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
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!
So who better than a battered pug faced Mitchum to front up the story? Pic is perpetually downbeat, with the air of despondency hanging over our protagonist like the grim reaper.
I guess disapproving noir fans will blame Altman for his seemingly cavalier dismissal of the source material and turning a beloved and iconic character into a kind of an ex-hippie, idealistic dreamer wandering his way through a noir city of muted colors looking for cat food instead of clues.
Sex Pistols Part II
Guncrazy is directed by Tamra Davis and written by Matthew Bright. It stars Drew Barrymore, James Legros, Ione Skye, Michael Ironside, Joe Dallesandro and Billy Drago. Music is by Ed Tomney and cinematography by Lisa Rinzer.
"Love made them crazy. Guns made them outlaws!"
High schooler Anita Minteer (Barrymore) is abused at home and at school and by so called friends. Seeking some sort of solace, she befriends - via letters - a convict named Howard (Legros). When Howard is paroled, the pair hook up and quickly find a loving bond. A bond that also involves a passion for guns...
In spite of reports in some quarters, this is not a remake of Joseph H. Lewis' superb film noir of the same name (though the words gun and crazy are separated there) from 1950. Whilst it's also worth mentioning that it's not a knock-off of Bonnie and Clyde (outstanding and trailblazing pic for sure), because for that to be the case we would have to ignore the fact that Lewis' film, and the likes of They Live by Night (Nicolas Ray - 1948) , were not key influences and big movers in the lovers on the lam splinter of noir. It is of course, an amalgamation of said influences, and despite a relatively average rating on the big internet movie sites, this is a neo-noir well worth seeking out for those so inclined.
Students of classic era film noir can't but help to be pulled in by the many deviance's at work, themes involving sexual abuse, promiscuity, impotence, alienation, prostitution and foolish love, the latter pitching a classic noir character into a vortex from which they in all probability know they can't return from. It's not that Anita is a femme fatale, because she's so young and isn't written as a viper type, it's that her youthful ignorance, her teenage hormones tortured by a torrid upbringing, is enough for Howard to grasp onto as a semblance of normality. They are both fools, but honest with it, it's the classic romanticised dream going sour. Again, a classic film noir trait.
Visually there is much to recommend here. The use of slatted shadows and balustrade is cunning and nods appreciatively to influences past, the inference obviously that Howard may be out of prison, but he's still behind bars. Davis throws in a number of striking scenes, a camera shot looking out as a grave is dug, our lovers close and personal (sexy) as they shoot guns, and the finale has a sad grace that, "again," noir lovers can appreciate. Matthew Bright's screenplay also has black comedy elements, the script devious with Freudian smarts, while the cast turn in performances worthy of the form.
OK! So this formula has been done better before, and yes we want more of Ironside and Drago (wonderful characters), and this may have underwhelmed those after a gun crazy action thriller - while Barrymore fans back in the day may have been bemused - but it's a very smart and neatly constructed neo-noir. 7.5/10
Adolfo Celi any good in it?
Recover the mindset.
Retired FBI specialist Will Graham is lured back into action to track a serial killer who is killing families, seemingly linked into the lunar cycle. In the process it opens up some old mental wounds that were born out during his last action out in the field...
Before the gargantuan success of Silence of the Lambs, where the name Hannibal the Cannibal moved into pop culture, and before director Michael Mann became a named auteur often referenced with relish by hungry film students; there was Manhunter, Michael Mann's brilliant adaptation of Thomas Harris' equally brilliant psychological thriller, Red Dragon. It feels a bit redundant now, years later, writing about Mann's use of styles to bear out mood and psychological states, his framing devices, his commitment to his craft, but after revisiting the film on Blu-ray, I find myself once again simultaneously invigorated and unnerved by the magnificence of Manhunter. Visually, thematically and narratively it remains a clinical piece of cinema, a probing study of madness that dares to put a serial killer and the man hunting him in the same psychological body, asking us, as well as William Petersen's FBI agent Will Graham, to empathise with Tom Noonan's troubled Tooth Fairy killer. Here's a thing, too, Francis Dolarhyde (The Tooth Fairy) is a functioning member of society, he is quite frankly a man who could be working in a shop near you! This is no reclusive psychopath such as, well, Buffalo Bill, Dolarhyde is presented to us in such a way as we are given insight into this damaged mind, he is fleshed out as a person, we get to know him and his motivational problems.
Dream much, Will?
