Inception

Inception (2010) PG-13
This futuristic thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio operates on the premise that your mind can be hijacked while you are sleeping and your thoughts can be both stolen or changed by dream invasion. This film earned almost $300 million at the box office to prove how worthy it is, but the film falls flat for me (check out Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics think). Although the special effects are dramatic (and Oscar worthy), the plot is confusing and character development is ignored.

Director Christopher Nolan’s talents are much better displayed in the Batman film The Dark Knight (2008) starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger or in his groundbreaking film Memento (2000) which is told from a backwards point of view.

The Killers

The Killers (1946)
This 1946 film noir starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien is based upon the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name. The first several minutes of the movie closely follows the Hemingway story of two hired killers who come to a small town to kill "the Swede" (Lancaster), but where the story ends, the movie continues. The story provided no explanation as to why anyone wants the Swede to be killed, nor does it explain who hired the killers.

The movie provides these answers and more as we follow Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance investigator who is curious as to why Swede did not try to escape after being warned about the killers. Through a series of flashbacks, Swede's story is told by a host of characters.

This movie should be on every "film noir" fan's "A" list. It's a great story with fine acting. The Killers received four Academy Award nominations and probably deserved more. One of the musical themes was subsequently "borrowed" by the television show Dragnet.

In addition, I would like to say a few words about Indian Prairie's copy of the The Killers, which contains two DVDs. The second DVD contains the 1964 version of The Killers starring Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager, John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson. This version is not really a remake of the 1946 movie but rather a telling of the story in a different way. In fact, the 1964 version is not film noir at all as it was made for television. It is an excellent film and worth watching as well.

There are also loads of special features including a reading of the actual Hemingway story, a discussion of the making of the films, a discussion of film noir, and much more.

The Town

The Town (2010) R
The official tagline for this film: Welcome to the Bank Robbery Capital of America.

Using a strong Boston accent that he first embraced in Good Will Hunting (1997), Ben Affleck directed and co-wrote this bank robbery drama that he stars in with Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker - 2009). The FBI agent tracking down the robbers is Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and female love interests are played by Blake Lively of TV’s Gossip Girl and Rebecca Hall. More subplots involve struggles for power, the desire to make a better life, and the importance of family, loyalty and friendship.

The Town gets a high rating of 94% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

Union Station

Union Station (1950)
In this film noir, secretary Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) grows suspicious of two men boarding her train. She sees that one of them is carrying a concealed pistol and is referred to Lt. William Calhoun (William Holden), head of the Union Station police. Although initially skeptical, Lt. Calhoun soon discovers that the two men have kidnapped Lorna Murchison, the blind daughter of Joyce's wealthy employer, and are holding Lorna ransom for $100,000. How he goes about pursuing the kidnappers makes for one entertaining movie.

Both William Holden and Lyle Bettger give great performances. During his career, William Holden won an Academy Award and was nominated on two other occasions. One of those nominations came for his performance in Sunset Boulevard (also 1950), which may explain why he was not nominated for Union Station.

Lyle Bettger, who often played villains, plays one of the kidnappers. I don't think he ever gave a better performance. He was one of the nastiest villains you'll ever see in a 1950s film.

The film has two very exciting chase scenes, both of them on foot. While I am not ordinarily a fan of foot chases, the interesting locations will keep you intrigued. The film contains a shocking police interrogation of one the suspects. Also of interest is that part of the film was shot on location in 1950s Chicago. The musical score is well adapted to the film and helps drive the action.

This movie will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Find out more about the film on TCM.com.

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer (2010) PG-13
Former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (read Tony Blair) is living off the coast of New England and planning to write his memoir with the help of a ghost writer. When the body of his first ghost writer washes up on the shore, a new ghost is hired. The new ghost, a brash writer of pop star bios (played by Ewan McGregor), starts to become suspicious of his predecessor’s death and of curious ties that Lang seems to have to another type of ghost, American spies.

This movie is set on a gray, stormy New England coast and leaves the ghost writer and the viewer with the increasing sense that no one can be trusted. Robert Harris, who wrote the novel (titled The Ghost) on which this movie is based, co-authored the screenplay with director Roman Polanski.

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October (1998) PG
Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin star in this adaptation of Tom Clancy’s bestselling book and they get it right. Many movies based on a book do not succeed. The suspense and tension of the book are intact in this movie. The underwater shots of the giant submarine, the confusion of whom to trust, and more all lead to a blistering but satisfying conclusion. Perk up your summer with a little underwater excitement.

Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning (1947)
This 1947 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott is a fine example of film noir at its best. It is one of Bogart's best and I rank it at almost as good as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

The time of the film is near the end of World War II. Captain "Rip" Murdock (Bogart) is seeking to find out why his army pal Sgt. Johnny Drake has chosen to disappear rather than receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

He trails Johnny to Gulf City USA. When he gets there, he finds that Johnny expected him, but he can find no trace of Johnny. Instead, he finds more mysteries and a very intriguing woman, Coral Chandler (Scott).

Rip falls in love with Coral and the feeling is mutual. The romance between Bogart and Scott is excellent and will remind viewers of the relationship between Bogart and Bacall, and one has to wonder why Lauren Bacall was not in this film.

There are also some historical shots in the film. The actual city is not named but the shots were taken in the late 1940s. If anyone knows the actual city, I'd love to know.

This is tense thriller with plenty of surprises.

