Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The House on Telegraph Hill, or: Cold (Stare) War

Let’s be honest: The Man Who Never Was let me down in terms of noir-y elements. This edition of Blog Free or Die Hard is an attempt to find a better film noir as Christa and I agree the genre is pretty fab when done well. Melodrama, flawed/awful human beings, and old time-y swearing are crucial elements of a film noir. Did my pick deliver this time? Read my review or, better yet, Christa’s.

The Film:

The House on Telegraph Hill

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A Polish survivor of the Holocaust steals another woman’s identity in order to immigrate to the US. Complications arise in the form of the woman’s family members, the fate of a rather large inheritance, and serious bitch face.

The Uncondensed Version:

I was trying to figure out what nationality the lead actress was, and I finally just Googled it. Italian. She looks and sounds a bit like an Ingrid Bergman knock-off, honestly.

However, for the purposes of our film, our protagonist, Victoria, is a Polish Holocaust survivor. This film is approximately 800x darker than I expected it to be, even for a film noir.

After losing her home and husband in the war, Victoria is a refugee. The Americans want to help her return to Poland, but Victoria is quite resourceful. She has stolen the identity of Karin, a friend who died in the camps, and who happens to have wealthy family in San Francisco. Family = son who was sent away before the war for his safety + Aunt Sophie, matriarch of the family.

However, Aunt Sophie dies, leaving everything to Karin’s son. Victoria is quick to realize she stands to gain safety, an opulent lifestyle, and a damn nice house, if only she can put up with raising this admittedly quite irksome child as her own.

The pieces fall into place quite nicely when Chris’s guardian, Alan takes an interest in her. He is rather shadily only related to her through marriage, which makes it okay. From a legal standpoint, anyway.

Two men face a woman standing in an office who wears a beret and holds an envelope.
It’s really unfair how well she pulls off the beret.

After like 3 days, BOOM, Karin/Victoria and Alan are married. Karen finally gets to meet her son, Chris, for whom she demonstrates a healthy level of disdain. She obviously hates playing catch with Chris and looks so incredibly uncomfortable when he calls her mom.

I think this is actually a remarkably well thought-out plan, but remember how this is film noir? Shit’s about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Karin, who is haunted by guilt, wakes up one night to find Alan having a heated argument with Margaret, the governess. Alan, obv, makes up some really unconvincing lie, so you know there’s way more to that story than you really want to know.

Karin and Alan have a party one evening, and who should arrive but Mark, an American major who helped Karin get to the US. Mark and Alan are the original frenemies and do this annoying territorial douchebag thing with Karin.

In an effort to bond with Chris, Karin brings him ice cream from the party even though he isn’t supposed to eat after 8:00. As soon as he utters these words, it’s like Margaret is magically summoned, and the two ladies have a fucking face-off over this ice cream. Ultimately, Margaret is the master of mind games and plays the trump card by allowing Chris to make his own decision.

A woman in fancy dress looks down at a woman and young boy sitting down. The seated woman holds out a bowl of ice cream to the boy.
Make your own decision, Chris.  But if you eat that ice cream, you’re dead to me.

Karin makes one last attempt to outmaneuver Margaret when she discovers there was an explosion in the playhouse years ago that could’ve killed Chris. Margaret apparently knew about this but kept the details to herself. Proving herself the queen of the disdainful Bette Davis bitch face, Margaret gives zero fucks when Karin fires her. The following day, Alan reinstates Margaret as governess.

Two women face each other, with one looking scornfully at the other.
Tell me I’m fired one more time…

After a confrontation with Alan about the explosion, Karin’s has a brush with death when someone cuts her brakes. She realizes Alan is trying to kill her and confides this in Mark. He actually sort of believes her, which leads to several tension-filled outings all 3 attend. Plus they start having an affair.

The rest of the film is ridiculously full of tension as certain facts come to light about the attempted murder of Karin as well as the death of Aunt Sophie.

I don’t want to completely ruin the ending because it’s so suspenseful and got really annoyed when I realized it was time for lunch and had to pause the film for approximately 3 minutes while I reheated a burrito. The end is quite like fucking Notorious but without the terrifying German mother-in-law: full of suspense and nasty things in drinks.

