Life and Death in L.A.: October 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Bad, The Horrible And The Unbalanced

They say good villains make good drama. Here are my Top 5 favorite crime film villains. These five are particularly memorable as some of the screen's finest psychopaths. They look and sound normal at first. But if you cross them, things quickly become unpleasant.

1.) Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) "Cape Fear"

Max turns the crazy up loud, and mild mannered attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and family get a sharp blast of it. If Max ever knocks on your door, turn off the lights and duck.

2.) Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) "Reservoir Dogs"

All I can say about Mr. Blonde is that he's the stealth psycho. His winning personality takes a turn for the worse when the old Steeler's Wheel classic, "Stuck in the Middle With You," begins to play.

3.) Noah Cross (John Huston) "Chinatown"

The "grand old man" of Los Angeles turns out to be a ruthless murderer. As Cross observes near the end of the film, "Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of ANYTHING."

That, he is.

4.) Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) "Out of the Past"

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) tries to break with the past and get away from crime boss Whit Sterling. But his past comes back to haunt him. Sterling is one frightening customer to have on your tail. "My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven't been able to find them."

5.) Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) "Strangers on a Train"

Leaving the best for last, Bruno is one of director Alfred Hitchcock's all-time great antagonists. Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets Bruno by chance on a rail car, and the unsuspecting Haines's life rapidly slides into chaos at the hands of Mr. Antony.

Who are your favorites?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Maybe Bond Will Be Worth The Ticket Price - For A Change

So Javier Bardem will be the next Bond Villain. Well played. For some time now, Bond films have been nothing to get excited about. Bardem may change that in the next, as yet unnamed, spy thriller.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ex- Undercover Officer Picks Top Gang Movies

OK, we've heard from director Martin Scorsese as well as the American Film Institute on which gangster films each source liked best.

Now, here's a list from a former undercover officer who infiltrated the mob.

If you live down the street from Louis Diaz in Costa Mesa, Calif., you probably have no idea that you are neighbors with one of the most successful undercover agents in law enforcement history. Diaz was an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1970s when he infiltrated a notorious New York City organization headed by heroin dealer Leroy "Nicky" Barnes.

Louis Diaz' 10 favorite gangster movies

1. "On the Waterfront" (1954) - Marlon Brando coulda been a contender, except for his rotten brother.

2. "The Godfather, Part 2" (1974) - Diaz concurs with director Francis Ford Coppola that this sequel is superior to the original.

3. "The Godfather" (1972) - In my humble opinion, the best movie of all time ... period.

4. "Goodfellas" (1990) - Whatever you do, don't make Joe Pesci angry.

5. "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984) - Sergio Leone's epic (as in very long) about Jewish gangsters.

6. "The Untouchables" (1987) - De Niro swings for the fences.

7. "Raging Bull" (1980) - De Niro swings for a boxing title.

8. "A Bronx Tale" (1993) - De Niro directs a terrific film in which he plays the good guy, not the gangster.

9. "Scarface" (1983) - Say hello to Al Pacino's little friend.

10. "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) - The classic about two childhood friends who take different paths James Cagney as the gangster and Pat O'Brien as the priest.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Witness: Mason On The Comeback Trail

If you're any kind of 1950s to '60s TV fan -- and I know you are -- you can probably conjure up the Fred Steiner composed "Perry Mason" theme song in your head. Once you do, it's hard to stop thinking about it -- sorry about that.

As a Perry Mason fan it's good news to learn that Robert Downey Jr. is developing a script that could bring him to the big screen as the famed fictional attorney who never lost a case.

According to Variety, rather than setting the movie in the present, as did the TV show, the Downey script will be more faithful to the books written by Erle Stanley Gardner, and will take place in the "rough and tumble" 1930s L.A.

Mason, the irrepressible defense attorney who could never resist a hopeless case, was a relentless force in getting to the bottom of every investigation he handled. He inevitably saw the truth that law enforcement and the state overlooked.

Gardner, born in Malden, Mass., was a virtual book-writing machine who cranked out 82 Perry Mason novels and dozens of short stories. His extremely popular Mason series sold more than 425 million copies. He mentored both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and sold more books than the two combined.

