Thursday, June 11, 2020

Sopranos Ending Confirmed: Told Ya So!

“Sopranos” creator David Chase finally set the record straight about Tony Soprano’s fate in the series finale, “Made in America.” 
Not to toot my own horn, but it seems that Life and Death in L.A. had it right all along
Chase let slip a telling comment that confirms my theory, published here in 2012. The final scene of the dramatic series left the audience wondering what happened to New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano when the screen suddenly went black.
I felt that the unexpected blackout was a subtle way of showing that Tony was dead. Chase had never decisively stated whether or not Tony got whacked. But an interview quoted in the New York Post leaves little doubt. The crime boss who reigned supreme over North Jersey for six seasons that stretched out over eight years had finally met his demise.
The series ran on HBO, garnering more than 20 Emmy Awards and was widely acclaimed as one of the best television dramas of all time. James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, the crime boss who struggled with family matters while running the Jersey mob, died in 2013. The series continues to stream on HBO. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

'The Silent Partner' : A Bank Job 1970s Noir Style

Elliot Gould is Miles Cullen, a Toronto bank teller whose chief companions in life are the tropical fish he keeps in an aquarium in his cramped apartment. To his female co-workers, Miles is a teddy bear nerd with as much sex appeal as one of his guppies.
One day, he notices something sinister is afoot in the shopping mall where his bank is located. Something is churning inside him, and it doesn't take long for the premonition he's ruminating over to bubble to the surface.
He fusses over his chess board — the first clue that this drama will be a tactical battle of wits. Frustrated in his dreams of winning the love of a beautiful woman, Julie (Suzannah York), he takes an uncharacteristic step that could free him from his mundane life or lead to ruin  — pocketing a healthy chunk of the bank's funds before a hold-up man can clear out the cash drawer.
As ineffectual as he is with the opposite sex, Miles proves himself a surprisingly skilled criminal mastermind. Hanging in the balance of this high stakes game is the possibility of starting life anew, although it becomes clear he has not considered all of the consequences of his criminal act.
Once the deed is done a number of snags come up, the chief one being the reappearance of Reikle (Christopher Plummer), a sadistic criminal who in practically every way is the diametric opposite of Miles. Further complicating the matter is Elaine (CĂ©line Lomez), a femme fatale with murkey allegiances — as femmes fatale would.
In a couple of plot twists Miles comes close to losing the purloined fortune he hopes will serve as an early retirement fund. In addition to keeping his hands on the cash he must come up with a strategy of ridding himself of his major nemesis, Reikle, who has made Miles his unwilling silent partner.
The screenplay, written by Curtis Hanson, who co-wrote and directed "L.A. Confidential," displays a lean framework typical of film noir. The pieces fit together nicely and its scenes crackle with understated authenticity. If one weakness must be singled out it is that "The Silent Partner" lacks the noir genre's fatalistic outlook — the ending buttons up neatly, and just misses greatness. See it anyway, because, unlike Julie's withering summation of Miles early in the film, its total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Notorious Los Angeles Crime ... and Where to Find It

The Colt revolver found near Lana Clarkson’s body at the Alhambra crime scene.

Who doesn't like to reminisce now and then? Especially when it comes to heinous crimes committed in the City of Los Angeles. Like any large metropolitan region, Los Angeles has its share of dark moments. Crime in the City of Angels has been the stuff we've watched in thousands movies and TV shows, seen depicted on screen in such lurid detail, that the link between the city and the crimes that are perpetrated here stays burned into our collective memory long after the blood stains have been mopped up and the corpses removed to the morgue.
Some may blame the year-round sunshine and dry desert air for driving the good people of the city to distraction. Raymond Chandler said that the dusty, unforgiving winds can bring about madness and tragedy:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” 
― Raymond Chandler, Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories 

If you'd like to review a bit of the city's past, try this handy guide, 'The Locations of L.A,'s Most Memorable Crimes by Neighborhood."