Mann and his team are not about over the top or camp performances, gore is kept to a premium, the real horror is shown in aftermath sequences, conversations and harmless photographs, but still it's a nightmarish world. Suspense is wrung out slowly by way of the characterisations. Will has to become the killer, and it's dangerous, he knows so because he has done it before, when capturing Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. Needing to pick up the scent again, to recover the mindset, Will has to go see the good doctor who has a penchant for fine wines and human offal. These scenes showcase Mann at his deadliest, a bright white cell filmed off kilter, each frame switch showing either Lecktor or Graham behind bars, they are one. When Lecktor taunts Will about them being alike, Mann understands this and visually brings it out. Dolarhyde's living abode is murky in colour tones and furnished garishly, and with mirrors, paintings and a lunar landscape, yet when Dolarhyde is accompanied by Joan Allen's blind Reba, where he feels he is finally finding acceptance, this house is seen at ease because of the characterisations. Switch to the finale and it's a walled monstrosity matching that of a killer tipped back over the edge. Brilliant stuff.
If one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.
Lecktor, soon to be back as the source material Lecter in the film versions that follow, is actually not in the film that much. Brian Cox (chilling, calculating, frightening and intelligent) as Lecktor gets under ten minutes of screen time, but that's enough, the character's presence is felt throughout the picture in a number of ways. The Lecktor angle is very relative to film's success, but very much it's one strand of a compelling whole, I realise now that Mann has deliberately kept us wanting more of him visually. Noonan is truly scary, he lived away from the rest of the cast during filming, with Mann's joyous encouragement, the end result is one of the best and most complex serial killer characterisations ever. Lang scores high as weasel paparazzi, Allen is heart achingly effective without patronising blind people and Farina is a huge presence as Jack Crawford, Will's friend and boss who coaxes Will back into the fray knowing full well that Will's mind might not make it back with him. But it's Petersen's movie all the way. His subsequent non film career has given ammunition to his knockers that he is no great actor. Rubbish, with this and To Live and Die in L.A. he gave two of the best crime film portrayals of the 80s. He immerses himself in Will Graham, so much so he wasn't able to shake the character off long after filming had wrapped. There's a scene in a supermarket where Will is explaining to his son about his dark place, where "the ugliest thoughts in the world" live, a stunning sequence of acting and a showcase for Petersen's undoubted talents.
Newcomers to the film and Mann's work in general, could do no worse than spend the ten minutes it takes to watch the Dante Spinotti feature on the disc. Apart from saving me the time to write about Mann's visual flourishes, it gives one an idea of just how key a director and cinematographer partnership is in a film such as this. The audio is crisp, which keeps alive the perfect in tone soundtrack and eerie scoring strains of Rubini and The Reds. Some say that the music of Manhunter is dated? I say that if it sits at one with the tonal shifts and thematics of a story then that surely can never be viewed as dated. And that's the case here in Manhunter. The director's cut is included as part of the package but the transfer is appalling, and for the sake of one cut scene that happens post the Dolarhyde/Graham face off, there's really not much to the DC version anyway. The theatrical cut is perfect, brilliantly realised on Blu-ray to birth a true visual neo-noir masterpiece. 10/10
These scenes showcase Mann at his deadliest, a bright white cell filmed off kilter, each frame switch showing either Lecktor or Graham behind bars, they are one.
Why would a man frame himself... for murder?
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is directed by Peter Hyams and Hyams adapts the screenplay from Douglas Morrow's story/screenplay for the 1956 film of the same name. It stars Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore and Orlando Jones. Music is by David Shire and Hyams also tackles cinematography duties.
C.J. Nicholas (Metcalfe) is a journalist aiming for high things. He is convinced that high profile lawyer Mark Hunter (Douglas) is corrupting legal issues and sets about proving it...
The 1956 film was the great Fritz Lang's last American film, more court drama than being overtly film noir, it was a film well tuned into legalities of its time. Hyams here updates to a modern era setting and it is fanciful - due to the advancements in technology - in the extreme. Of course those things can often be forgivable if the film is well put together and holds some thriller/drama weight.
The look of the film is cheap, as in a TV movie look, with the cinematography uninspiring, the young cast members hardly turn in characterisations to care for, while Douglas (who is very good) is surprisingly under used. The story is a fascinating one as per human foibles, and there's a double whammy stroll down twister street that lifts the film to a rewarding closure. But it's still a disappointment, and this even if you haven't seen Lang's far superior 56 film. 6/10
I should know I ran a wrecking yard just North of that location back in the 1980s.
No way! Beautiful location.
All Roads Lead To Intrigue.
Red Rock West is directed by John Dahl who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Rick. It stars Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, J. T. Walsh and Timothy Carhart. Music is by William Olvis and cinematography by Marc Reshovsky.
