The sequel to Chinatown was pretty much panned by critics and fans alike, but has proven over time to be a great film in its own right. Ten years after the events that ended so badly in Chinatown, private detective Jake Gittes stumbles onto a case that takes him back to some of the skeletons in his closet. A scandal that is reminiscent of what happened ten years earlier, this time with real estate and oilfields, is at its center.
While many post WWII noir protagonists are haunted by the war, Jake is haunted by a different past: the part he played in the death of Evelyn Mulwray and his inability to save Evelynâs daughter, Katherine. And while there is some redemption in this story it is of little value to him. In the last scene, Jake pretty much sums up the critical sentiment of the noir protagonist: âThe past never goes away.â
One man and his quest for meaning turns into a Peckinpah classic.
El Jefe is outraged to find that his daughter has fallen pregnant to a man who has upped and gone, after learning the identity of the rascal (Alfredo Garcia), he offers one million dollars to anyone who can bring him the head of the Lothario running man. On the trail are hit men Quill & Sappensly, Bennie & his prostitute girlfriend Elita, and some other Mexican bandit types, all of them are on a collision course that will bring far more than they all bargained for.
This was the one film where director Sam Peckinpah felt he had the most control, the one where we apparently get his own cut and not some chopped up piece of work from interfering executives. Viewing it now some 34 years after its release, it stands up well as a testament to the work of a great director. On the surface it looks trashy, we have homosexual hit men, grave robbing, potential rape, murders abound, prostitution, lower than the low characters, in short the film is awash with Peckinpah traits. Yet it would be a disservice to even think this film isn't rich in thematic texture, for the journey that Bennie, our main protagonist takes is one of meaning, he is a loser, but we find him on this quest to find not only fortune, but respect and love. It's a bloody trail for sure, but it has much depth and no little Peckinpah humour to push the film to it's bloody yet triumphant finale. Warren Oates is rewarded by Peckinpah for years of sterling work for him by getting the lead role of Bennie, and he grasps it with both hands to turn in a wonderful performance that splits sadness and vibrancy with deft of ease.
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia has a harsh quality about it, be it the violence, or be it the sadness of the characters, but what isn't in doubt to me is that it's harshness is cloaked in Peckinpah splendour. 9/10
I have been pointing my gun at a lot of people this week.
A box office failure and a neo-noir film that confounded critics and fans alike, The Black Dahlia now appears to be a pic that has had its strengths ignored. As the clamour to kick Brian De Palma continues unabated to this day, and the point blank refusal to accept that Josh Hartnett is a better actor than the likes of Pearl Harbor suggests, it's a film worthy of a revisit by genre/style fans alike.
Plot revolves around the infamous murder of one Elizabeth Short in Hollywood, 1947. An aspiring actress who was found butchered and her murder to this day remains unsolved. De Palma and his writer Josh Friedman adapt from noir legend James Ellroy's novel of the same name, the crux of the story is about two hot-to-trot detectives who get involved in the Short case, and pretty soon there is a can of worms that has been shaken and opened, and there's dizzying worms everywhere - we think?
De Palma loves noir, he has dabbled with it for a long time, not all of it works, but often he delivers for like minded cinephiles. With expectation levels high and following in the slipstream of the critical darling that was L.A. Confidential, Black Dahlia never really had a hope of achieving its lofty ambitions, yet it's a tremendously realised picture from a noir stand point. Whilst it showcases the technical wizardry of the director.
The charges of it being convoluted are fair, it's a spinning narrative, stories within stories, characterisations obtuse, but so was The Big Sleep! I know, I know, this is not fit to lace the boots of Hawks' genius movie, but tricksy narratives have always been a fundamental part of many a film noir, so why the distaste for this one? Especially since the period design, costuming, styling, photography and characterisations are so rich in detail? For instance Hartnett's detective is gumshoe nirvana, while Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank fatale the femme with mischievous glee.
But of course De Palma then spells it out for the finale, explaining things, a sort of macabre wrap up for those that needed it. Either way he was never going to win, it's too complex, it didn't need spelling out, while Mr. De Palma we have to tell you that your characters have been too cold, we don't feel them?! Huh? This is noirville, a place frequented by bad people, idiots and hapless dreamers, of dupes and double crossers. Hell there's even a suggestion of necrophiliac tendencies in this, and that's before we even delve into the machinations of the two femme fatales, a family that's lacking Adams Family Values and coppers of dubious motives.
