Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Not Necessarily Noir

I mentioned that I had recommended Body Double and Something Wild to Elliot Lavine during one of his previous Roxie series.  I spoke with Lavine during the last month's Not Necessarily Noir 3 (NNN3) festival at the Roxie.  He was a bit cagey when I mentioned our conversation to him.  He said "I remember that conversation."  He didn't say "I took your programming advice" or even "I'm glad you recommended those films" but was noncommittal.  He acknowledged the conversation if not the "cause and effect."

NNN3 ran from October 19 to 31 at the Roxie.  I saw 14 of the 26 films screened.

Of the 12 films I missed, I had seen six of them on the big screen within the last few years.   A seventh film, From Dusk Till Dawn, has had heavy rotation on cable TV.  I've seen parts of From Dusk Till Dawn at least two dozen times.  The seven films I passed on due to familiarity were:  Reservoir Dogs (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992), Cockfighter (dir. Monte Hellman, 1974), The Burglars (1971), Eyes of Laura Mars (dir. Irving Kershner, 1978), Sugar Hill (1974), From Dusk till Dawn (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 1996) and Near Dark (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1987).

The five films I passed on due to scheduling conflicts or fatigue were:  Day of the Wolves, Peur Sur la Ville, Manhunter, White of the Eye and Ganja & Hess.  I remember reading Red Dragon, the Thomas Harris novel Manhunter was based on.  I can still recall some of the plot including the serial killer's obsession with William Blake's paintings.  I particularly regret missing Day of the Wolves.

I noticed that Lavine was absent quite a bit.  He typically introduces the films but he was absent from many of the screenings I attended.  As Lavine noted, NNN3 had the misfortune of competing the San Francisco Giants playoff run which ended in a Word Series title.  On seven of the 13 days, NNN3 competed against Giants playoff games.  I definitely noticed that attendance was off compared to previous festivals.

I was in the Roxie watching Who'll Stop the Rain when the Giants clinched the Series.  I could hear the cheering on Valencia Street when the final out was recorded.  When the movie ended about an hour after that, the streets around the Roxie were crowded with revellers celebrating the win and police cars were escorting a makeshift victory parade.

The 14 films I saw were:

Hard Boiled starring Chow Yun-fat & Tony Leung Chiu Wai; directed by John Woo; Cantonese with subtitles; (1992)
To Live and Die in LA starring William Petersen & Willem Dafoe; directed by William Friedkin; (1985)
One False Move starring Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams & Billy Bob Thornton; directed by Carl Franklin; (1992)
Charley Varrick starring Walter Matthau & Joe Don Baker; direcited by Don Siegel; (1973)
Miami Blues starring Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward & Jennifer Jason Leigh; directed by George Armitage; (1990)
Darker Than Amber starring Rod Taylor; directed by Robert Clouse; (1970)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia starring Warren Oates; directed by Sam Peckinpah; (1974)
Body Double starring Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith & Gregg Henry; directed by Brian De Palma; (1984)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr. & Val Kilmer; directed by Shane Black; (2005) - Official Website
Something Wild starring Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith & Ray Liotta; directed by Jonathan Demme; (1986)
Cisco Pike starring Kris Kristofferson, Harry Dean Stanton & Gene Hackman; directed by Bill L. Norton; (1972)
Who'll Stop the Rain starring Nick Nolte & Tuesday Weld; directed by Karel Reisz; (1978)
Night of the Following Day starring Marlon Brando, Richard Boone & Rita Moreno; directed by Hubert Cornfield; (1968)
After Dark, My Sweet starring Jason Patric, Rachel Ward & Bruce Dern; directed by James Foley; (1990)

The print of Who'll Stop the Rain listed the film title as Dog Soldiers.

There were quite a few pleasant surprises in the series.  Prior to the series, I had seen Body Double, Something Wild, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and To Live & Die in LA.  After Dark, My Sweet looked familiar but while watching it I was not able to recall or predict the plot.

I'm going to save Body Double & Something Wild for their own posts.  There was a time in my life when those two films and Blade Runner formed the triumvirate of influential films in my life.  It's been at least 10 years since I saw any of those film in they entirety in one sitting.  I was very anxious about seeing Body Double & Something Wild after perhaps 15 to 20 years since seeing them.


To Live and Die in LA is one of those films I kind of remember from my teenage years.  I recall Wang Chung did the soundtrack and the title track had heavy airplay on MTV.  I remember an intense car chase scene.  I remember a line by John Tuturro - "And the check is in the mail, and I love you, and I promise not to come in your mouth..."

I was expecting Live & Die to be stylish but I was surprised at much I was drawn into the plot.  Willem Dafoe is a counterfeiter who is ruthless in murdering anyone who gets in his way including Secret Service Agent Richard Chance's (William Petersen) partner.  Change is an adrenalin junkie and cowboy cop who becomes obsessed with arresting Eric Masters (Dafoe).  As Chance resorts to criminal behavior (which results in the death of an undercover FBI agent), the line between cop & criminal is blurred.

Petersen comes on a little too strong but I guess the character requires an outsized performance.  Dafoe is very creepy as Masters.  John Pankow as Chance's tenderfoot partner shows quite a range of acting.  The ending was also shocking because it went against the typically Hollywood playbook.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang features Robert Downey Jr. at his snarkiest.  Clever and very funny, KKBB is comedy masquerading as a neo-noir.  Downey plays a small-time thief pretending to be a method actor who teams up a Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a homosexual private eye.  Filled with Hollywood references and strong comedic chemistry between Downey & Kilmer, KKBB is an under-appreciated film.