Suffice it to say everything comes to a rather dramatic conclusion and there’s a refreshing moment of female solidarity at the end.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I loved this one. It’s not necessarily a new favorite, but I’m so glad Christa and I experienced this one together. Margaret’s bitch face is something I will probably never master, but I will try damn hard to do so.

I wish there were way more film noir options on Netflix b/c this would be noir blog all day, every day.

Does Christa agree or will we have to wax our brows, apply some bright red lipstick, and stare each other down? Read her review here to find out!

Film Reviews

The Immigrant, or: Occasionally I Need to Take a Break from Bad Movies to Listen to Marion Cotillard Speaking Polish

I’m going to be honest, and it kind of hurts to admit this: I need just a teensy break from bad movies. Believable character motivations I miss. Meaningful dialogue also. Good special effects. Wardrobe and set design that MAKE SENSE.

I will say that reviewing primarily one type of film has given me a greater appreciation for people committed to one genre of book, film, music, etc. I lack the focus for that kind of dedication.

I’m going to call this a Hipster film just because it doesn’t really fit in with any of my other categories and it features multiple foreign languages. Really, I think most hipsters would consider the following too melodramatic and Marion Cotillard too mainstream, so basically this film is perfect to me.

The Film:

The Immigrant

Where to Watch:


The Premise:

A young Polish immigrant struggling to reunite with her sister must become a sex worker and contend with the general shadiness of men in 1920s New York.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

There is trouble from the start for Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister, Magda, two young Polish women who have come to the United States to live with their aunt and uncle in the 1920s.

Immediately upon arrival at Ellis Island, Magda is detained under suspicion of having lung disease (TB? Right?). Ewa is detained as well because the address she for her aunt and uncle’s house does not exist, and she was accused of having low morals on the ship (tell Marion she has low morals ONE more time, Ellis Island official).

Luckily (ha), Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix, comes along and promises to get Ewa in to the country and hire her as a seamstress. Plus he can use his connections to get Magda released from the detention center. In reality, he expects Ewa to be a prostitute and perform in a shady cabaret, but first he has to play a bunch of mind games.

Bruno basically makes her feel super guilty that she stole some money from the other women and that she tells him to back off when he tries to embrace her. So now she has to perform in the semi-nude cabaret as Lady Liberty. They also have clowns (?). One of my biggest takeaways from this movie is that I have even less of a clue than originally thought about what the actual fuck cabaret was.

A woman with jewelry arranged to make her look like the Statue of Liberty stands next to a clown onstage.
The Hooters of the 1920s, featuring clowns and women dressed as famous American landmarks.

Shortly after, Ewa gets her first client (john?), a young man whose father wants him to lose his virginity. (This movie killed every single moment when I’ve thought to myself, “Hmmmm, it might’ve been kind of cool to live in the ‘20s.”)

The following night, Ewa escapes to her aunt and uncle. They initially welcome her and it seems that she will be able to stay with them. However, because this movie is all about the heartbreak of the immigrant experience, her uncle rescinds the offer when he discovers her “low morals.” The police arrive and take her back to Ellis Island, informing her she will be deported.

A woman in an austere room looks down, saying "I am not nothing."
You are, in fact, EVERYTHING. (I might have a SLIGHT crush on Marion Cotillard.)

Before her hearing, there is a show for the potential deportees. Why? I don’t know. Does deportation sting slightly less when you get dinner and a show (minus the dinner part)?

One of the performers is Orlando the Great, a magician played by Jeremy Renner with a lot of eyeliner. He notices Ewa and gives her a flower.

The next day, Bruno visits Ewa and gets her released. Ewa demands more money, but doesn’t trust Bruno to hold up his end of the bargain (a wise woman).

Ewa encounters Orlando the Great, aka Emil, again when the owner of the cabaret hires him as an entertainer. They’re cousins, but Bruno hates him because of his past history of drinking, gambling, and being, in general, more charming.

