Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas DVD Movies with an Edge

Want yuletide tips for non-traditional Christmastime DVD rentals?  For classic films in which cops work as Santa Claus is coming to town, there's 1947's Lady in the Lake.  Robert Montgomery starred as private eye Phillip Marlowe dealing with Christmas carols and a killer.  There's 1997's excellent L.A. Confidential.  Russell Crowe as a bad-ass cop rips down an abusive husband's Christmas decorations before the LAPD gets involved with a big, bloody Hollywood murder mystery.  Crowe co-starred with Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger.  The bigger mystery was how she was the only one in cast who wound up getting an Oscar nomination for it.

I've got a Christmastime crime story with a solid script, sophisticated laughs, action and two totally cool characters leading the action.  The main one is a tough, no-nonsense, well-dressed and well-respected openly gay detective.  He can punch out a criminal, put handcuffs on him and quote Bette Davis from All About Eve at the same time.  Val Kilmer plays Perry the detective.  Gay Perry is out, loud and proud.  Robert Downey Jr. plays the smalltime hetero thief who partners up and becomes good buddies with Perry.  Together, they solve a Hollywood murder mystery.  And they solve it with style.

Warner Bros. should have given this film a bigger publicity push than it did.  It's a jazzy fun, a cleverly written crime story featuring two actors in fine form.  The 2005 movie was written and directed by Shane Black, the man who wrote the Lethal Weapon screenplay.  With Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he raised the stakes on the cop buddy movie genre and gave us something we rarely see in a major studio Hollywood release.  One buddy was gay, the other was straight.  And the hero, if you will, is the gay guy.  He's the detective.  He's the shrewd veteran detective.  You need him to save your life and solve the murder mystery.  The straight guy was the sidekick, in a way.  Rarely do we see crime/action movies in which the gay male character is the hero, the guardian of the law, the one society needs.  He wasn't the victim, the scared one or the social deviant.  Michelle Monaghan was yummy as a struggling actress and the love interest for Downey.                                                                          
There was snappy chemistry between Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang should've been a bigger hit -- and there should've been a sequel.  It was great to see a film acknowledge the straight/gay male friendship.  Val Kilmer was at his best here.

"There must be more money."  The London house seems to whisper this greedy declaration at night.  The sweet little boy who lives in the house hears the whispers and feels it's his duty to do something about it.  It's his duty to get more money for his vain, irresponsible mother.  He'll make her happy by picking winners at the racetrack.  He'll pick them with the help of psychic messages, of sorts, from the toy horse he got for Christmas.
The Rocking Horse Winner is a 1949 British drama based on a story by D. H. Lawrence.  Like the new musical adventure, Disney's Into The Woods, this film deals with parent/child relationship and someone or something that seems to be cursed.  The movie opens with what looks like the perfect image of a snow-covered neighborhood at Christmas, like a scene on display in a department store window.  The inside of the big house is pleasant but shadows of the balustrades make you think of prison bars.  Young Paul is in a domestic prison.  His upscale parents give off the image of privilege but they're really flat broke.  And neither seeks employment to fix the problem.  Especially the mother.  She's a material girl.  A shopaholic.  Paul is imprisoned by their grown-up drama.  The only person who pays attention to him and really makes him smile is Bassett, the loving and paternal handyman played by John Mills.

The little boy gets a hobby horse for Christmas.  The horse has a slight wild look about it.  He rides the horse.  The faster he rides it (with an almost fetish-like frenzy), the more he gets messages on what horses will win at the racetrack.  He gives the handyman the names, the handyman plays those horses at the track, they win and he brings the money back to Paul.  Paul gives the money to his parents and gets them out of debt.  But then they want even more money for luxuries.  "There must be more money," his mother incessantly complains.  Paul sacrifices his childhood -- and emotional health -- to make his parents happy.  What will happen to him?  Will the parents ever really see that their child is in distress?  Watch this tense psychological drama and find out.

John Howard Davies was a fine juvenile actor in Great Britain and he's brilliant as Paul.  His long, somber face and slim frame made him the perfect choice to play 1948's Oliver Twist.  He had the gift for drama.  In his adult years, he gave us laughs.  He became a TV director in British TV.  He directed Monty Python's Flying Circus.  He became a highly respected TV producer who gave us Fawlty Towers, Mr. Bean, and The Benny Hill Show.

Sundays and Cybele is a 1962 French movie that deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  The story ends at Christmastime.  Handsome German actor Hardy Kruger played the Vietnam war pilot in therapy.  A child was killed in his Vietnam bombing mission.  He's now a civilian, back in France and in therapy because he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.  The war vet goes through life a shadow of his former self.  He's like a big sad frame whose spirit has withered.  War did that to him.
He sees a sweet young girl about to be cruelly abandoned by a parent.  He comes to her rescue.  Her gentleness and kindness come to his.  Patricia Gozzi, with a lovely poem of a face, is radiant as the girl who resurrects his spirit more than therapy has been able to do.  She's Cybéle.  She heals his broken heart.  He is her friend and protector.

How does society view this tender friendship between the young girl and the Vietnam war vet?  Will society allow them to find their perfect Christmas tree?  Patricia Gozzi walked away from acting after only about three more movies after this stellar performance.                  
Her next film release was 1965's Rapture for 20th Century Fox.  It starred Dean Stockwell and Melvyn Douglas.  In it, she showed that her extraordinary work in Sundays and Cybele was no fluke.  She had acting talent.  She had screen charisma.  But, apparently, the French performer found happiness in married life.  If you see this subtitled film, you'll see that her performance was like a Christmas gift in itself.  Sundays and Cybele is a remarkable plea for kindness and understanding.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.  Enjoy the movies.

1 comment:

  1. Kevin Spacey is in another favorite of mine: THE REF. Love to watch it each year.


A Royal Weddding, a Touch of Sidney Poitier

A lovely couple, a lovely ceremony and a most beautiful bride.  I was wide awake well before the crack of dawn to watch live network news co...