Life and Death in L.A.: August 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

'The Guard' Offers Laughs, Gasps In Equal Share

"The Guard" IS an above-average film, by the way. I noted previously that it opened this past weekend in limited release.

This self-proclaimed "fish-out-of-water" story -- there's a funny moment when one character identifies the activities taking place in the film as just that -- is, on the surface at least, "In The Heat of the Night" transported to Ireland. Don Cheedle is the black American FBI agent swimming with a foreign school of fish.

The source of his dislocation isn't racial prejudice -- this is 2011, after all, and not "In The Heat of the Night"'s Deep South of 1967. Cheedle's FBI agent Wendell Everett is a visitor in a land where everyone, not just the criminals, speaks in code, and it's one he's not familiar with. His Gaelic partner in crime fighting, Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendon Gleeson) is a small-town constable with a taste for sly, ironic wit. At first, Everett can't decide whether Boyle is brilliant or an oafish idiot.

Boyle is a bit weary of his life's work, policing petty crime and surveying auto accident scenes. Meanwhile, he's preoccupied with his mother, who is suffering from an unnamed illness that will soon end her days. As a country lawman, he's unprepared for the goings on when big-time gangsters come to his village (or is he?).

Much of the action sequences are appropriately brutal -- it's clear that these bad guys are not to be toyed with. But overall, the comical interplay between Gleeson and Cheedle is too disarming to call "The Guard" a hard-boiled crime story.

The film sets up the story's groundwork at a leisurely pace. But once it takes off we're hooked. By the end, the story almost magically elevates Gleeson's Sgt. Boyle to mythic proportions, although there's only the barest hint of magical realism in this film.

The ending pays homage to numerous films of the gangster genre, and without going into detail you'll recognize the climax if you're familiar with bad-guy films of the 1930s. Even if you aren't, this one stands on its own.

--Paul Parcellin

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Eye Of The Storm: Film Hurls Fury Into Your Living Room

For East Coasters, the best crime movie for a stormy viewing: "Key Largo." Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, revenge, revolvers and rum. All stuck in a Florida hurricane.

Kick on the generator, put the disc in the machine, turn down the lights and let the atmosphere wash over you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gleeson, Cheedle Crime Comedy Gets Thumbs Up

Critics say the crime film to see is "The Guard," opening this weekend in limited release. View trailer. It got a stunning 96 Percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Word of mouth has been strong. Check it out at the cinemaplex in your 'hood.

See Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in a behind-the-scenes featurette from "The Guard."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bomb Shelter Days: Remembering Atomic Hell Fire

Raise your hand if you recollect your parents setting up a bomb shelter in the basement around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When the big one drops, they reasoned, we'll go live downstairs next to the oil burner and eat cold canned beans for a couple of weeks. First big rainstorm will wash away all the sneezing powder and we'll start again.

Those, my friend, were the days.

With the recent DVD re-release of "Kiss Me Deadly," the noir of the H-bomb age, I got to thinking about the good old days of nuclear holocaust paranoia, and how it's not such a big deal anymore.

In "Kiss Me Deadly," Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, the private detective hero of Mickey Spillane's novels, is on the trail of a suitcase full of hot nuclear soup. He's not quite sure what it is, but he knows it packs a bad-ass wallop.

KMD would make a good double feature with "Pickup On South Street," with Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who unknowingly harvests some national security secrets from a mark's handbag. The government wants to get the microfilm back before the Communists do -- remember when they used to worry us? Now they lend us money and manufacture everything we own.

Both films are terrific in their own way. Robert Aldrich, who directed "Kiss Me Deadly," and Samuel Fuller, director of "Pickup On South Street" both effectively convey the tensions that existed in those times. Hammer resorts to bullying tactics to get to the bottom of the nuclear "whatsit" he's after. And he must, because the future of the planet is at stake.

Fuller puts the Commies in the hot seat. They will stop at nothing to get nuclear secrets. American G-Men have all the scruples, and are observant of the Constitution, no matter how difficult that makes their job.

Need I say that all of this seems quaint now?

