21 Days (1940) ***1/2 First Viewing
It’s either the best or it’s the worst
and since I don’t have to choose
I guess I won’t and I know this ain’t no way to treat a guest
But why don’t you grab your old lady by the feet
and just lay her out in the darkest street
and by morning, she’s just another hit and run.
You know, some people got no choice
and they can never find a voice
to talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be
why they follow it, you know, it’s called bad luck.
—Lou Reed, Street Hassle
I know that most people who see the title of this review and the release date of the film will just skip the whole affair. Old black and white movies are boring. I get that, but I’m not writing the reviews as a consumer guide, a pro or con on whether to see it, but as a reaction to the movie itself, it’s themes and what comes into my mind as I watch it. In some ways, the movie is a conduit for a more personal blog post.
And the first thought I had in this film were the Lou Reed lyrics above. The lyrics are pretty grim. Look at the movie poster, it looks like a romantic film. But it’s not, mostly.
Lawrence Olivier plays a young man who accidentially kills the newly discovered husband of his girlfriend, Vivien Leigh (That’s Miss Scarlett O’Hara to you). He enlists the aid of his brother, a lawyer on his way to being a judge. While the set-up is noir lite, the execution and ending plays out differently. We’re encouraged to root for Oliver as a straight-up protagonist, albeit riddled with guilt. It’s a zippy (71 minutes) little film that asks a lot of interesting moral questions. Do we really need to pay for our failings? Is it okay to be charged with one crime, but pay for another? Does love, of a girl or a brother, mitigate and soften ones crime? Can intentions be a worthy substitue for action? And the perennial question, if you could get away with murder, would you and to what point would ignore or aid the man wrongfully charged with the crime you committed? Fun stuff.
In some ways the movie reminded me of the first season of The Killing, the way one death can affect so many people and the way self preservation, denial, honor, suffering and love collide. The film seems to make the case that a life filled with daily distractions bound by love IS a good moral choice.
I’ve been dreading some of the upcoming Criterion Collection films, but if they’re as lean as this one, I’ll be okay. I liked this one and if you’re a fan of crime/courtroom dramas, you may as well. The dialog is typically 1940’s quick and I totally didn’t guess the ending. Some may call the ending a bit of a cheat, but not me, I was expecting noir.
Things I Learned From 21 Days:
—If I kill a man, don’t just leave him out in an alley. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
—If I kill a man, burn all evidence and if my brother’s a high muckity-muck lawyer, for goodness sake LISTEN to him. A man’s lack of conscience is a virtue in a crime. (See Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction)
—A long boat ride and a carnival is a good way to take your mind off a man’s wrongly charged murder trial.
—Newspapers in the ’40’s were faster at delivering the news than today’s internet.
—Foreigners living in 1940’s London had seriously awesome moustaches.
Bonus Mini Review: Prometheus (2012) **** First Viewing
Early on in Prometheus, the Sigourney Weaver stand-in character, Noomi Rapace, says about man’s creator, “I don’t know, but I choose to believe.” It’s so important it’s said twice. If there’s ever been a phrase that’s led to more bloodshed, upheaval and change, I can’t think of it.
Prometeus’ DNA is two-thirds the original Alien with a spirituality glaze. And really, for the first two-thirds of the film, the haunted-house-in-space Alien part works, even if some of the characters make some stoopid choices against their own self-preservation. I don’t remember Ripley and crew being this dumb. The movie falls down when it tries to explore it’s own big questions.
By trying to be smart, yet providing some dumb answers, the movie loses it’s soul and many of the characters become just more pawn pieces in service of The Big Question. Plus I counted two giant space movie cliches that should never be in any movie ever again. No cliche spoilers here, but damn, stop pretending to be smart and chase down and explore the smart questions you pose. Or don’t dwell on them and be an Alien movie.
That said, you should see Prometheus. In a theater. In 3-D. It’s a big, hyper-detailed, super clean film. Well edited, a decent pace, and interesting, if sterile visuals. First time at a movie, the 3-D didn’t bug me like I was a one-eyed guy deciphering a Stereo Eye drawing. Although, that said, I still had a twenty minute quiet-time session to heal my burned-out corneas after the film.
I prefer the messiness of the original Alien (really the only movie it could and demands to be compared to), both in design and character flaws, but the execution, detail and production of Prometheus deserve a big screen viewing.
Things I learned from Prometheus:
—In Dungeons and Dragons parlance, Androids would be ‘Chaotic Neutral.’
—Also, Androids do not have souls. Oh wait, that’s been said in every single piece of science fiction ever written.
—When will we learn to not fully trust Androids?
—Michael Fassbender should be the Peter O’Toole role in the remake of The Ruling Class or the lead in The Peter O’Toole story.
—If it keeps up, Charlize Theron will overtake Tilda Swinton as Queen of The Ice Queens.
—Stringer Bell continues to be Da Man!
—Also, Stringer is a big fan of old white guy rocker, Stephen Stills.
—Weyland Industries logo is based on an old Van Halen T-Shirt.
—In the future, health care still sucks for women. Hard.
—Good news, no aliens were shot out into space during the making of Prometheus.
—I’m positive writer Damon Lindeloff (Lost) has seen the 1973 German Sci-fi film World on a Wire. Also, the reasons that the Lost finale fell way short are fully on display in Prometheus.
Do It: Cornershop’s Handcreme for a Generation (2002): The Brimful of Asha guys album is solid, fun summer CD that will expire when the weather cools off.
Avoid It: Peanut Butter Doug. He’s the Poochie of peanuts.
The Tweeter: Meatnesia—The ability to forget how meat is raised, processed, packaged and prepared so you can enjoy a hamburger. #newwords
The Facing Book: Ugh, Monday again. Really?!?!?
True Facts: The episode of Fear Factor where contestants drink donkey semen finally airs, not on NBC, but in Denmark this week. True Fact. My concern isn’t why, but how.
Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Bucket of Blood (1959), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), or #500. Aquemini by OUTKAST.