how you got where you are. Sean Penn flits randomly between healthy and sick, Naomi Watts and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Benicio del Toro is in jail, and then not in jail, and then he's got a different haircut. There is no indication of where the present is, and the discordant jumble constantly keeps you guessing at the relation of all the characters.

So, you might expect that I'd hate it. I didn't like the unnecessary non-linearity of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, for example. I've made it clear that gimmickry doesn't fly with me if I don't think it serves the story. Given just how random the scene order seems at first, you might expect me to hate this movie almost at principle. Here's the thing though, this is a gimmick that actually works, it's not just there to show off how clever the filmmakers are.

The important thing is that since you don't know the chronology, you don't know how anyone knows each other, so you begin to wonder how everyone relates to each other. It's a mystery whether or not Naomi Watts and Sean Penn know each other in the present, or the future, and their relationship calls into question the source of his illness. Some scenes make you wonder if he's part of the reason Benicio del Toro went to jail and found Jesus. Or, it makes you wonder if del Toro will soon lose Jesus. It makes a mystery out of a story which might not work very well if it was told in a conventional manner. In short, the gimmick makes the film a lot more interesting than it would be otherwise.

I'm deliberately avoiding details of the story, I can see the gimmick getting old on repeat viewings when you know what's going to happen. But if that's the case, then just wait until the second hour, when the film begins to gel into something a bit more conventionally told, but no less intriguing. All of the characters are mired in internal conflicts, and it becomes about the external conflicts and problems those lead to. It's a big shared existential crisis, mostly stemming from a moment that is never on screen but is always present once you learn of it.

I could see this being off putting at first. It doesn't start to make sense for a while, and the deliberately lo-fi filming style with high grain and constant handheld camerawork doesn't lend itself to accessibility. Stick with it, and you'll find yourself hooked, curious about how the apparent mess will eventually resolve itself. Once you're hooked, you'll discover a great story told in a very compelling way, and I'm not sure about you, but that's what I watch movies for.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mister Lonely

I knew I had to see this movie because it was what inspired Jason Pierce of Spiritualized to finally finish Songs in A&E, which was without question my favorite album of 2008. Already, without viewing a frame, I knew this movie was important to me. I knew little about the plot, and what little I knew about the director kind of frightened me. Here was a guy whose most famous script was just horny teenagers doing drugs and each other. He made a film following the Dogme 95 manifesto, which I might get a chance to rail against but it's pretty much the opposite of what makes a good movie. But there was that connection to that amazing album that I absolutely adored. I knew that there was a very good chance I wouldn't like it, but I had to see it. And then, I viewed a frame, and it showed a Michael Jackson impersonator riding a tiny motorcycle around with a stuffed monkey attached to it.


The movie is about that Michael Jackson impersonator, feeling alienated yet funky in Paris. One day, he is entertaining some people in a senior's home (part of which involves telling them they don't have to die), and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator shows up. She catches his eye, since she's hot, and tells him all about a magical utopia for celebrity impersonators where she lives, and how he should come too. There he meets a variety of other celebrity impersonators, most important being Marilyn's husband Charlie Chapman and Abe fucking Lincoln, my personal favorite. Since a movie needs a story, it's eventually revealed that the idyllic fake celebrity paradise has some very big problems that not even the sweariest Abe Lincoln can solve. Also, nuns jump out of airplanes.

This is a film of heartbreaking, tranquil beauty. Part of that is the way it's filmed, heavy on the slow motion and long, often unbroken scenes of people playing or talking to themselves or other beautiful moments of nothing. Part of that is the spacey score, a style familiar to any Spiritualized fan (and I am a huge, HUGE Spiritualized fan). It's simply a beautiful score matched to similarly beautiful images, hinting at the tragic nature of the film but never going to outright state it.

The movie starts as something surreal and otherworldly, but like the nuns in the airplane, it all comes down slowly as the human flaws in the characters eventually reveal themselves and pull the ideal world down around them. The primary example of this is Charlie Chapman, whose jealousy of Michael Jackson drives him to mistrust and mistreat his wife. One of the best scenes in the movie is when he allows her to fall asleep and get sunburn, and then intimately touches her, knowing that whatever he touches will be in pain. It's a scene of astonishing cruelty, but it's also subtle and quiet, laying out themes and greater meaning without calling too much attention to it.

