Archive for the Film-Noir Category

Blue Ruin

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, thriller with tags on June 6, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier.
Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, Brent Werzner, David W. Thompson, Stacy Rock, Bonnie Johnson, Sidné Anderson.

The keys are in the car… the keys are in the car… the keys are in the car

Many didn’t pay attention when Jeremy Saulnier made his directorial debut in 2007 with the little seen comedy/horror film “Monster Party“. I know I didn’t. Now, though, it’s going to be hard to forget him as his sophomore effort “Blue Ruin” hits our screens (and our jugulars) with an impressively handled and assembled dark thriller that brings reminders of the arrival of the Coen brothers and all the taut and twisted glee of “Blood Simple“.

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Le Samouraï

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, Foreign Language, thriller with tags on December 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Starring: Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, François Périer, Cathy Rosier, Jacques Leroy, Jean-Pierre Posier, Catherine Jourdan.

There is no greater solitude than a samurai’s, unless it is that of a tiger in the jungle…perhaps…

When a film is revered as a classic of world cinema by viewers and critics alike, it’s only so long before you have to check it out for yourself. In the case of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”, I did just that, and I didn’t regret it for a minute. It’s entirely understandable why this policier features on many people’s lists of favourites.

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Blood Simple * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Frances McDormand, John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm Art-Williams, Deborah Neumann.

(The following post is not so much a review, as it is a commentary on the creative work(s) of the Coen brothers. It’s my contribution to the Blogathon called “Debuts” created by Mark Fletcher of Three Rows Back and Chris Thomson of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coup, whereby a number of bloggers have chosen a particular director to highlight and the significance that their first feature has had. You can access the rest of the Blogathon posts here).

Having cut his teeth as Assistant Editor on director Sam Raimi’s cult classic, “The Evil Dead” in 1981, Joel Coen went on to become a fully fledged director himself with his debut “Blood Simple” in 1984. On the advice of Raimi, Joel and his brother Ethan (whom, it has always been said, actually shared directorial duties) went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make, which resulted in them raising $750,000 and just enough to begin production of their movie. It was at this point that two of cinema’s most consistent and original talents had arrived.

In West Texas, saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Marty then hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), a private detective, to investigate. Once Marty gains proof of the adulterous affair, he pays Visser to kill them. However, Visser is a very unscrupulous type and has plans of his own.

When you comb through the filmography of the Coen’s, three renowned and highly respected crime writers will inevitably surface. They are: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. However, it’s their debut “Blood Simple” that fully harks back to the hard boiled noir’s of the 1940’s, namely, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity” – both of which are written by Cain and the latter, in fact, co-scripted by Chandler when it made it the screen. Hammett was also a contemporary of these writers and wrote the novel “Red Harvest“, which actually coined the term “blood simple”. It is described as “the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations”. This very description sums the movie up perfectly. It’s a homage to these great writer’s and the genre they excelled in. Also, like their stories, once the character’s and their motivations are established, there is no going back. Although this was their debut, labyrinthine plots and double-crosses would become a staple of the Coens’ work that followed. Give or take the odd zany comedy, their filmography largely consists of these writers; “Miller’s Crossing” was heavily influenced by Hammett’s “The Glass Key” while “The Big Lebowski” loosely took it’s structure from the work of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain would resurface in the “The Man Who Wasn’t There“. Even the Oscar winning “Fargo and “No Country For Old Men” could be seen as riffs on “Blood Simple“, itself. The thing that’s most apparent about this debut from the Coen’s, though, is that their stylistic approach is plain to see. It cast the mould from which we have witnessed their serpentine abilities in storytelling and hugely inventive directorial flourishes.

Much has been said about the cinematography on the Coens’ output. This has largely been due to the work of their regular collaborator Roger Deakins. However, it was Barry Sonnenfeld who worked on the first three Coen’s movies and you’d be hard pushed to notice much of a difference between them. This simply comes down to them translating exactly the vision that the brothers had. That’s not to take away from the work of Deakins or, in this case, Sonnenfeld as their cinematography has always been sublime but ultimately it comes down to the Coens’ inventively keen eye for a shot. They are known for being sticklers for detail, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how it should look and working from a shoestring budget doesn’t prevent them from realising their Hitchcockian melee of passion, bloodshed and suspense. If anything, their limited budget shows how artistic and creative they really are and they’re not without (or what would become) their trademark moments of irony.

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The Coen brothers have went on to become two of the most respected filmmakers in the business, and rightfully so. With many classics – cult and mainstream – under their belts already, there’s really no end to what they’re capable of. That being said, it’s always a pleasure to return to their roots and see where it all began.

Mark Walker

Sin City * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Fantasy, Film-Noir with tags on May 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller.
Screenplay: Frank Miller.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Jamie King, Carla Gugino, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Nicky Katt, Marley Shelton, Tommy Flanagan, Frank Miller, Rutger Hauer, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen.

