Re-watching the Classics: Ministry of Fear

Here is a classic film noir from Fritz Lang made in 1944.  It stars Ray Milland and is based on a book by Graham Greene.  How could you go wrong?  Well I would say Lang phoned this one in, if you ask me.  I’m not saying it is a horrible movie, but it isn’t the “Masterpiece of Suspense” it is advertised as.

Our story starts with Milland going to the train station and taking a detour to a carnival by the station.  He tries his hand at a game where he needs to guess the weight of a cake.  He doesn’t win the cake, so he goes to the fortune-teller.  The fortune-teller is played by Aminta Dyne but for some reason the fortune-teller changes to Hillary Brooke later in the film.  The fortune-teller tells Milland the weight of the cake, he walks out and plays that game again and wins the cake!  Another man played by noir great Dan Duryea shows up and the fortune-teller knows she made a mistake.  They try to take the cake away from Milland to no avail.  Milland gets on the train and a blind man joins him.  The blind man eventually steals the cake and runs into a bombing area.  There is a chase and the blind man(who isn’t blind) gets blown up.  Milland starts to investigate the cake incident on his own and the mystery continues.  We have a séance, followed by a murder.  We learn Milland has recently been to a mental institution for basically helping his sick wife commit suicide.  This has a lot of elements that should add up to a great noir, but for me it felt a little flat.

Marjorie Reynolds plays Milland’s love interest in this. In my opinion Hillary Brooke does a great femme fatale in this, and steals the show, she just isn’t in the film very much.

This is the second time I’ve watched this, I was not impressed the first time I seen it and thought I would give it another shot because I have become such a big fan of Fritz Lang’s stuff.  Like I said I’m not saying this is a bad movie, it’s just disappointing given the talent involved.  This is worth watching for classic film noir fans and if you want to see everything by Lang.  If you are not familiar with Lang I recommend watching some of his other work.  Scarlet Street is still one of my favorites of his.

Review: The Girl Is in Trouble

The Girl Is in Trouble is a neo noir from 2015 and the biggest names attached to this film are Spike Lee as the Executive Producer and The 70’s Show’s Wilmer Valderrama as our dangerous gangster.  I do think someday soon the biggest name attached to this project will be the writer and director Julius Onah.  Onah made this film while still a graduate student at New York University’s Graduate Film Program.  He has already been attached to direct some big Hollywood movies in the next few years.

This movie was influenced by classic film noirs filmed in New York City.  This movie has a lot of the classic film noir traits:

Our main character uses a voice over to tell his story

The femme fatale

the main character is in over his head in a problem he didn’t create

Red Herrings

The story is told with flashbacks

The ending we know will not be a happy one no matter how it turns out

Our femme fatale is played by Alicja Bachleda and she is the girl in trouble.  We see her witness what appears to be a murder as she films it with her phone. She is on the run, afraid for her life.  When she can not find help from the people close to her, she calls an acquaintance who is a contact in her phone.  That acquaintance is played by Columbus Short and gets sucked into helping her, even though he knows from the start that things will not turn out well.

Other important characters are Jesse Spencer’s spoiled rich kid and Kareem Savinon’s young drug dealer.  We also have appearances from acting vets Mike Starr and Paz de la Huerta in minor roles.

This film’s most original idea is that it revolves around immigrants living in New York City and how they get by.  Our protagonist is from Nigeria, our femme fatale is from Europe.  Also our gangster and our drug dealer are brothers of Dominican descent.

Though this is not an instant classic or even that great of a film, for a first full length feature film from a young director it is a good outing.  Onah is a talented storyteller and I look forward to seeing what he can do with a bigger budget and more time.  This film seems to be fairly well received from critics, but not as well liked among the general movie goer.  I thought it was a decent film worth viewing.  A good choice for noir fans looking for something new to watch.