These days, people with backpacks full of explosives are the ones who worry us. And as for atomic weapons, they seem about as modern and threatening as a cap and ball pistol in a firefight.

But if the unthinkable should happen and the H-bomb once again becomes the focal point of Western paranoia, I'm hedging my bets. Just look for me downstairs ... I'll be in the bomb shelter.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Get 'Ruthless' Via Online Streaming, Or Get Gone

The New York Times will report in its Sunday edition that Edgar G. Ulmer's "Ruthless"(1948), is available to stream from Netflix in its full 105 minute version, rather than the 88-minute public domain cut that's been the only version available for years.
Ulmer is also known for classic noirs "Detour" (1945) and "The Black Cat" (1934).
Check out Dave Kehr's column in the Sunday Times. It's quite humorous. He likens Netflix's "recommendations for you" in its online streaming setup to a "surly, underpaid" video store clerk from 1985, who insists you watch movies you have no interest in.
We've all been there.

It's Alive! Ridley Scott Takes Another Shot At Sci-Fi Noir

Ridley Scott, who directed the moody 1982 science-fiction film noir, "Blade Runner," will direct and produce a new feature that is being described as a “Blade Runner” follow-up for Alcon Entertainment, a Warner Brothers-based financing and production company.
The original “Blade Runner,” which was adapted from the Philip K. Dick story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, starred Harrison Ford as a human bounty hunter (or is he?) charged with hunting down lifelike androids in a future version of Los Angeles.
Producers are not yet revealing whether the film will be a prequel or a sequel.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wacky Neighbor Whitey Coming To A Sitcom Near You?

Everybody Loves Whitey
Twentieth Century Fox has made a deal with writer-producer Peter Mehlman for a new comedy pilot about a young couple who get a new neighbor: notorious mobster Whitey Bulger.
That makes a great deal of sense because Whitey was a million laughs. Just ask the people he extorted money from and terrorized.
The Wrap reports that, "In the pilot pitch, a couple remain unaware that their next-door neighbor is a murderer. (The character is based on Bulger, but is not him.) The half-hour pilot will be taped with multiple cameras in front of a live studio audience."
Of course, nothing says "comedy" like a mass murderer plunked down in Average Town U.S.A. Think of the humorous possibilities. Whitey offers to get a neighbor's cat out of a tree ... with a Glock. Teacher gives their kid a bad grade ... teacher's legs are mysteriously broken. Thanks, Uncle Whitey!
Mehlman, who worked as a senior writer on "Seinfeld" for seven years, said his dream casting for Whitey would be John Malkovich.
Were he still alive, I'd vote for Art Carney. He'd kill in the role.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Maltese Falcon' Director Gets Stamp Of Approval

Legendary director John Huston is getting a commemorative postage stamp in his honor, and it will reference perhaps the best known film noir of all time.
The art on the stamp is inspired by the 1941 movie "The Maltese Falcon." It depicts Humphrey Bogart holding the statue of the falcon. Huston's credits also include the Academy Award nominated films "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), "Moulin Rouge" (1952) and "Prizzi's Honor" (1985).

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bitter-Sweet End To 'Breaking Bad'

The good news is that there's going to be a Season 5 of "Breaking Bad." The bad news is that those 16 episodes will be the last.
It's hard to complain, because the ongoing hair-raising, death-defying antics of Walt White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkham (Aaron Paul), business partners in the methamphetamine trade, have been insanely fun and nail-bitingly tense to watch.
Wisely, to maintain a sense of credibility, I think, the story is going to conclude. I'm not sure whether cast members wanted to end it or if producer Vince Gilligan decided it was time to bring the curtain down. Whatever. The timing seems right.
Both Walt and Jesse crossed a critical line at the end of last season (I'll spare you the spoiler) and from here on it's going to be increasingly difficult to root for them. The wrap-up will come at a perfect time. It shows that, unlike so many other cable franchises, the folks running it are more interested in producing a good story rather than milking a cash cow.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Third ‘Noir City: Chicago’ Festival Opens

