Blu-Ray Review: Odds Against Tomorrow

Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky (as John O. Killens), Nelson Gidding
Based on a Novel by: William P. McGivern
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Will Kuluva
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: 12


Robert Wise has had a fascinating and hugely successful career. He may not be the household name some of his director contemporaries are, but if you look back at his CV, you’ll see how we cut his teeth as a sound effects editor on some classic mid-thirties films such as two Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicles, The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, as well as John Ford’s The Informer. He then moved up to the role of editor, cutting classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and the great Citizen Kane. After being drafted in by the studio to direct some additional sequences for Orson Welles’ butchered The Magnificent Ambersons, Wise went on to direct his own films. Starting off with B-movies, he proved his worth with classic genre films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Throughout his career he worked on a bizarrely diverse series of films, many of which were immensely successful, from Somebody Up There Likes Me, to West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s interesting that he’s not as highly regarded as you’d think someone with that many hits under his belt would be. He’s not a director with a clear signature style, so perhaps he’s seen more as a director-for-hire than an auteur, but it’s hard to push him aside when he made films as cherished and popular as he did.

Odds Against Tomorrow is another interesting addition to Wise’s CV. Seeing the director tackle the film noir genre, it’s also especially interesting as it tackles issues of race alongside the usual noir/heist movie tropes. Executively produced by and starring the pop-singer/actor Harry Belafonte, it’s clearly a labour of love for the star, who wanted to make something important and powerful (he was very politically active at the time, supporting the Civil Rights Movement and other humanitarian causes later in life). This makes the film a perfect addition to the BFI’s Black Star season, a selection of films celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors.

Would you like to know more…?

Blindspotting: West Side Story and 42nd Street

BlindSpot-WestSideStory6

.

One of the reasons why you may not often hear as much about plot or character when discussing musicals is that they tend to use age old stories at their core. More often than not it’s all about those tunes and performances, so those familiar tales are used to provide a familiar landscape from which to launch the song and dance routines. As I sat down to catch up with a couple of classic musicals with well-worn structures – a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the big city and a backstage look at the lead up to a performance’s premiere with a big break for a young ingenue – I wondered if either of these tales could be given new life via more than just their music and production numbers…While each brought moments of wonderful creativity and sparkling entertainment (in different amounts), the stories were, for the most part, still born.

BlindSpot-42ndStreet2
BlindSpot-WestSideStory2

That’s not enough to dismiss either film though. In particular, West Side Story is a monument to production design and choreography. Just about every shot in the film is packed with colour from mixed pastels to bright primaries to everything in between in just the right combinations. As a series of stills it would make for an incredible photography exhibit. Of course, much of the secret to the film is its motion in the form of Jerome Robbins’ choreography (he’s also credited here as a co-director along with the master of many genres Robert Wise). It feels novel and exciting even 50 years down the road. It’s sharp and quick and powerful – in short, it’s incredibly physical. It’s an expression of the character’s youthful energy and their inability to find a place to put it, and so it ends up working perfectly during the confrontation and fight scenes where the dancing is essentially the fighting itself. If not every tune fully landed with me, the vast majority did and mostly kept me with the 2 and a half hour runtime. Mostly.

Would you like to know more…?

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Buried

2010 USA/Spain/Frane. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
– JANDY

Netflix Instant (USA)

Gattaca

1997 USA. Director: Andrew Niccol. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman.

While Gattaca did not fly quite as far under the radar as The Man from Earth or Dark City, I cannot help but feel that it remains incredibly underseen and underappreciated. It is generally regarded as a strong film, to be sure, yet I would argue that it is among the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Nimbly toeing the line between the bleak and hectic Blade Runner and the philosophically draining The Man from Earth, Niccol’s universe not only feels realistic – it feels possible … if not probable. The physical presentation of the world is bleak, yes, but it is also vibrant and alive, crafting a future that is advanced, but not so advanced so as to be a distraction. This, of course, ignores the tremendous turns of Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, whose relationship is organic and beautiful. Uma Thurman is undoubtedly the weak link in the chain, but that may be as much a product of her underutilization, if not a side effect of the brilliance of most everything else.
– DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (CANADA)

Would you like to know more…?