Director Robert Rodriguez is a real mixed bag for me. Most of the time, I either find his films childish or over the top. This, however, is far from childish but so wildly over the top, it’s hard not to like it. It’s based on the adult comic-book by Frank Miller (who serves as a co-director) and is by far Rodriguez’s finest film to date.

Basin City is the film noir community that plays host to three hardboiled comic-book tales. “The Hard Goodbye” has Marv (Mickey Rourke) an brutish ex-convict who avenges the murder of prostitute Goldie (Jamie King) that he had fallen in love with; “The Big Fat Kill” where private detective Dwight (Clive Owen) finds himself helping hookers fight mercenaries from the red light district and “That Yellow Bastard” sees disgraced cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) protect dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) from a psychotic sadist and sex offender (Nick Stahl).

This film may be, unashamedly, computer enhanced but it doesn’t diminish it’s highly visual approach. It’s shot in true noir style with wonderful touches of vibrant colour throughout it’s monochrome palette. It also has the downbeat voiceover that most film’s of the genre indulge in. It’s quite simply, a stunning piece of work. Comic-book adaptations have taken to our screens on a regular basis but Rodriguez has probably been the most faithful to his source material. This is as close as I’ve seen in a page to screen transfer. Rodriguez has retained the look and feel of this fantasy world, practically word-for-word, and I can only assume that having it’s creator Frank Miller on board is a major merit. Like a lot of comics it’s most certainly a boys-own adventure; All the guys look tough and talk tough and most of the gals dress in dog collars and S&M gear. It could be deemed insulting or exploitative towards women but it’s written purely as fantasy and works an absolute treat. I’m a big fan of film-noir but you’d be hard pushed to find it done in such an audacious way. Into the bargain, Quentin Tarantino ‘guest directs’ a scene and we are also given a huge cast of familiar faces. All of which, are superb. The real standout though is a comeback performance by Mickey Rourke. He’s as brutal and relentless as they come – “… they should’ve shot me in the head and enough times to make sure” – and he’s unlike most comic characters you’ll find yourself rooting for. I’ve always been a fan of Rourke’s and this is one of my favourite performances from him. It’s great to have him back. Ultimately, it’s the look and feel of the film that possesses the real power though. It’s very hard not too be drawn into this visceral and uncompromising neo-noir.

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For” is in the works and if Rodriguez and Miller can recreate their true visual spectacle and technical achievements, then we could be in for another treat.

Mark Walker

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Blade Runner * * * * *

Posted in Film-Noir, Science Fiction with tags on March 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ridley Scott.
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James, M. Emmett Walsh, James Hong, Morgan Paull.

Director Ridley Scott released “Alien” in 1979. For many, it stands as one of science fiction’s best. A mere three years after it though, he delivered “Blade Runner“. It was wrought with production problems, a less than happy crew and abundant studio interference. The end result, however, would lead you to believe that everything went smoothly. This is the definitive of science fiction movies and Scott’s finest film.

Los Angeles, 2019: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a ‘Blade Runner’ – a unit of the police force that hunt and kill human clones, known as ‘Replicants’. Replicants have been declared illegal after a bloody mutiny on an Off-World Colony, and are to be terminated upon detection. Some have escaped and prowl the streets of Los Angeles looking for answers from their creator. This is when Deckard’s services are called upon.

Loosely based on the novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” by, the master of the genre, Philip K. Dick. If you are familiar with Dick’s immersive and intelligent ideas, then you’ll know exactly why this film works on so many levels. On the surface, it’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinema ever committed to the screen. The opening shot of the vast, dystopian city of Los Angeles – dubbed “The Hades Landscape” – is an absolute feast for the eyes and
a vision that’s yet to be beaten – even by today’s standards. The city itself is stark, rain drenched and has a heavy Eastern influence. Giant global corporations are rife; slavery, overcrowding and a decaying environment permeate the proceedings. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth can’t be praised enough for his eye in capturing this inhospitable future world. This is also helped, immeasurably, in it’s realisation by Production Designers Lawrence G. Paull and Syd Mead; Art Director David L. Snyder and Douglas Trumbull’s exquisite special effects. Everyone pulls their weight in capturing the sheer visual beauty of this film. Underneath the luscious surface, courses a deep and philosophical pondering. The reference to French philosopher Rene Descartes and his metaphysical statement “I think, therefore I am“, addresses the doubt we have as living beings and the nature of our existence. It’s a recurrent theme throughout the whole picture.
It’s a film that is renowned for being tinkered with. Several different cuts were released over the years. The original had Harrison Ford supply a Philip Marlowe like voice-over, talking us through the events. This was deemed insulting to the audience as it caused continuity problems. However, I actually liked it. It gave a film-noir feel that complimented the look of the film but regardless of the cut you prefer, the film is still a masterpiece. It also boasts excellent performances from its entire cast. Ford has been outspoken about his dislike for the film but he has rarely performed better and Rutger Hauer is commanding throughout – with his shiver inducing, “Tears in Rain” monologue, going down as one of cinema’s classic scenes. The haunting soundtrack by Vangelis also deserves mention and accompanies Ridley Scott’s creativity perfectly.
It’s testament alone that with all the big budget special effects these days that a film done in the early 80’s still stands as one of the most amazing visual spectacles ever made. And how many films do you come across, that not only look astounding but also channel Film-Noir and Cartesian doubt?