Hard Boiled is an HK action film with Chow Yun-fat as a cop and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as an undercover cop trying to bring down gangster Anthony Wong.  Featuring John Woo's trademark ballet of violence, Hard Boiled ends with extended finale which takes place in hospital.  For my tastes, the explosions and running battles were emphasized too.  I recall Woo's best films had more character development.  I'm thinking of A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Face/Off.  Hard Boiled isn't bad as much as it suffers in comparison to Woo's (and Chow Yun-fat's) best works.

Darker Than Amber was also disappointing.  I never got into the film which is a tale of murder involving a prostitution ring.  The highlight of the film is fight scene between Taylor and William Smith.  While I was watching the scene, I was surprised at how realistic it was.  It was step above the normal 1970s fight sequence.  I later learned that the fight scene is infamous because the two actor were really fighting - real blood & real missing teeth.  Lavine, who introduced the film, made sure to mention the print he was screening had the original fight which has been edited down in many prints.

Cisco Pike & Who'll Stop the Rain seemed like 1970s time capsules which was distracting.  It wasn't just the clothes but the post-Vietnam Was disillusionment that seemed foreign to me.

After Dark, My Sweet which is well regarded by many seemed bogged down in Patric's performance & the ending seemed to come out of nowhere.  It's one of those films where they take time and care to establish the characters and then at the end, they change the characters' motivations to resolve the plot.  Maybe I missed something.  It was the last film I saw in the series & I remember I was anxious to get home that night.

Night of the Following Day was a kidnap for ransom caper involving Marlon Brando, Richard Boone & Rita Moreno as the kidnappers of  a teenage heiress.  Richard Boone is a great villain.  I vividly recall his performances from two of John Wayne's later films - Big Jake and Wayne's final film, The Shootist.  Night of the Following Day didn't really distinguish itself.


Charley Varrick was a nice surprise..  Featuring the always reliable Walter Matthau as a small-time bank robber who has inadvertently rips off the Mob.  John Vernon (another reliably great villain) plays the mob banker and Joe Don Baker is the hitman out to retrieve the money and kill Varrick (Matthau).  Charley Varrick is a nice caper film.

One False Move was also a surprise.  I had never heard of the film (which was co-written by Billy Bob Thornton).  Billy Bob, Michael Beach & Cynda Williams play a trio who pull off a particularly violent drug robbery.  Billy Bob is coked up, Beach is calculatingly ruthless and Williams is kind of along for the ride.  The three drive from LA to the small Arkansas town that Billy Boy & Williams grew up in.  Bill Paxton plays the sheriff of that town & he and Williams share a secret.  Billy Bob, in his first screenplay, explores small town life and race relations.  What starts off as noir, ends in tale of redemption.  The film is very well made and explores the interactions within two trios - the criminal trio and the second trio consist of Paxton & two LA cops in Arkansas waiting for the first trio.  The trio of cops offer their commentary on small town life and urban view towards rural life.  Paxton is outstanding as Sheriff Hurricane Dixon but the rest of the cast is quite good as well.

Miami Blues was a film I had never heard of before the festival.  Part comedy, part noir, Miami Blues stars a young Alec Baldwin as a goofy psychopath who upon arriving in Miami hooks up with a naive prostitute (an unrecognizable Jennifer Jason Leigh).  Baldwin & Leigh immediately set up house but Detective Moseley (Fred Ward) comes around investigating the murder of a Hare Krishna which was committed by Baldwin.  Later that night, Frenger (Baldwin) assaults Moseley and takes his gun & badge.    Trying to go legit for Susie's (Leigh) sake, Frenger uses the badge & gun to break up robberies  by robbing the robber or shaking down the victim he saves.

Moseley eventually tracks them down and he & Frenger have a showdown after a darkly comedic interlude involving Frenger, a pawn shop owner and a machete.  Baldwin shines as the off-kilter killer.  He has a certain glow about him as if he is loving every minute of the shoot.  As a time marker, Miami Blues was released about a month after The Hunt for Red October.

Those three films (Charley Varrick, One False Move & Miami Blues) made NNN3 worthwile for me.  They were completely unknown to me and thoroughly enjoyable.  A fourth film also made the top of my list but I was aware of it before the series.  Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is well known due to its title and director (Sam Peckinpah).  Peckinpah's low-budget follow-up to the commercially disappointing Pat Garrett and Billy the KidAlfredo Garcia is mostly a psychological profile of Bennie (Warren Oates), a American expat in Mexico making a living playing Guantanamera on his piano (I know that's Cuban not Mexican).  Alfredo Garcia is guy who impregnated El Jefe's daughter and he has put a bounty on his decapitated head.  The word goes out and two Americans (Robert Webber & Gig Young) start looking for Garcia.  They cross paths with Bennie who pretends he doesn't know Garcia.  In fact, he is a regular in the bar Bennie plays piano in.

Bennie finds out that Elita (Isela Vega), his prostitute girlfriend, knows where he is buried.  Garcia died in a car accident recently.  Eager to collect the bounty, Bennie and Elita set off to dig up the corpse, decapitate it and collect the money.  Bennie approaches this grisly task with a nonchalance which is interesting.  The trip will change his life forever as he has contend with biker rapists, robbers who steal the head and kill Elita, Garcia's family, the two Americans and eventually El Jefe.  Bennie undergoes a profound metamorphosis as result of his tribulations.  It's a nightmare road trip on acid as Bennie begins to talk with Garcia's rotting head (kept in a burlap bag).

Before, I said Cisco Pike & Who'll Stop the Rain were distracting because its time setting was so prevalent.  Alfredo Garcia looks like a 1970s film (Oates made a lot of films with Monte Hellman that looked similar), but the themes in Alfredo Garcia translate better to present day.

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