In addition to the "Perry Mason" TV show, starring Raymond Burr (pictured above), which ran from 1957 to 1966, the novels also inspired a 1930s radio program and a series of teleplays starring Burr that ran in the 1980s and '90s.

Aside from Downey in the title role, the feature film will include the familiar characters from the TV series, Mason's secretary Della Street, detective Paul Drake, and Mason's nemesis, prosecutor Hamilton Burger -- poor SOB never won a case.

It all sounds like perfect material for what could be a great piece of work by Downey: 1930s L.A. crime; murder; courtroom drama; a police investigation gone wrong, and brilliant deductions arrived at by a sophisticated legal mind. It's the stuff we can always use more of. The state rests.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Coens Crime-Comedy Coming To Small Screens

I'm looking forward to Joel and Ethan Coen's hour-long detective comedy, "HarveKarbo," which will be appearing on Fox TV ... soon, I hope.

The show follows surly private detective Harve Karbo as he delves into the seedy side of Hollywood high society and hangs out with his ne'er-do-well pals in El Segundo, Calif.

"HarveKarbo" just may be some must-see TV for fans of the Coen's twisted take on crime. And that means it will include their twisted take on crime films, because they're such dedicated movie geeks, and they enjoy commenting on the vintage stuff. Think of "Miller's Crossing," "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski" -- there are some really promising possibilities.

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It's a single-camera project the Coens are executive producing and creating with "Cedar Rapids" writer Phil Johnston, who's handling writing duties for the project.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

L.A. Noir Poetry: Month-Long Celebration Of Dark Side

Poetry and crime fit together like a fist and a set of brass knuckles.

At least that's what noted poet, biographer and editor Robert Polito will likely demonstrate in a program that kicks off a citywide month-long noir tribute, titled "Night and the City -- L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film: Noir Immersion."

Polito's presentation starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Admission is free for Beyond Baroque members, $8 for non-members, $5 for students. Reservations are required: Call 310-822-3006.

Polito (pictured, left) is editor of the Library of America volumes “Crime Novels: American Noir of the ’30s and ’40s,” “Crime Novels: American Noir of the ’50s” and “The Selected Poems of Kenneth Fearing.” He is editor of “The Everyman James M. Cain” and “The Everyman Dashiell Hammett.”

Also appearing is vocalist Cristy Knowings. A short film will be shown.

Polito's most recent books are the poetry collection "Hollywood & God,"Farber on Film." His Jom Thompson biography, "Savage Art," won a Nation Book Critics Circle Award.

He is completing a new book, "Detours: Seven Noir Lives." His criticism appears regularly in Bookforum and Artforum, and he writes about art, poetry, and film for The Los Angeles Review of Books. He is founder and director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at the New School.

The Program Continues

Other notable events in the series include mystery writers Gary Phillips, Dick Lochte, poet Richard Modiano and writer Judith Freeman, author of "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved," talking about Raymond Chandler and his legacy on Nov. 4. That discussion will be followed by an evening with James Ellroy (pictured, left), author of "L.A. Confidential," "The Black Dahlia," and, most recently, "The Hilliker Curse."

On Oct. 29, Edgar Allan Poe Award-winning writer Naomi Hirahara and poet Carol Lem will discuss women in noir before a screening of "The Crimson Kimono," with an introduction by film noir scholar Alan K. Rode, all at the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo. Later that evening, a literary noir bar crawl, organized by PEN, will hit the streets of downtown.

On Nov. 5, the South Pasadena Library will screen the noir film "Union Station," with an introduction by historian Tom Zimmerman. The evening will include a tribute to star William Holden (pictured, right), who also starred in the noir classic "Sunset Boulevard" by actress Stefanie Powers.

Other events include poetry readings, theatrical performances, a continental noir breakfast with a featured noir guest, open mics, film screenings and literary discussions. The events take place across the city; some have free admission, others with ticket prices going up to $15. See the L.A. Poetry Festival site for complete schedule and details.

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