This connects on a visual, emotional and philosophical level that few films have ever achieved.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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Memento * * * * *

Posted in Film-Noir, Mystery, thriller with tags on March 14, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Jr., Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jorja Fox, Callum Keith Rennie, Larry Holden.

Before his foray into the adventures of the Caped Crusader with “Batman Begins“, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” or even his mind-bending Science fiction actioner “Inception“, director Christopher Nolan delivered this independent, teasingly constructed, psychological thriller in 2000. It was based on an original idea by his brother Jonathan and was only his second feature – after his debut “Following” in 1998. It also marked the emergence of a brilliant directorial talent.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who suffers from short term amnesia. He can’t make new memories. The last memory he has, is of his wife… dying. Leonard knows one thing; his wife was murdered. He doesn’t know by whom though and sets out to find her killer, with his condition causing an obvious problem. So as not to forget any information he comes across, it has to be taken, either in photograph or tattooed to his body. Every waking day he has, is a fresh start and a fresh investigation with people manipulating him along the way. Or is he manipulating his own mind…?

With the arrival of Quentin Tarantino in the early 90’s and his films “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction“, it became cool again, to deliver films in different time frames and to manipulate the chronology of the narrative. Tarantino was by no means the first, but he influenced a new generation of filmmakers. There was an abundance of low-budget crime thrillers that attempted to emulate his success. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan delivered this though, that even Tarantino had been surpassed.
According to Nolan, the best place to start his story, is at the end. Who am I to question that? Who am I to question one the finest independant films to come across in years? He does indeed start at the end of the film, working his way back to the beginning and taking you through one of the most jaw dropping and confusing films I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen a lot. Straight away, we know how this story plays out but the skill is in finding out why.
Not only is the narrative manipulated but the most impressive thing about this, is how we participate in the main characters frame of mind. He is us, as we try to decipher an elaborate murder mystery, in reverse order. If your not carefully listening or observing, this will leave you miles behind. Rarely does a film demand such unconditional attention and still have you scratching your head. It’s not only the accomplished direction or the vice-like script that’s impresses though. Guy Pearce’s central performance is also marvellous. He displays the perfect amount of vacantness, unsure of himself and others, with glimmers of paranoia and despair. Without a performance to capture this characters bewilderment, it wouldn’t have worked as well as it does.

The tag-line for this was… “Some memories are best forgotten”. The same can’t be said for this film. It won’t allow you to forget it. An absolutely gripping and perplexing modern noir from Nolan and one of the finest and most orginal films for a very long time.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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L.A. Confidential * * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery with tags on March 10, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Curtis Hanson.
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Graham Beckel, Brenda Bakke, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin, Matt Malloy, Simon Baker.

James Ellroy is one of the finest of hard-boiled crime writers. For those not familiar, check out his “L.A. Quartet“; four novels, that delve into the seedy and corrupt world of the Los Angeles police force in the 1950’s. This film is actually based on the third novel in the series and director/screenwriters Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland have done a marvellous job in adapting Ellroy’s convoluted narratives and staccato writing.

L.A. in the 50’s is rife with organised crime and corruption in the police force. Both intertwine in the glitz and glamour of the booming Hollywood movie business. The story follows the path of three very different police detectives. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) – the suave and ambitious type with an eye on stardom for himself. Bud White (Russel Crowe) – the brutal strong arm who will do anything to achieve his form of justice and rookie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) – who does everything by the book and believes in law and order. A late night shooting in a coffee shop, which leaves one policeman dead brings these three detectives together in an elaborate plot involving corrupt politicians, prostitutes made to look like movie stars, gangster Mickey Cohen and sleazy tabloid journalists.

First of all, where this film succeeds – in it’s difficult adaptation – is capturing the mood and setting. Not since Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” in 1974 has this been achieved. The music by Jerry Goldsmith taps into film-noir with a seedy jazz score, while Dante Spinotti’s rich cinematography perfectly captures the infancy of the city of Los Angeles, before it’s economical boom. It was a city that could make or break a person, with corruption at every corner. This rich attention to detail, is also captured by some outstanding performances. Kim Basinger won a supporting actress award but it’s Spacey, Pearce and particularly Crowe that own this film. Their performances have seldom been better. The story itself can simply be described as labyrinthine. There are so many facets that’s it’s hard to keep up. It demands your attention and commitment but it also rewards. Credit must go to Curtis Hanson, who does an excellent job in handling all the narrative arcs and teasingly fitting all the pieces together. This is filmmaking of the very highest standard.

An absolutely enthralling film, that’s so vivid and compelling that fans of the genre should not ignore.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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