Archive for the ‘Film-Noir’ Category
Review No. 470
Try and “Shut” it out of your memory.
DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE. SCREENPLAY BY LAETA KALOGRIDIS. BASED ON “SHUTTER ISLAND” BY DENNIS LEHANE. STARRING LEONARDO DICAPRIO (EDWARD “TEDDY” DANIELS), MARK RUFFALO (CHUCK AULE), BEN KINGSLEY (DR. JOHN CAWLEY), MICHELLE WILLIAMS (DOLORES CHANAL), PATRICIA CLARKSON (DR. RACHEL SOLANDO), AND MAX VON SYDOW (DR. JEREMIAH NAEHRING). ALSO STARRING CHRISTOPHER DENHAM, ELIAS KOTEAS, EMILY MORTIMER, JACKIE EARLE HALEY, JILL LARSON, JOHN CARROLL LYNCH, KEN CHEESEMAN, MATTHEW COWLES, ROBIN BARTLETT, RUBY JERINS, AND TED LEVINE. DISTRIBUTED BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES ON FEBRUARY 19, 2010. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH AND GERMAN BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 2 HOURS, 18 MINUTES. INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES, DUE TO NUDITY, PROFANITY, AND INTENSE VIOLENCE.
SHUTTER ISLAND WAS WATCHED ON APRIL 28, 2013.
“Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?” –Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio)
I’ll admit that Martin Scorsese’s rendition of Shutter Island fails when compared to Dennis Lehane’s source novel. It’s nothing mind-blowing or remotely unforgettable. Seen as its own work, this is a successfully chilling piece. I’ve always respected Scorsese as one of few directors who can successfully develop a character, regardless of our expectations. He could direct a biopic about Charles Manson and he’d find a way to make us side with the quote-unquote “hero.” Shutter Island gives its hero a unique, somewhat bizarre turn. Let’s just say once we’re submerged in his head, the experience grows much more unsettling.
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a U.S. Marshal who has traveled to Ashecliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane, on an island at Boston Harbor. The protocol is a part of the investigation for Rachel Solando, a crazed woman who has drowned all three of her children. What unfolds from here on is a psychological tale that studies one paramount question: “Where is the line between sanity and insanity?” It seems obvious to us, but Teddy, in his journey through the asylum, begins to discover that every mental patient thinks of him- or herself as perfectly sane.
Shutter Island is a well acted thriller, set a step ahead by an intriguing protagonist. We know he’s delusional, but we don’t know when he’s experiencing reality, when his hallucinations represent reality, or when he’s just purely delusional. And his delusion could be either because a) he’s insane or b) he’s recently lost his wife and is now experiencing post-traumatic stress. DiCaprio understates his performance incredibly in order to attain the several mysteries that surround his situation.
The picture is incredibly subtle, so much that when we get to the twist ending, it’s perfection: shocking, yet ingeniously sensible. The term “twist ending” has been beaten to a negative connotation; it’s films like this that demand a new word for how sublimely they end. Again, Shutter Island isn’t perfect; a fan of the book (such as yours truly) would expect something with more consistent pacing, as well as the pulp inspiration that was present Lehane’s novel. But if this isn’t a satisfying thriller–dare I say one that echoes the style of Hitchcock himself, with superior results–I’m not sure exactly what it is.
Review No. 463
The real crime is that it was robbed of all but two Oscars.
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Screenplay by: Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland
Based on: “L.A. Confidential” by James Ellroy
Narrated by: Danny DeVito
Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes: Kevin Spacey
Officer Wendell “Bud” White: Russell Crowe
Det. Lt. Edmund “Ed” Exley: Guy Pearce
Lynn Bracken: Kim Basinger
Sid Hudgens: Danny DeVito
Capt. Dudley Smith: James Cromwell
Pierce Morehouse Patchett: David Strathairn
Also Starring: Amber Smith, Darrell Sandeen, Graham Beckel, Gwenda Deacon, John Mahon, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Matt McCoy, Paolo Seganti, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin, Shawnee Free Jones, Simon Baker
Distributed by Warner Bros. on September 19, 1997. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 138 mins. Rated R by the MPAA–graphic violence, profanity, sexual situations.
L.A. Confidential was watched on April 7, 2013.
“Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.” –Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito)
BY “THE CINEMANIAC”
LOS ANGELES ― Sometime in 1953, we find three officers for the Los Angeles Police Department investigating a homicide at the Nite Owl café.