Yeah, it's cold, and yes De Palma is guilty of trying to please all parties by covering all bases, but it's far from being a stinker. Haters of De Palma, Hartnett and complex noir narratives can knock two points off of my own personal rating, otherwise it's 7/10.
It also added to the confusion that Hilary Swank and Mia Kirshner look nothing alike. Now that was kind of an important element to the whole story. I read where Eva Green was supposed to play Madeleine Linscott but backed out at the last minute leaving De Palma with the already cast Kirshner as Elizabeth Short and Swank as her supposed look alike.
More than iconography here in dynamite Siegel/Eastwood teaming.
The film opens with a shot of a memorial wall in praise of the San Francisco Police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, a SFPD badge is prominent as the camera scrolls down the ream of names on the wall. Cut to a rooftop sniper shooting a girl taking a swim in a swimming pool, cut to the coolest looking cop you have ever seen making his way to the rooftop scene, he stands and surveys the whole of the San Francisco bay area, this is, his area, and we know we are in for a very special film indeed.
Dirty Harry is now something of an institution, the film that pushed the boundaries of cops versus bad guys movies, some of the film's dialogue became part of modern day speak, and it's the film that propelled Clint Eastwood into the stratosphere of super stardom. Often tagged as a fascist film, I think it's more a cynical look at the rights of criminals because Harry is everyone who has ever been a victim of crime, he will do what it takes to take down the criminals festering in society, you break the law and Harry will get you any way he can. Here Harry is on the trail of Scorpio, a ruthless sniper killing at random, Scorpio kidnaps a teenage girl and demands $200.000 from the city or she will die in the hole he has her buried in. Harry is just the man for the job of delivery boy and this sets the wheels in motion for what becomes a personal crusade for Harry to take Scorpio down at all costs.
Director Don Siegel crafts a masterpiece here, creating a western within the big city landscape, the pace is energetic at times yet reeling itself in to provide genuine suspense when needed. Siegel should also be praised for sticking by Andy Robinson as Scorpio, for it's an insanely great performance from him. Yet it might never had happened since Robinson was petrified of guns, but Siegel stood by him and coaxed him through it. The result is a maniacal turn that scares and amuses in equal measure - witness his mad singing during a bus kidnap scene, you will not know whether to laugh or be afraid.
Yet as good as Robinson is, he gives way to a seamless piece of magnificence from Eastwood as Harry Callahan, note perfect and enthusing the role with the right amount of dynamic cool and gusto, it's no surprise that the character became a cinematic legend after such a great acting performance. Finally I must mention the wonderful score from Lalo Schifrin, jazz/electro/beat combinations segue perfectly into each scene with maximum impact to cap off one of the finest films of the 70s, and if you don't believe me then you can go argue with Harry. 9/10
The Doppleganger Disease.
Tightrope is directed by Richard Tuggle and Clint Eastwood, Tuggle writes the screenplay. It stars Eastwood, Genevieve Bujold, Dan Hedaya, Alison Eastwood and Rod Masterson. Music is by Lennie Niehaus and cinematography by Bruce Surtees.
New Orleans and Detective Wes Block is plunged into a hunt for a rapist serial killer that brings out his own deviant peccadilloes.
One of Eastwood's best movies also happens to be one of his most under appreciated, the actor challenging himself to explore a darker characterisation than the iconographic ones he was most famed for. Wes Block is a damaged man, a divorced father of two girls, who he adores but they are uncomfortably at arms length due to his work. He's afraid of affection, to be touched in a gentle manner by a member of the opposite sex, preferring to indulge in seamy sex by way of prostitutes who frequent the dark abodes of Orleans' French Quarter.
If you knew what's aheadâ¦
Enter the doppelganger effect, as a mysterious serial killer is at large murdering the ladies of the night that Wes takes his pleasure with, the guilt factor hanging heavy on his haunted shoulders. As Wes tries to bring down the killer, he is battling to realign his mindset about the female sex, his daughters and also Beryl Thibodeaux (Bujold), the latter the rape counsellor who was once his sparring adversary, but is now a potential lover if Wes can put everything back on an even keel.
