Life and Death in L.A.: January 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunny Place For Shady People: 'Noir' TV

So Frank Darabont will be the guy who delivers an "L.A. Noir" pilot to TNT. It's going to be an interesting experiment to see if a period crime drama makes it on a channel whose bread and butter is police procedurals ("The Closer") modern police dramas ("Southland") and a law comedy ("Franklin & Bash").

"L.A. Noir," will rub elbows, stylistically, at least, with another period crime drama, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."

Darabont has directed stylish period features ("The Green Mile," "The Shawshank Redemption"), and he was famously canned from AMC's zombie series, "The Walking Dead."

"L.A. Noir" will be based on John Buntin’s book "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City."

"L.A. Noir" follows the true story of the street war waged by Los Angeles Police Department under Chief William Parker and the L.A. organized crime world led by Mickey Cohen. It will be set in the 1940s and ’50s, the post-World War II era, and be a backdrop where Hollywood stars and studio heads rose to fame and ran amok while a massively corrupt police force and criminals jockeyed for control of West Coast’s most prominent city.

With "Gangster Squad," a feature film in the works that will also cover the Mickey Cohen era of crime, there seems to be a sizable uptick in interest about the City of Angels' sordid past. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 9, 2012

High School Noir: Crime is an Extracurricular Activity

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) makes a secret phone call in 'Brick' (2005).

t's remarkable how well life at a typical suburban high school can resemble the plot of a classic film noir. That's the conceit behind "Brick," the 2005 Rian Johnson feature he wrote and directed. 

High school outsider Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) searches for his missing girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin), and delves into the sordid teenage underworld of suburban California drug traffickers, rich spoiled brats and hoodlums hardened far beyond their years. 

The leader of the local gang of toughs, The Pin (Lukas Haas), balances his life of crime and life at home with mother — she serves juice to her son's visitors who arrive for a gang sit-down. 

The film's dialog is a patois of 1930s and '40s crime movie jargon, updated with some modern-day hipster-speak. It's at first a little difficult to accept a bunch of high schoolers talking like Mike Hammer, but the odd juxtaposition of youths and vintage wise-guy talk starts to sound natural after a while. 

Actually, it might be an oversimplification likening "Brick"to Spillane novels. The movie's dialog is more like the poetic flights that Clifford Odets put in the mouths of characters in 1957's "Sweet Smell of Success." Those words and sentences have little to do with the way people really talk, but they're positively musical once your ear becomes accustomed to the film's idiosyncrasies.

The thrill of "Brick" is its absolute adherence to the conventions of film noir. In a meeting between Brendan and Assistant Vice Principal Trueman (Richard Roundtree), snappy, clipped dialog and dramatic understatement rule the day. Brendan gets called on the carpet for cutting class, and the exchange between student and administrator is classic noir-speak. It's like Bogart facing off with a crusty D.A. who insists that the private eye come across with information. And, of course, Bogie gives him defiant, wise-guy answers. 

Brendan fills the role of the classic noir protagonist. He's looking for answers in a world where it seems no one else is even aware of the questions. Relationships here are fraught with betrayal, and it takes a monumental effort on our hero's part to at last cut through the ever-present subterfuge and discover the truth. 

We're with him the whole way. And even if the structure and dialog seem familiar, "Brick" does the incredible job of breathing new life into a film style that predates the cast and director's parents.