Detective Lieutenant Edmund “Ed” Exley (Guy Pearce) is no one we would imagine to be a police officer, but he is determined solely to live up to the reputation of his honorable father, a former cop. Officer Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe) is an obsessive feminist, but when his volatile mind takes control, havoc tends to unleash itself. Detective Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a relaxed, calm narcotics detective who works on the field as the technical adviser for a televised police procedural, known as Badge of Honor.
And when their naïveté takes over their honor, Exley, White, and Vincennes find themselves caught up in punishable scandals of their own–be it realized to their own eyes (i.e. prostitution) or unrealized (i.e. tabloid journalism).
In 1990, crime fiction writer James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia) churned this story out into a novel which he titled L.A. Confidential. The title refers to the 1950s scandal/exposé magazine Confidential, which became the novel’s Hush-Hush, the periodical organized by character Sid Hudgeons.
Seven years later, director-producer Curtis Hanson (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle) and co-producer Brian Helgeland (Assassins) collaborated on a screenplay that would become the adaptation of Ellroy’s novel.
The film is true perfection and a paradigm of the term, “a work of art.” One could only be impressed by a story that takes formula into its hands so well and unpredictably. The writing is fantastic, but in combination with tour de force performances, it soars.
Exley is the generic hero, underestimated by everyone but himself. “Lose the glasses,” he is told on several occasions, with regard to his geeky attire–and he never does, despite his daily work at the less-than-appreciating LAPD. One is led to believe this due to Guy Pearce’s performance, despite having seen it a million times already. White is almost a caricature in his aggressive nature, but Russell Crowe says differently in the façade he uses to cover up any morsel of gratuity in his character. Vincennes the written character seems to constantly say, “Look, I know this was a murder, but calm down.” Vincennes the character, as acted by Kevin Spacey, seems completely serious in his slick role, and yet still likable for his relaxed attitude.
The most outstanding portion of the film, given the choice, is Kim Basinger. The woman represents a femme fatale in this neo-noir drama, in a subtle, unassuming, and seductive manner that only Veronica Lake and Lana Turner–both who earned winning nods in the film–could truly pull off. Ms. Basinger portrays a prostitute, yet even the most morally authoritative viewer would have difficulty not enjoying her performance.
What is meant is that the film is a performance all on its own. And at that, it is not a dash below absolute perfection. ☚
A Quick Announcement
Review No. 455
There’s nothing “Simple” about a mystery like this one.
NOTE: This review regards the director’s cut, which was released in 2001. This is a rare example of such an edition that is shorter (by 6 minutes) than the theatrical release. Per the usual, I don’t know what the theatrical cut is like, but my review states that I’m not moved to watching it.
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Ray: John Getz
Abby: Frances McDormand
Julian Marty: Dan Hedaya
Meurice: Samm-Art Williams
Loren Visser: M. Emmet Walsh
Also Starring: Deborah Neumann
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on January 18, 1985. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 93 mins. Rated R by the MPAA–violence, infrequent profanity. Director’s cut released unrated by the MPAA.
Blood Simple. was watched on March 27, 2013.
“You left your weapon behind.” –Ray (John Getz)
Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen can deny all they want. It took them years to admit that Fargo was not based on a true story. They claim to have made O Brother, Where Art Thou? without having read the oh-so-similar epic poem Odyssey. And they can deny that Blood Simple. is an homage to one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time.
Make no mistake, Blood Simple. is a reverent nod to Alfred Hitchcock. The Coen brothers designed this movie–their collaborative debut–as a loop of vignettes that resurrect elements we only really knew of the Master of Suspense.
A bored man gets pissed off one night and rashly hires another man to kill two people: his wife and a man with whom she is having an affair. Sounds like Strangers on a Train, right? In another instance, we experience Dial “M” for Murder: the wife is suspicious her husband wants to kill her. Oh and as the film progresses, she begins to see her husband, but isn’t he dead? The same sort of thing Jimmy Stewart goes through in Vertigo.
Where the film trips is in the manner it explains its story. Sometimes a perplexing story can be inventive enough to beg for a revisit, but Blood Simple. is a “once is enough” sort of film.
I’d say this was told in a nonlinear fashion, but if that’s so, the Coens could have presented that technique accessibly, and symbolism would have been presented much differently.
I give you fair warning that my logic up ahead my befuddle you half as much as Blood Simple. befuddled me. The recurring symbolism here is the appearance of blood. The lead character is bleeding from his broken nose, the gunshot wound in his heart, and his lacerated finger. It’s possible that after he’s been shot, he’s no more than a figment of the surrounding folks’ imaginations, but god, there’s so much that suggests otherwise.