Tuggle, Eastwood and Surtees bring plenty of film noir touches to their picture. Surtees' photography is strong in colour but dark in shading, perfectly embodying the seamy side of The Big Easy. Between them, actor and director fill out this fascinating tale with classic noirish scenes. A Mardi Gras warehouse is eerie, as is a chase through a cemetery, then there's clowns and balloons, things that are associated with childish fun but so often in noirville carry a sinister edge. The sleazy dives that Wes frequents are foreboding places of sin, more so when the killer is stalking his prey. While a railroad location is used to great effect as well.
It has some problems, Hedaya is wasted and the Wes and Beryl relationship is telegraphed a mile away. While the formula of such movies inevitably means the culmination of tale is no surprise, but the journey is a dark and interesting one and Tightrope is a damn fine movie. 8/10
You are making big profits from my work, my risk, my sweat.
Thief is written and directed by Michael Mann, who adapts the screenplay form the novel "The Home Invaders" written by Frank Hohimer. It stars James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky, James Belushi and Willie Nelson. Music is by Tangerine Dream and cinematography by Donald Thorin.
Frank (Caan) is a tough ex-con and expert jewel thief. He's working his way out to a normal life, but after being lured to a big job for the mob, he finds plans on both sides severely altered.
For his first full length theatrical feature, Michael Mann announced himself to the film world with some distinction, and in the process showed everyone what style of film making makes him tick. Thief is a film of stylised grit, visually, thematically and narratively. Set and filmed in Chicago, Mann, aided by Thorin, shoots the story through pure neo-noir filters.
At nighttime it is all a beautifully neon drenched haze, where the streets shimmer with dampness, a dampness brought about by the rain and god knows what else! By day there's a sweaty hue, a feeling that the heat is well and truly on, that even in daylight Frank isn't safe, his dreams may be a touch too far to reach. And no matter what the scene or scenario, Tangerine Dream are laying over the top a throbbing pulse beat, it's like The Warriors trying to get back to Coney Island, the music has a sense of dread about it, that danger is at every corner.
This part of Chicago stinks, it's a vile and corrupt place. Dirty cops everywhere, underworld criminals ruling the roost - Hell! You can even buy a baby if you want one. Is it any wonder that Frank just wants to settle down with a wife and child, to walk barefooted in the sea, to have domesticity? But Frank, as smart, tough and savvy as he is, seems to thrive on the edge of things, with Mann giving him earthy and honest dialogue to engage us with, marking him out as an identifiable everyman protagonist who just happens to be an exceptional thief.
Mann's attention to detail is on show straight away, none more so than with the two key safe cracking jobs that are undertaken. Using genuine jewel thieves as technical advisers on the film, these sequences ooze realism, from the tools used, the pre-planning and the execution of the takes, it smacks of reality and does justice to the genuine feel of the characterisations brought alive by the superb cast. And finally Mann delivers a finale of ambiguity, a noir shaded piece of abruptness, an ending that perfectly fits the whole production. 9/10
but the end was a bit predictable
He nose you know!
Chinatown is directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. It stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez and John Hillerman. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by John A. Alonzo.
Private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) is working on an adultery case but quickly finds himself embroiled in murder and corruption.
The gathering of Polanski, Towne, Nicholson and Robert Evans (producer) put their respective skills together to craft one of the most lauded neo-noir films of all time. It's a searing picture awash with the staples of the film noir and gumshoe detective movies that graced cinema in the 40s and 50s. From the characterisations (suspicious femmes - mouthy coppers - sleazy kingpin - tough protagonist in a whirlpool of unravelling layers), to the hard boiled script, violence, sex and brutal revelations, it's a noir essential that only lacks chiaroscuro and expressionistic swirls to seal the complete deal.
Allegoraries unbound, iconography assured and dialogue now in the lexicon of legends, Chinatown is not to be missed, not just by fans of noir, but fans of cinema, period. 9.5/10
it's a noir essential that only lacks chiaroscuro and expressionistic swirls to seal the complete deal.
Maybe that's because it is in color?