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 3 of 3)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 3 of 3)
Our final Graham Greene film is The Third Man. Also check out his other movies available at Indian Prairie.

The Third Man (1949)
An American writer of pulp westerns (Joseph Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to take a job with an old friend, but discovers he has been murdered. Or has he? This classic film noir thriller plays on national loyalties during the Cold War. Orson Welles is prefect as the manipulative Harry Lime, a black market drug dealer and Cotton does a great job as the quintessentially brash American. The underground sewer sequence is extraordinary. The film is scored with a haunting theme by Anton Karas on unaccompanied zither to an eerie effect.

Other Graham Greene films at Indian Prairie:

The Fallen Idol (1948)

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 1 of 3)

Spotlight: Graham Greene (Part 1 of 3)
Over the next week, we'll be highlighting three movies based on Graham Greene novels, plus present a selection of his other movies available at the library. First up is The Quiet American.

The Quiet American (2002) R
Set amidst the communist insurgence of Ho Chi Minh into French-held Indochina, this film is an examination of America's role in the Vietnam conflict, and how it was perceived by the rest of the world. Michael Caine plays the role of a lifetime as the English journalist Thomas Fowler. He is an aging and cynical correspondent based in 1950s Saigon obsessed with his beautiful young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). When she also becomes a romantic object for brash American Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), Fowler becomes both suspicious and jealous of this do-gooder on a medical mission.

Check back on Tuesday for our next Graham Greene movie!

Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock (1954)
This is not a western. It is set in the West, but the time is shortly after World War II. Spencer Tracy plays a one-armed veteran with a final “mission” to perform. He gets off a train at Black Rock, a very small town with a terrible secret, and is confronted with a trio of bad men and one bad woman who are determined to keep their evil secret and willing to kill to do so.

Tracy’s character is emotionally worn out and feeling sorry for himself. He has to cope with an evil Robert Ryan, a sadistic Lee Marvin, a bullying Ernest Borgnine, a cunning Anne Francis, and a drunken and unsympathetic sheriff played by Dean Jagger. The only man willing to help is Walter Brennan, the local doctor, who is also threatened when he tries to help. The other townspeople are slightly sympathetic toward Tracy but are either too apathetic or too afraid to help. Also, Tracy is unarmed, whereas his opponents are not.

The film is mysterious, frightening at times, and thought-provoking. It was nominated for three Oscars, including Spencer Tracy for Best Actor. Although the film didn’t win any Academy Awards, it featured three past winners and two future winners.

I have seen this film many times and I strongly recommend it.

Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)
Movie buffs take note – Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo has recently been reformatted. This newer formatting is so artistic that it adds a new dimension to your experience. Not having seen the movie for many years, I was astounded at the fresh quality. James Stewart and Kim Novak (a Chicago gal) are mysteriously intriguing right to the last frame.

Go to TCM.com for more on the movie -- including a video clip, a trailer, and trivia.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: Season 1

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: Season 1 (2009)
Precious Ramotswe opens a detective agency in Botswana. There, with the help of her eccentric assistant, she solves problems of the heart as well as problems of theft and missing persons.

This HBO series based on the books by Alexander McCall Smith adds some characters and changes things about a few other characters, but the beauty of the African landscape is captured as is the tone of the books and the personality of the characters as portrayed in the books. A few of the later episodes are rather more dramatic than the books, but enjoyable just the same.

A Touch of Frost

A Touch of Frost (1992-Present)
In this ongoing British police procedural, Detective Jack Frost of the Denton police is rough and rumpled and reluctant to follow procedure. But he is compassionate and a good cop.

In each episode, the Denton police deal with a couple of local crimes until Jack comes in and sorts it all out. Find out more about the show on the official website.

Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond (2007) R
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond is set in Sierra Leone in 1999 amid the chaos of Africa in armed conflict. It is an action drama played against the backdrop of political turmoil. The movie is about the illegal trafficking of diamonds in Africa: diamonds are harvested in Sierra Leone, smuggled into Liberia, and from there, sold to the rest of the world. Although it is tricky to make a movie on a controversial issue that is neither do-gooder nor exploitative, in this case the effort is surprisingly successful.

Blood diamonds were so named in the 1990s to call attention to the fact that African diamonds were being smuggled out of countries at war specifically to buy more arms and kill more people.

Weaker moments in the story are overshadowed by the film's willingness to risk disturbing an audience's sense of the world and how it is run. Blood Diamond is very much aware that these are problems beyond an easy resolution, and making a film that understands that is quite an accomplishment.

It really is a good movie, well acted, with Africa playing a wonderful supporting role!

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
The title of this movie put me off of it for years. It is neither a “chick flick” nor a “girly film.” It is one of the best Barbara Stanwyck films ever and probably the best film Van Heflin ever made. It also costars Kirk Douglas in his first film, and oddly enough he plays a lovesick alcoholic wimp, but he does it very well.

This film shows how fear and guilt can twist and destroy a person. Stanwyck is strong, powerful, and successful, but is tied her weak husband due to a terrible incident in their past. She owns and controls a huge factory in Iverstown and with Douglas controls the town and the police. When Heflin returns to Iverstown, he becomes both a threat to Stanwyck and a strong attraction as she believes he may be manipulated to remove her husband.

If you haven’t seen this movie before, try it, and if you have seen it, watch it again as it seems to get better each time I see it.

Join us! This film will be shown at Indian Prairie next Friday – November 6. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. -- movie starts at 7:20.