Mr. Joel and Ethan Coen, I don’t want to criticize (well, technically, I do, considering the noun form), but you could have done a lot more using just one more Hitchcockian device: perspective. I love the cinematography here and the sound effects, but there’s scarcely a point-of-view. We know the characters, we just don’t know what they’re seeing or feeling here.
There certainly isn’t as much comedy in Blood Simple. as in the Coens’ later works, such as Fargo or The Big Lebowski. It’s a rather quiet, brooding, atmospheric film that manages to create chills in its technical style as well as its Hitchcockian setup.
Despite its dreadlocked story, I didn’t dislike Blood Simple. I expected more of it, but if one thing impressed me, it was that it manages to hold its own, though, as a gritty, mysterious thriller. It’s essentially nothing more than an homage to the better, more straightforward flicks of its ilk, but at the very least, it manages to entertain its audience.
Who’s That Knocking at My Door
Review No. 426
The Bottom Line: An involving crime film that begins humorously and ends disturbingly.
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
Narrated by: Malcolm McDowell
Alex DeLarge: Malcolm McDowell
Mr. Frank Alexander: Patrick Magee
Mrs. Mary Alexander: Adrienne Corri
Frederick, Minister of the Interior: Anthony Sharp
Dim: Warren Clarke
Cat Lady: Miriam Karlin
Prison Chaplain: Godfrey Quigley
Also Starring: Aubrey Morris, Carl Duering, Clive Francis, David Prowse, James Marcus, John Clive, John J. Carney, John Savident, Lindsay Campbell, Madge Ryan, Margaret Tyzack, Michael Bates, Michael Gover, Michael Tarn, Paul Farrell, Pauline Taylor, Philip Stone, Richard Connaught, Sheila Raynor, Steven Berkoff, Virginia Wetherell
Distributed by Warner Bros. on December 19, 1971. Produced in English and Nadsat by the United Kingdom. Runs 137 mins. Rated R by the MPAA (graphic violence; rape and sexual abuse).
A Clockwork Orange was watched on February 23, 2013.
“I was cured all right.” –Alex DeLarge (Malcolm MacDowell)
It wasn’t until I watched A Clockwork Orange that I realized what a genius Stanley Kubrick is. The film makes countless other psychodramas–including Kubrick’s own The Shining–seem shallow. Alex, the hero in this masterpiece, should be utterly detestable. During the week, he acts innocent, and on the weekends, he ventures on covert crime sprees with his equally awful friends–inductees in a psychosocial gang he heads–where they treat themselves to nights of rape, Beethoven, and other sorts of “ultra-violence.”
There’s something about the opening sequences that is alluring about Alex, though, and we can’t help but feel intrigued. He’s strange and in no way admirable, so don’t ask me how it works; for all I know, the methodical meticulosity in the mind of Stanley Kubrick, and now he, unfortunately, is buried as well. Alex commits so many crimes during the first half of this social commentary. It’s there as black comedy, and he’s clearly having fun. My gosh, he chants “Singin’ in the Rain” as he indulges in a horrendous rape. But these scenes are only enhancements on the black comedy and, oddly enough, they aren’t presented as disturbing.
Kubrick forces his audience to channel the character. The second half commences with Alex being administered the Ludovico torture method. He is tied inside a straitjacket, strapped to a chair in the front row of a cinema; while having his eyes forced wide open and dropped with serum, he has clips flashing in front of him, clips of this ultra-violence he so much loved–backed by Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. That he feels pain for the first time ever is, strangely enough, why it is nearly impossible not to writhe at the sight of such ultra-violence all of a sudden. In fact, in his plagued efforts to change, his everyday experiences are filled with the pain he had caused society. We suddenly cringe at it all.
How much you enjoy A Clockwork Orange correlates with how strong your stomach is. Yes, it’s rich with social commentary. This is science fiction, but very rarely is there even a suggestion of futurism. The tale could take place at any time, because crime is such a common way we waste our lives away. But there is no limit to what is shown onscreen. Let’s just say the film was threatened an X rating by the MPAA; it’s beyond me, how only twenty seconds were expended to receive appeal for an R rating.
A Clockwork Orange is a difficult film to assess without downright insulting it. The film is a classic, showing every ounce of the delinquent’s life through his own eyes, whether those eyes are blinded by criminal obsessions, or seeing his wrongdoings in 20/20 vision. This story is of pure sublimity, giving us perspective of an adolescent who tried to return when he had already long surpassed the point of no return. There’s no one who’s going to forgive him for the turmoil he doused his community into. I’d like not give away the ending, and I’m afraid I’ve given away more than I should. But let’s just say it gives that realization a thought-provoking, satisfying lobotomy.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Review No. 377
The Bottom Line: A Cat in Paris isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a light, brief, memorable escapade.