It's about people becoming themselves through pretending to be someone else. The commune where the impersonators live is a place of wonder and imagination, but steadily events happen are a reminder of how reality often intrudes on that wonder. There's some obvious symbolism in them all being impersonators, and there's always a feeling that the wonder that they feel cannot last, and they'll have to eventually come back to reality and face themselves. But, those brief moments when you can share in their fantastic, dream-like state, it's not so bad that reality is far away, and you can feel close to all of the characters and their basically good nature. It's sad not simply because of the events, but because there's a certain innocence lost, and you know the characters can no longer live their lives hidden away and wearing their masks. Their world is a nice place to be, but the film has to have it end so we know we can't stay there either.

Other reviewers have gone and called it dull, and I can kind of see their point. There are long passages where nothing much happens, and scenes which seem to exist simply because they amused the director (a great example of this is a young kid going on about breasts, or a sequence about the pope needing a bath). If you can't get into the film, you're going to wonder what the point of all the meandering is. If you can, however, you don't mind so much because it's all a part of the little fantasy world Korine has created. The film invites you in, and if you don't want to take its hand and go along for the ride, you're going to hate it and it's odd tangents.

Even if the film has its flaws, there are moments where even the hardened cynic can appreciate the quality of film-making going on. Apart from the aforementioned sunburn scene, there's another lit entirely with flashlights, where you can only see the reactions on the face of the people who matter. I can't say much more due to the content being a fairly major plot twist, but it's a case of light and shadow being used to great effect to tell a complete story. Even the people who don't like it can admit there are moments of beauty in there, and whether or not they're worth the whole depends on how much you embrace the entire vision.

It's odd that I am in a position where I adore a movie but am not sure I could, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone else. If you give yourself to it, it can be stunning, touching, heartbreaking and tragic. If you don't, you might find yourself wondering where it's going and why you're bothering. I was hooked, and I hope other people are too, but I can't guarantee it. There is little doubt that you won't see much else quite like it in a long time, so if you're looking for something different and can embrace something strange and wonderful like this, it's worth the effort.

Also, there is a scene where a nun jumps out of an airplane on a bicycle.

(Disregarding my random time rule because seriously this is an awesome image.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Maltese Falcon

Hot on the heels of Return of the Jedi, here's another movie that you've probably seen even if you haven't seen it. How many times has a Humphrey Bogart character showed up in a movie, talking in that distinctive manner? How many dames have shown up at a private detective's office, clearly up to no good? How many times have venetian blinds shown up prominently in black and white movies? I won't claim to be an expert on film noir - I haven't seen this movie until now, so that much is very obvious - but the performances and style are pretty clearly influential.

So what is it that makes the Maltese Falcon a classic? Well, when we start, it's not immediately obvious. Mary Astor appears Humphrey Bogart's detective agency, saying that her sister has been kidnapped, or at least persuaded to run away with a man, and she wants her found. Bogart's slightly creepy partner is more than willing to shadow him, because he wants to get into Mary Astor's...skirt. It seems like a pretty simple case, and then Bogart's partner gets shot. At this point, we know that there's something bigger going on. Then creepy, creepy Peter Lorre shows up. Then you REALLY know this shit just got real.

The trouble with mysteries is you really don't want to give up very much of the storyline, because the mystery is part of what draws you in. This is especially true of the Maltese Falcon, since it thrives on the audience, and the characters, not completely knowing what's going on. From the moment the first shots are fired, you know that there's something going on that you're not being told, and the desire of you and all the characters to find out the full story drives the story.

The great thing about this film is that you can never quite tell anyone's motivations until around the last scene. Yes, you can tell Peter Lorre is up to no good - he's Peter Lorre - but the lead characters are deliciously morally ambiguous. Is Bogart a greedy lech, is he up to no good, or is he secretly a good guy? Is Mary Astor really in love with him, or using him to get herself out of a bind? You can never quite tell if characters are telling the truth, and can never completely trust anyone on the screen.

The great part is, in spite of not being able to trust the characters, you can't help but like them. Bogart manages to be witty, clever, and charming, even as you can sense that his character is about 75% asshole. You can't just help but like the guy, yeah he's banging at least 2/3rds of the female cast and seems driven mostly by cash, but hell, he's so interesting to watch and has an obvious good side, so you can forgive his foibles. Astor is a bit more whiny, and her lies are often so obvious you wonder why Bogart bothers, but the lies make her more interesting to watch, and the mystery underneath them keeps you interested.

Yeah, the Maltese Falcon is a classic, a lesson in how to tell a mystery. It's one of those movies that should be required viewing for anyone who wants to make a film. It's more than just that though, that it has stood up until now even after being widely copied and aging 70 years says a lot about just how good it is. No matter how much time passes and how many films come and go, it's stuff like this that will stick around forever. A movie that's just good, if good in a way that amateur film critics on the internet have great trouble thinking up a satisfactory conclusion when they write about it.