Emil brings Ewa on stage for his mind reading act, which just ends in tears when the audience shouts insults at her and starts throwing things. Bruno and Emil get into a fistfight, which erupts into chaos as pretty much all of the men fight with all of the other men just ‘cause. The owner, Rosie, fires Bruno, who takes the ladies with him to start a new business.

A woman with red lips and an elegant dress stands onstage next to a man wearing a collared shirt and vest.
Sorry all of my screencaps are of Marion Cotillard looking fabulous. (No, I’m not.)

The new business is essentially Bruno and the women wandering around Central Park, trying to convince random dudes to pick them up by telling them they’re Vanderbilts and Fricks and such who ran away from home.  I guess that’s a turn-on if you’re a 1920s dude.

There’s a teenager who pretends to hire Ewa so Emil can talk to her and apologize for embarrassing her the night before. This seems kind of sweet at first, but b/c Emil and Bruno have two distinct stories surrounding their past history, it begs the question of whether Ewa should trust Emil, Bruno, or none of the above (ah, the ever-recurrent theme of “Don’t trust a bro”).

Bruno arrives and, seeing Ewa and Emil together, freaks the fuck out and attacks Emil with a knife. Emil is pretty fucking stupid because he enjoys deliberately provoking Bruno. The police arrive and break up the fight; Bruno will spend the night in jail.

After the knife incident, one of the other girls comes to talk to Ewa, aka blame her for everything. She says Bruno protects them from the shady/abusive/diseased dudes. Without him, the girls are losing money and may have to take it out of her cut. Yeah, Ewa is not putting up with your bullshit.

A woman in a dark-colored dress holds a pair of scissors menacingly.
I will fucking END you with these scissors.

Emil also talks to Ewa, telling her of his plans to go to California. He asks her to be his assistant, but she declines to stay in New York near her sister.

When Bruno is released from jail the next day, Ewa goes to meet him.

She goes to church for Candlemass and confesses to being a woman of low morals. Bruno overhears her confession and appears to feel really conflicted. He’s such a confusing fucking character. This whole scene is awful because Ewa is ashamed and fears going to hell. Her confessor is surprisingly understanding, telling her the Lord rejoices even more when the lost lamb is found. (Listening, fundamentalists???)

That night, Emil visits Ewa and says he has money to get Magda released and all of them to go West like one big happy family. Ewa warns him to leave because Bruno has a gun.

When Bruno shows up, it turns out Emil has stolen the gun. He faces Bruno and fucks around with him, pointing the gun at his temple. (Lots of crazies in this family. LOTS. OF. CRAZIES.)

Basically because I believe in this movie and really think you should watch it, I will refrain from giving you any more plot details. Also a little bit because I’m tired. (Okay, a lot because I’m tired.)

Suffice it to say that only one man walks away from the Bruno/Emil confrontation, and Ewa either is or is not reunited with her sister.

The Critique:

I know the plot summary sounds super melodramatic, but there’s a surprising amount of subtlety and believable character motivations.

The acting is so great in this movie, all around. Marion Cotillard portrays Ewa’s incredibly inner strength beautifully, and her Polish sounds really convincing. Admittedly, I can say ONE thing in Polish and have never really listened to people speaking Polish for an extended period of time, but I believe everything Marion does is perfect. She’s going to be the BEST Lady Macbeth.

Joaquin Phoenix is also excellent in this film. Let’s just pretend his whole fake meltdown never happened.

If you like a good old-fashioned melodrama like Mogambo or Now, Voyager. Just be advised that this movie will probably enrage you on the behalf of all women everywhere.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther heads

I’m tempted to go as high as 4.5 Pink Panther heads for this one. It’s a really good movie, though I do acknowledge that your enjoyment of the movie will depend a lot upon the degree to which you worship Marion Cotillard as a goddess.

P.S. In other news, since my review of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien, I’m getting waaaaaaaaaaay more hits from creeps looking for porn using keyword searches such as “porno of a planet space lesbians” and “lesbian sex spitting hardcore.” I don’t even know what that last one means, but please don’t enlighten me.

Favorite recent search that brought someone to my blog: “why are mermaids boobs not covered.” Ah, the eternal question.