Directed by: Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol
Written by: Alain Gagnol and Jacques-Rémy Girerd
English adaptation by: Michael Sinterniklaas
Voice Features (French): Bernadette Lafont, Bernard Bouillon Bruno Salomone, Dominique Blanc, Jacques Ramade, Jean Benguigui, Jean-Pierre Yvars, Oriane Zani, Patrick Descamps, Patrick Ridremont
Voice Features (English dubbing): Anjelica Huston, Barbara Goodson, Eric Bauza, Gregory Cupoli, JB Blanc, Lauren Weintraub, Marcia Gay Harden, Marc Thompson, Matthew Modine, Mike Pollock, Philippe Hartmann, Steve Blum
Distributed by Gébéka Films in France on December 15, 2010; and by GKIDS in the United States on June 1, 2012. Produced in French by France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium. Alternate English dubbing produced by the United States. Runs 70 minutes. Rated PG by the MPAA for mild violence and action, and some thematic material.
A Cat in Paris was watched on December 25, 2012.
“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” –Sigmund Freud
I’m not very much a “cat person.” Even if I weren’t allergic, I don’t think I would truly enjoy cats. What is there to love about an animal that sleeps when it’s tired and squeals when it wants something? Some people seem as if they’d know the answer, but I much prefer dogs–instinctive, intelligent, and wholly amusing characters.
The black cat we find in A Cat in Paris has a surprisingly canine nature. This cat is adventurous and ambitious, roaming around the city of Paris every night, alongside a burglar, as if to assist him. During the daytime, the cat is owned by a young girl named Zoé. By mere accident, le chat returns one morning with evidence of crimes that occurred over the previous night; now a mystery has been presented to young Zoé, and she becomes determined to solve it within the next day.
A Cat in Paris was released to U.S. film festivals in 2011 for Oscar eligibility; the film ended up earning a nomination for Best Animated Feature. This is proof that when the Academy looks for the year’s Best Animated Feature, they’re merely gathering all the animated flicks of the year and choosing the five best made. Especially for a hand drawn animation, A Cat in Paris encases minimal style and maximal substance. There clearly isn’t much thought given to the visual art beyond the rough sketching.
The film’s point is perhaps to inform that the real art is in the story. Simply reading of the plot summary, this sounds like the sort of crime piece Martin Scorsese would try and get his hands on. After seeing the film, I can only imagine him scoffing at it. No, that’s not to say A Cat in Paris is terrible, it just isn’t that sort of crime film. This is a more lighthearted escapade, in which crime is dealt with a sense of humor, and each burglar is an amusing comic. It’s a giddy, childlike tale, aimed at children, but enjoyable at just about any age.
A Cat in Paris is a fun film. The animation isn’t exactly picturesque, nor is the story, but the former is used as a mere outline, and the latter as a rejuvenating extrapolation.
The music is of perfect quality, too, embellishing an even deeper mood, setting up along the lines of a conventional film-noir.
Where the film hits a few flat notes is in its screenplay. At just 70 minutes, and just over 58 minutes if one were to exclude the credits, A Cat in Paris is extremely short, yet it feels slightly overlong. This strange conundrum derives from an overextended ending. I’m fine with about ten minutes of nonsensical chase scenes, but after that, the joke begins to wear thin. But on a complete spectrum, I wouldn’t continue complaining about a conclusion that was doubled in its acceptable length.
Overall, I had quite a fun time with A Cat in Paris, enough that I’d recommend it to anyone who reads this. It’s not perfect, but if it does disappoint you, it wasn’t even an hour of your life you threw away.
Bottom Line: It’s difficult not to be captivated by this outstanding film-noir.
Directed by: Carol Reed
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Valli, Wilfrid Hyde-White
“On the first day, Edison said: ‘Let there be lights!’ There were lights. The next day, Edison spoke out once again: let there be cameras!’ There were cameras. On the third day, Edison cried out: ‘Let there be action!’ And there was action. Following this were three consecutive days, devoted entirely to the creation of the studio, the nickelodeon, and ‘The Sneeze’. And on the seventh day, Edison rested.” –The Book of Thomas Edison (Book the First of the Cinematic Bible)
Let’s start off on a tangent. I was reading the periodical Filmcomment the other day, and I came across an article which teased an upcoming documentary about a single scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This is the “Room 237″ scene, which the writer, Brooklyn critic B. Kite, praises like manna from heaven. Kite writes like a fanboy of the singular scene, glossing that “POVs are nested like Russian dolls…as Nicholson spies a naked woman…the woman’s transformation into a rotting corpse, the movie goes briefly into POV freefall.” Throughout the entire article, Kite ascribes the masterpiece (and agreeably so) to its director, Stanley Kubrick. Huh? All that bowing down to cinematography and the man controlling the camera earns no mention? Would someone just discovering the film through the article itself know the film was based on an earlier novel, let alone the bard who wrote it?