Diabolical twins, obsessed journalists and jail-breaking thugs are heading their way to the Music Box Theatre. The Film Noir Foundation’s third installment of “Noir City: Chicago” features no less than sixteen restored 35mm prints of must-see cinematic rarities. Ten of these noir classics have yet to land a DVD release, thus making this festival all the more essential for local cinephiles.
The week-long festival kicks off Friday, Aug. 12, and includes criminally overlooked performances from Hollywood legends such as Humphrey Bogart, Anne Bancroft, Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters and Burt Lancaster. Acclaimed noir historians Alan K. Rode (“Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy”) and Foster Hirsch (“Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir”) will be presenting the pictures while offering their wealth of historical and filmic insight.
Among this year’s most priceless treasures is “Deadline USA,” starring Bogart as a newspaper editor who refuses to stop chasing a vital story despite the impending death of his paper. That film is scheduled to make a superb double feature with “Chicago Deadline,” a long lost mystery-tinged melodrama that was shot on location in the Windy City over sixty years ago. Two Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake pairings are included in the mix, as well as two films headlined by the underrated character actor Broderick Crawford.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Robert Ryan Gets Film Forum Tribute

"BORN to play beautifully tortured, angry souls, the actor Robert Ryan was a familiar movie face for more than two decades in Hollywood’s classical years, his studio ups and downs, independent detours and outlier adventures paralleling the arc of American cinema as it went from a national pastime to near collapse."

So begins Manohla Dargis's New York Times profile of Robert Ryan, "Robert Ryan’s Quiet Furies." Ryan played numerous tough guys and villains in noirs, war films and westerns throughout his career. His memorable crime dramas include “The Racket,” "Clash By Night," "The Set-Up," "Crossfire" and "House of Bamboo," among others. He is also remembered for his role in Sam Peckinpah's 1969 high-body-count western, "The Wild Bunch."
The paper profiled Ryan in advance of a Film Forum series that will feature two dozen of the actor's movies.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Criterion Discs Ladle Out Raw Doses Of Sam Fuller's Tabloid World

It took me a while, meaning a couple of viewings of both movies plus additional time spent watching the extended features of Samuel Fuller's movies, "Shock Corridor" and "The Naked Kiss" before I began to get into them. Fuller, who was a wild-man director idolized by the upstarts of the European New Wave in the 1960s and later by Quentin Tarantino, started out life as a copy boy and then a reporter on New York tabloid newspapers. His movies look like the kind of stuff an ink-stained wretch might have cooked up. They're sort of raw, sometimes brutal in their depiction of violence, and often controversial for the topics they delve into -- violence, prostitution, child molestation. Fuller's movies bring to mind the sensationalism of Roger Corman's midnight movies. Criterion has come out with freshened new prints of both films. Check out the special features, especially for the interviews with Fuller, which alone are worth the price of the DVDs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Brit Slated To Step Into Big Al's Shoes

English actor Tom Hardy, top right, is reportedly set to play notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone. The rising actor, who will be playing Batman's arch nemesis Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," has reportedly signed on to star in "Cicero." The film, which Warners is hoping will spawn a trilogy, will focus on the early beginnings of Al Capone, bottom right, the America gangster who ruled Chicago's crime scene in the '20s and '30s.
Hardy has been seen in the hit film "Inception." He's also expected to appear in a "Mad Max" reboot.
Warner Bros. is hoping that "Harry Potter" director David Yates will helm the crime epic.
Al Capone was famously played by Robert De Niro in "The Untouchables" (1987), by Rod Steiger in "Al Capone" (1959) and more recently by Stephen Graham in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Italian immigrants, Capone connected with gangs after being expelled from school at 14. In his early 20s, he moved to Chicago to take advantage of a new opportunity to make money smuggling illegal alcoholic beverages into the city during Prohibition. Despite his profession, Capone became a highly visible public figure. He made various charitable endeavors using the money he made from his activities, and was viewed by some as a modern-day Robin Hood. He died in 1947 in Miami Beach, Fla.