When a promised job in Wyoming fails to materialise on account of an injury sustained in combat, Michael Williams (Cage) drifts into the town of Red Rock and is mistaken in a bar for a hit-man hired to kill an unfaithful wife. Tempted by the high cash on offer, Michael plays along and promptly finds himself in a web of intrigue from which escape is looking unlikelyâ¦
Welcome To Red Rock/You Are Now Leaving Red Rock.
The studio didn't know what to do with it, a neo-noir flavoured with contemporary Western spices. Put out on cable in America and thriving on its limited release in Europe, it started to gain a cult fan-base. More so after a theatre in the Frisco Bay area started showing it and it made considerable coinage. Today it still remains more of a cult piece than anything else, which while it deserves more accolades and exposure, is still kind of nice for the fans, because it's like we have our own little neo-noir treasure all to ourselves.
Red Rock West is essential for the neo-noir heads and well worthy of inspection by the average modern day crime film fan. Plot wise it's a bit, shall we say iffy? Yet the twists, turns and characterisations are so deftly constructed and performed, it matters not a jot. Cage's ex- marine is an honest and decent guy who whilst down on his luck - punished for his honesty - finds himself in a vortex of mystery and murder that he can't escape from. His companions in this scenario are film noir staples, the femme fatale (Boyle) with a smoulder as big as her secret, the hit-man (Hopper) with a glint in his eye to accompany his callous leanings, and the shifty bar owner (Walsh) trying to off his wife whilst keeping his shady cards close to his chest.
As the tricksy plot unfolds in a haze of bad judgements and untruths, further pulsed by the vagaries of fate, it becomes apparent that Dahl wants us to know it isn't taking itself too seriously. There's a glorious scent of dark humour hanging in the air, an unpretentiousness about the whole thing that's refreshing. The look and feel is perfect for the narrative, the colour is stripped back to create a moody atmospheric surround, while the score and sound-tracking immediately brings to mind country and western tales of woe. Dahl knows his noir onions, but this is not just a homage hat tipper to the past, he understands what works in noir, be it the blending of the quirky with the edgy, or scene setting in locales such as a colourless bar and a foggy cemetery, Dahl gets the key ingredients right to deliver the goods wholesale.
The small cast come up trumps. Boyle as Suzanne Brown is weak if her femme fatale is pitted against the likes of Matty Walker or Bridget Gregory, but it's an adequate performance that doesn't hinder the picture. She is helped enormously, though, by having to share most scenes with Cage who brings his "A" game. Consistently inconsistent throughout his career, Cage, when on form is a joy to watch, here he gets to thrive as a put upon hero, shifting seamlessly between confusion and boldness, where incredulous looks are the order of the day with a side order of eccentric intensity. Hopper does what he does so well, amusing villainy, while Walsh is effortlessly menacing and suspicious. In small secondary support Carhart and country star Dwight Yoakam leave favourable impressions.
This is not an edge of your seat thriller, or a cranium bothering piece of dramedy, it's neo-noir done right. Where morality is grey at best and money is the root of all evil, it's slick, playful, cold blooded and absorbing. Hooray! 9/10
Do you know any married people today? They're a team. They pull together and they get rich. They got it all.
Miami Blues is directed by George Armitage who also adapts the screenplay from the novel of the same name written by Charles Willeford. It stars Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Charles Napier. Music is by Gary Chang and cinematography by Tak Fujimoto.
Ex-con Frederick Frenger Jr. (Baldwin) lands in Miami and quickly continues his criminal ways. Hooking up with gullible prostitute Susie Waggoner (Leigh), Frenger, by now under suspicion for the killing of a Hare Krishna man at Miami airport, steals the identity of the policeman investigating him and ups his crime spree...
This is all about the characterisations, for the story is simple and played as a darkly comic hard boiled cop picture. We are in a stripped back Miami, no gloss here, wherever the psychotic Frenger goes, there is crime that he is only too willing to enhance. Quite often with violent but humorous results. His union with Susie is a matter of convenience, as she, the gullible tart with the heart, dreams of a white picket fence house - marriage - babies, he dreams only of her cash and the comfort of cover she affords his criminal doings. Then there is Sgt. Hoke Moseley (Ward), straight out of noirville, world weary, grizzled, incapable of genuine affection, tatty and someone who soaks his false teeth in a glass of brandy! It's a wonderful character brought vividly to life by Ward, especially when Frenger steals said set of teeth! And with Leigh and Baldwin also making good on the characters as written, this is very much worth a look for the acting performances.
It's not under seen or under valued, the respective ratings on internet sites and critical appraisals are about right. There's some value in the dark comedy born out of the crime sequences, where we are dared not to smile, and the violence is impacting without hitting us over the head for the sake of it. But without Junior, Susie and Hoke holding our attention, the film would be flat and forgettable. 6/10