Hickey and Boggs (1972, Culp)

“It’s still not about anything.” The stubborn last words of private investigators Frank Hickey (Robert Culp) and Al Boggs (Bill Cosby) splash ice-cold water on the grizzled face of the detective genre they represent. Despite a miraculous investigative victory over dangerous men with murderous intentions, downtrodden Boggs still can’t muster any optimism when he and his emotionally broken partner walk off into the sunset. Considering the physical and psychological toll their pursuit for truth has taken, it’s hard not to understand their reasons for begrudging traditionally heroic delusions of grandeur.

Hickey and Boggs, more a cinematic tombstone than a billboard, takes the lasting genre foundation established by Huston, Lang, Hitchcock et. Al. and gives it a backhanded slap to the face, turning the whole universe upside down until nothing is sacred and everything is unforgiving. Each layer of the onion represents a different perspective, a new world spinning out of control. Hickey’s attempts at family structure are forced, then destroyed, while Boggs has already given in to the emotional indifference plaguing every other character. Friendly banter between men remains the only respite from the harsh realities of pain and disappointment, and even that fails to document specific moments of transition.

There’s a crippling sense of space in Hickey and Boggs that permeates through each aesthetic element. As directed by Culp, the film feels jam-packed with bodies during interior shots, and isolated and barren in specific exterior set pieces. A seedy dive bar has very little room to breath, only enough for the camera to fluidly capture Boggs’ attempt to convince Hickey of their professional worth. Yet the epic belly of the Los Angeles Coliseum feels vast and endless, with heroes and criminals alike waiting on separate levels of the arena for the action to set them in motion. As each body peeks out from separate cavernous entry ways, the entire space feels like a gigantic ant hill ready to explode with activity. That this brilliantly staged action scene resolves nothing proves once again that Hickey and Boggs is an increasingly rapid whirlpool of failed cause and effect.

The ragged and deteriorating milieu of Hickey and Boggs reminds of Michael Mann’s criminal alternate realities, where professionals glide under the surface of everyday life by subverting notions of good and evil. But unlike Mann, Culp brilliantly constructs unforgiving dark scenarios in prime daylight, where marks, scars, and wounds of all kinds are easier to recognize. The final sequence on a sunny Los Angeles beach is a prime example of mayhem juxtaposed with unwitting reality. As a helicopter crashes, multiple people are killed, and chaos erupts, Culp cuts to a wide shot and reveals people enjoying a nice day on the sand a mere jog away. If there was ever any doubt to Hickey and Boggs’ isolation, this moment puts the question to rest.

Not surprisingly, Hickey and Boggs is more about creating questions than answering them. The performances, the narrative, even the cinematography contain a rightfully incomplete feel, proving that any form of heroic closure is a thing of the past. Currency is measured in sacrifice and compromise, and by the end these men walk away from the natural world together, at odds with anything resembling hope. And honesty, how can we blame them for doing so?

The Best of 2010

A strange thing happened to me this year: I finally became a committed “writer”. Sure, I’ve run this blog for close to five years and have been writing my entire life, but it was always a hobby and never something I wanted to stake my very existence on. 2010 was the year writing became my unbridled passion, a key to unlocking the mysteries of whatever ails and haunts me. As those who closely follow my blog know, this transition occurred on the pages of other websites rather than here at Match/Cuts, but it had to happen at some point. Expanding one’s gaze is the only way to evolve in this crazy business called film criticism, and taking on more ambitious assignments forced me to contemplate the scope and magnitude of publishing beyond the friendly confines of my personal blogosphere. I must thank the estimable Ed Gonzalez and Keith Uhlich at Slant, the always engaging Sam C. Mac at In Review Online, and the prolific Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You for the opportunity and privilege to grace their pages. I’m grateful to call each one of your websites home.

2010 was also a particularly productive year for movies, but only if you looked past Hollywood’s towering pile of DOA’s. On my “Best List”, you’ll see a few familiar titles and a number of fringe choices, even a few films released around the world years ago that finally found distribution stateside this year. Thankfully, this was the first year I got to see pretty much every movie under the sun (attending film festivals, press screenings, etc.) so this list should be more comprehensive than year’s past. Only a few glaring omissions that I narrowly missed, namely Chomet’s The Illusionist, Ferguson’s Inside Job, Liman’s Fair Game, Wells’ The Company Men, Scott’s Robin Hood, Korine’s Trash Humpers, Weir’s The Way Back, and Garcia’s Mother and Child. I’m sure there’s a few more I’m forgetting. But you can’t see everything, unless you’re the unstoppable viewing machine Matt Lynch of Seattle.

For a more polished take on the trends and patterns of the year in film, I’ve contributed the Introduction for InRO’s Staff Wide Poll and capsules on Claire Denis’ eviscerating White Material and Bong Joon-ho’s intoxicating Mother. The below capsules are all fresh material, unless I’ve already covered a specific film previously at length elsewhere. If that’s the case, I’ve provided a link to the necessary review, with a few complimentary words of adoration.The qualifications for inclusion on my list are simple: A movie had to get a theatrical run for at least a week in the USA to be considered, hence the absence of such 2011 masterpieces Uncle Boonmee, Certified Copy, and Heartbeats. The new year looks fantastic already.

Lastly, I see film critics the world over publish their “Best Films List”, but rarely do I see them cite the professionals/writers/editors/new friends that made their year at the movies worthwhile and engaging. I’d like to change that and start a tradition of thanking those faces and voices of film criticism that positively shaped my year at the movies, if only to let each know how important they are to me and my development as a writer. In alphabetical order: Simon Abrams, Rowena Aquino, Henry Baugh, Steve Carlson, Fernando Croce, Jordan Cronk, Adrian Curry, Alex Fung, Ed Gonzalez, David Hudson, Daniel Kasman, Matt Lynch, Chazz Lyons, Sam C. Mac, James van Maanen, Ranylt Richildis, Chris Scotten, Kathie Smith, Rumsey Taylor, and Keith Uhlich. Thanks Ladies and Gents. It’s wouldn’t be the same without you. And of course I couldn’t do any of this without  my family, friends, and loved ones. Continue reading