Thursday, December 4, 2008

50 Years of L.A. Noir @ the Parkway

Film Noir returns to the Parkway for the next five Mondays. Take-Up Productions presents "Ready for Our Close-Up: 50 Years of L.A. Noir," offering five films that span from 1945 to 2005. The series will offer a much needed escape from the end of the season Oscar battles and holiday Hollywood hoopla. Replete with the Parkway's couches and cold beer, the series is not to be missed. All films will be screened from 35mm prints at the Parkway Theater. Tickets are $5 or you can buy a five film punch card for $20, good for any of Take-Up's presentations. (All reviews below are taken from Time Out.)

Monday, December 8, 7:30pm
Sunset Boulevard (1950) directed by Billy Wilder
One of Wilder's finest, and certainly the blackest of all Hollywood's scab-scratching accounts of itself, this establishes its relentless acidity in the opening scene by having the story related by a corpse floating face-down in a Hollywood swimming-pool. What follows in flashback is a tale of humiliation, exploitation, and dashed dreams, as a feckless, bankrupt screenwriter (Holden) pulls into a crumbling mansion in search of refuge from his creditors, and becomes inextricably entangled in the possessive web woven by a faded star of the silents (Swanson), who is high on hopes of a comeback and heading for outright insanity. The performances are suitably sordid, the direction precise, the camerawork appropriately noir, and the memorably sour script sounds bitter-sweet echoes of the Golden Age of Tinseltown (with has-beens Keaton, HB Warner and Anna Q Nilsson appearing in a brief card-game scene). It's all deliriously dark and nightmarish, its only shortcoming being its cynical lack of faith in humanity: only von Stroheim, superb as Swanson's devotedly watchful butler Max, manages to make us feel the tragedy on view.

Monday, December 15, 7:30pm
Mildred Pierce (1945) directed by
James Cain's novel of the treacherous life in Southern California that sets house-wife-turned waitress-turned-successful restauranteur (Crawford) against her own daughter (Blyth) in competition for the love of playboy Zachary Scott, is brought fastidiously and bleakly to life by Curtiz' direction, Ernest Haller's camerawork, and Anton Grot's magnificent sets. Told in flashback from the moment of Scott's murder, the film is a chilling demonstration of the fact that, in a patriarchal society, when a woman steps outside the home the end result may be disastrous.

Monday, December 22, 7:30pm
Chinatown (1974) directed by Roman Polanski
The hard-boiled private eye coolly strolls a few steps ahead of the audience. The slapstick detective gets everything wrong and then pratfalls first over the finish line anyway. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is neither - instead he's a hard-boiled private eye who gets everything wrong. Jake snaps tabloid-ready photos of an adulterous love nest that's no such thing. He spies a distressed young woman through a window and mistakes her for a hostage. He finds bifocals in a pond and calls them Exhibit A of marital murder, only the glasses don't belong to the victim and the wife hasn't killed anyone. Yet when he confronts ostensible black widow Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) with the spectacular evidence, the cigarette between his teeth lends his voice an authoritative Bogie hiss. Throughout, Gittes sexes up mediocre snooping with blithe arrogance and sarcastic machismo. It's the actor's default mode, sure, but in 1974 it hadn't yet calcified into Schtickolson, and in 1974 a director (Polanski), a screenwriter (Towne) and a producer (Evans) could decide to beat a genre senseless and dump it in the wilds of Greek tragedy. 'You see, Mr Gits,' depravity incarnate Noah Cross (Huston) famously explains, 'most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything.' As is Chinatown. The last gunshot here is the sound of the gate slamming on the Paramount lot of Evans' halcyon reign, and as the camera rears back to catch Jake's expression, the dolly lists and shivers - an almost imperceptible sob of grief and recognition, but not a tear is shed.

Monday, December 29, 7:30pm
L.A. Confidential (1997) directed by Curtis Hanson
Dime store detective stories have inspired more great movies than Dostoevsky ever will, but local-boy-made-bad James Ellroy always seemed too tough a proposition for Hollywood to take on. Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's most complex novel is a towering achievement, probably the finest mystery thriller since Chinatown. Set in the '50s, this punchy cocktail of gangland violence, police brutality, racism and sex-scandal cover-ups feels torn from today's headlines. It operates on the principles of an exposé, highlighting the parallax between image and reality. As Danny DeVito's muck-raising, 'Hush Hush' magazine hack guides us on a gleeful trawl through the seedier, sleazier aspects of this, the last of the frontier towns, we meet three very different lawmen: Spacey's cynical showboat Jack Vincennes; Ed Exley (Pearce), a straight-arrow cop headed for the top; and Crowe's Bud White, the strong arm of the law, brawn to Exley's brains. Contrasting not only their approaches to procedure, justice and respect, but also their vividly etched, distinctly volatile psycho-pathologies, Hanson inexorably draws these three cases to one conclusion: when the trio do take a stand, it's inspired less by idealism than self-disgust. As the emotional nexus, a Veronica Lake lookalike trapped in a web of male desires, Basinger is arguably the pick of a perfect cast. Subtle, shocking, compelling and immensely assured.

Monday, January 5, 7:30pm
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) directed by Shane Black
When Pauline Kael used the phrase ‘kiss kiss, bang bang’ to describe the visceral appeal of most movies, it was with a sense of despair – still, Shane Black (creator of the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise and writer of ‘Last Action Hero’ and ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’) has never been one to court critical kudos. But while his directorial debut has its share of sex and shoot-outs, it’s also an ultra-knowing exercise in genre deconstruction, and something of a charmer to boot. Visually it’s consistently engaging, from a Kodak-coloured childhood flashback to natty Saul Bass-style credits, and the casting is spot-on: Kilmer inflects Perry’s sarcasm with an undertow of pastoral care for Downey’s Harry, whose amiable haplessness also meshes well with Harmony’s world-weariness. (Monaghan also impresses despite being a decade too young.) The film’s knowingness is natty window-dressing that lets a genre tale have its dry martini and drink it; it’s the assured characterisations that have you wishing it good health.

4 comments:

Mason said...

LA Confidential is a masterpiece of course, and Chinatown is as well, but how could Take-Up pass on the greatest modern noir, True Romance? I guess it's just me...

Barry Kryshka said...

Also overlooked: Devil In A Blue Dress, which is a shame. We tossed around Blade Runner, to represent the eighties (but there might be a Philip K Dick series next spring, and we need Blade Runner for that). And Kiss Me Deadly, if we hadn't screened it 10 months ago. And maybe Altman's The Player.

Anyone else want to chime in with the ones I missed?

Mason said...

Ah, maybe TR for another time. I won't be passing up the opportunity to see LA Conf on a big screen.

joetron2030 said...

I'm a big fan of "L.A. Confidential" and "Chinatown".

Haven't seen the rest. Again Kathie, you provide more stuff for me to stick in my Netflix queue. So what if it's already 150+ discs long?!?