Monday, November 27, 2017

When Works of Art Bewitch, Haunt ... and Judge

Detective Mark MacPherson is mesmerized by the portrait  of Laura Hunt. 
Noir antiheroes typically come from the wrong side of the tracks and struggle to shake off the dust from the old neighborhood by pursuing the trappings of the filthy rich – jewels, swell apartments, gorgeous babes.
It usually ends badly.
One plaything of the well-heeled seen surprisingly often in film noir is the painted portrait, a symbol of power and wealth, and often the keystone of the noir drama’s plot. Portraits of women turn up often on the screen, and the artworks inject a range of economic, emotional and psychological conditions into the story.
In some films, a portrait represents a desire to isolate and possess the sitter. Other times a painting can seem to hang over a room and cast suspicion on those who behold it. Here are a few examples:
In Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir “Laura,” Dana Andrews as police Detective Lt. Mark McPherson, falls in love with the eponymous murder victim Laura Hunt, whose portrait hangs over her living room mantelpiece. He claims his frequent visits to the scene of the crime, the dead girl’s apartment, are part of his investigation. But while at the crime scene he compulsively sifts through her possessions, listens to her favorite recordings of romantic music and moons over her portrait. All the while Waldo Lydecker, a poison-tongued gossip columnist played by Clifton Webb, chides the detective about “falling in love with a corpse.”
But the alluring portrait of the murdered woman has an unmistakable attraction for MacPherson, and the artwork is as much a character in the story as any of the living cast members.
In another Preminger noir, “Whirlpool,” Anne Sutton, played by Jean Tierney, a psychiatrist’s wife, suffers from kleptomania and is hypnotized to treat her condition. Those around her consider her grasp of reality shaky at best.  Echoing the plot of “Laura,” a portrait of a deceased woman plays a role in the film. Anne is blamed for the woman’s death, and the portrait, again, hung over the living room mantelpiece, seems to haunt the victim’s former residence. Instead of symbolizing desire, the painting is like the eyes of justice looking down on Anne, judging her and ready to pass sentence.
Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson in 'The Woman in the Window.'
In Fritz Lang’s “The Woman in the Window,” Edward G. Robinson, as Professor Richard Wanley, is a beloved university educator who lectures his students about ethical principles. One night, he finds himself in a quandary that throws his life into turmoil and causes him to question his own principles of right and wrong.
His burgeoning problems begin after he spies a painting of a beautiful woman on display is a gallery’s front window. When the subject of the painting suddenly appears on the sidewalk next to him, the story takes a turn. The heralded professor eventually lands in the middle of a spiraling set of circumstances that threaten to pull him down like quicksand. For Wanley, meeting the woman of your dreams, who almost seems to materialize out of the painting, can have dire consequences.
Make no mistake about it, these films are not commenting on the state of contemporary painting. The ones used in these movies are certainly not great works of art. The portrait of Laura Hunt was actually a varnished photograph of actress Jean Tierney, who played the ill-fated title character. It's more accurate to simply view them as movie props that helped tell a story. And that in itself is a pretty solid artistic statement.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Simple Plot is the Backdrop for Murder

Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Robert Phillips, Seymour Cassel and Morgan Woodward.
Sometimes, your favorite films play tricks on you. You carry around a memory of the plot, atmosphere and pacing, but later you find that your recollection was all wrong.
That happened to me recently when I saw John Cassavete's 1976 film,"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie."
It was the first time I'd watched it in a number of years, and I'd remembered it as a densely plotted crime thriller, full of atmosphere and peppered throughout with odd, interesting characters.
I got the parts about the characters and atmosphere right, but the plot was not as dense as I thought. It was about as simple as a storyline can be.
Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara), runs a sleazy cabaret on Sunset. He loses big money gambling and agrees to kill a mob figure to pay off his debt. He carries out the hit, and is double-crossed by the gangsters who put him up to the crime.
Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts)
The story's main attraction is Cosmo, who is an oddity in the sleaze trade. He writes and directs the low-brow skits staged at the club, and he firmly believes in their artistic quality. His dedication to his work is taken to ridiculous extremes. Even when he's running for his life, he can't help but phone in to the club to check on the performers and give them directions.
As an inveterate gambler, he risks all and commits murder to save himself, but also to keep his little theater troupe active. You might say that Cosmo is a stand-in for independent film producers, a la Cassavetes. It takes a gambler with unconquerable dedication to his craft to make films like his. We can only hope that his struggle never involved a contract killing.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

'Noir' or 'Noirs'? Someone Has to Put His Foot Down

Don't ever say 'film noirs' to me again, baby!
No matter what they're supposed to be ranking, top 20 lists usually leave out some of the best of the best.
But that's the nature of the beast.
There's no such thing as a top 20 list that actually picks the best of anything. That's the fun of reading the things.
You can look at the list and pick apart each one of the selection. You'll say, "Uh-huh, they got that one right." Or, "What morons! They actually chose that?!"
Then there's the case of the U.K. Independent's "The art of darkness: the top 20 film noirs."
Love the films they chose.
Hate the title.
The plural of film noir is "films noir," not "film noirs." Notice the placement of the "s."
However, in my humble opinion, it's OK to refer to the genre as a whole as "noirs."
Americans and European expatriates in America originated the genre, but the French identified and named it. Let's not obscure that fact with a sloppy translation of the name.