Bottom Line: If only this was the mystery genre today.
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Jake Gittes: Jack Nicholson
Evelyn Cross Mulwray: Faye Dunaway
“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
Is it just me, or is the crime genre changing right before our eyes? Seemingly every time I tune to FOX, CBS, or ABC, there’s always a new series headed toward television. The odds are that if it’s not a comedy, it’s a crime procedural. JAG, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Bones. These are all extremely entertaining crime shows that have appeared in recent years, don’t get me wrong. But they’re flawed in numerous respects. The presentation of motives are so superficially presented, and the focus veered instead toward action. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather know why the criminal did what he or she did before a chase sequence. It’s as if producers are noticing audiences accepting stories at face value, and sadly enough, we are. I turn to the film-noir genre, a grandeur that we will unfortunately never see again in its purest form. The genre presented mystery at its finest during the ’40s and ’50s, using the premises of dirt cheap, trashy pulp novels, and transforming those into beautiful, atmospheric, and engrossing “Whodunits.” Not much action is really required to construct such suspenseful dramas.
Bottom Line: To Hollywood: Please model future thrillers after Headhunters. You can thank me later.
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Julie Olgaard, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund
The term “action thriller” has deteriorated ever so nastily from what it meant decades ago. Back in the twentieth century, the genre was laudable for its intoxicating ability to mold suspense with grit. Nowadays, good ol’ Hollywood has taken charge of the genre, and withered it down to nothing but a pile of special effects and corny jokes, only enjoyable with a few buckets of popcorn handy. Although Headhunters would have still been a stunning cell from the mind of a genius back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, it’s manna from heaven during this era. The film is Norwegian, but who’s to say that Norway doesn’t know how to bring us back to the time when “edge-of-your-seat thrills” were self-explanatory?
Bottom Line: Great cast, marvelous director, weak story.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Jay Brazeau, Larry Holden, Lorne Cardinal, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, Oliver “Ole” Zemen, Paul Dooley, Robin Williams
An American remake of a foreign film. When we hear that, it sounds like a simple concept, but that’s an overstatement. We’re talking about an oddity here. The two most common genres shipped over and re-fabricated by American directors are the horror and thriller genres. Somehow, we can always expect the same results. We’d be very surprised to see a Westernization of a foreign horror movie that wasn’t discovered in a dumpster or a landfill. PROOF: The Grudge, based on Japan’s Juon; Quarantine, based on Spain’s REC; and The Uninvited, based on South Korea’s Janghwa, Hongryeon. When we get a remake of a thriller, we are shown just about the exact opposite. PROOF: The Departed, based on Hong Kong’s Wú Jiān Dào; The Debt, based on Israel’s HaChov; and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on Sweden’s Män som hatar kvinnor. From the very start, we are aware of an automatic brilliance surrounding 2002′s Insomnia: a) it’s a remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller, and b) it’s directed by Christopher Nolan, perhaps the greatest filmmaker exposed within the past decade and a half. Now let’s be clear: this isn’t Nolan’s typical film. We’ve relied on him to put something new on display, and after seeing his entire filmography (save for The Prestige), I’ll honestly say that although it is very dense and involving, Insomnia is barely a step up from what we may gather from an episode of CSI.
Bottom Line: The eventual source of all cop thrillers.
Directed by: Peter Yates
Starring: Don Gordon, Ed Peck, Ed Renella, Georg Stanford Brown, Jacqueline Bisset, Norman Fell, Robert Duvall, Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Steve McQueen, Victor Tayback
Dirty Harry. Die Hard. Speed. Heat. L.A. Confidential. The Departed. Rampart. All ye fans, gather, read, unite. This is your call to action. Bullitt is the godfather of the cop thriller. I mean that in the most literal sense: When filmmakers within the next half a century make plans to create a police thriller of their own, and all of the seven films named above from 1971 to 2012 seem a bit routine to innovate from, they will, without a doubt, turn to Bullitt. The problem is, filmmakers will never know they are doing so, because of how vastly the film surrounds the cop thriller in less than two hours. Moreover, we remember it, but not nearly enough. Detective Lieutenant John McClane, Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Two of those three protagonists were heavily influenced by the other, and the same two, we jump to recognizing far more easily. I rest my case.