Re-watching for Review: The Bank Job

The Bank Job is a neo noir from 2008 directed by Roger Donaldson.  Donaldson has directed quite a few neo noir and crime films over the years, but I feel this is his best to date.  This has Jason Statham as our star, some may only think of Statham as an action star of block busters like Furious 7 and The Expendables films, but he has made a number of smaller budget crime and neo noir films throughout the years.  I find him always entertaining and he seems to pick pretty good projects.  I reviewed Blitz earlier on this site, along with the noir books in which it was based. I also rather enjoyed Wild Card which I reviewed a few days ago.  We also have Saffron Burrows as our femme fatale in this film.  Will Statham leave his family and go with our fatale?

This movie starts with a blurry scene of sex on a beach as somebody takes photos.  We then see Burrows getting busted in the airport for transporting drugs.  Then we find her recruiting her old classmates, who are on the shady side of the law, to do a bank robbery.  They eventually agree and start to put together a plan.  They are going to rob the security boxes instead of the cash.  This is because most people won’t report what they had stolen from the boxes.  The bank job is a tense scene, but goes well.  They find more than they bargained for and they soon have a porn king, the royal family, and MI5 all on their tail.  Will they get away?  Why is everybody after them?  What do they have that is so important?

This is based on the true story of the Princess Margaret sexual scandal from the 1970’s, and the evidence that was stolen in a bank robbery.

I really like the British neo noir films that have came out over the last 20 years and plan to review more of them soon.  These films have something that draws me, maybe it’s the writing, maybe the different culture, maybe it is the accents or maybe they have more original ideas in England for crime stories.  I don’t know what it is exactly, but I do find them entertaining.

I highly recommend this for anybody who likes good film.  Noir, crime or neo noir film lovers will all love it.  Statham fans for sure will love it. If you are not a fan of Statham, give it a chance anyway, it may surprise you.

Review: Act of Violence

Act of Violence is a film noir from 1948 starring two of the genres greats, Van Heflin and Robert Ryan.  This film also stars Janet Leigh in only her fifth film, and Mary Astor in a small part as a prostitute.  This film is also an early film by director Fred Zinnemann.

This film starts out showing our World War II vet, Heflin is happily married to Leigh and a successful business owner in suburbia California.  Heflin and his neighbor are packing for a fishing trip and heading up to a mountain lake for some R and R.  We soon see our dark stranger with a limp arriving in town and trying to locate Heflin.  He comes across as deranged and scary.  He approaches Leigh at their home and finds out Heflin is at the mountain lake.  He rents a car and heads up to the lake, rents a boat and tracks down Heflin.  The cat and mouse game continues between the two as we learn their history.

The interesting thing about this film is how we start out looking at Ryan as the villain, but our alliances change throughout the film as we learn about each man.

We have some wonderful cinematography in this, I especially enjoyed the scenes where Heflin is running to an unknown destination through the empty streets of Los Angeles.

This is a very interesting film as there really isn’t a bad guy or a good guy.  We don’t even have an anti-hero to root for.  We sympathies with both main characters in this film and understand where both are coming from.  The message I got out of this is we all have made mistakes, all we can do is, try to do the best we can from here on out.  Maybe the other message is let bygones be bygones.  We also maybe getting a taste of “not everybody in the suburbs are what they seem”.

This is a very good film all noir lovers should see, and if you are a fan of any of the four stars it is well worth your time.  They are all excellent and I have already mentioned in past reviews how much I like Heflin and Ryan and they both play something different then I’ve seen them play before and both do an excellent job once again.  Astor shows her range as she was playing a hardened street-walker in this and then going across the lot to play the mother in Little Women at the same time.  Leigh was just getting started in her career, but showed she could hang with the best, giving good depth to the scared, but strong loyal house wife.

Favorite Tidbit:  Even though this had four big stars in it and the film was very good, even being entered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1949, it still lost $637,000 at the box office.

Review: The Cat o’ Nine Tails

The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a neo noir suspense film from Italian great, Dario Argento.  Argento is the Hitchcock of Italy, and I’ve seen some of his films and find I love some and hate some.  In recent years he has mostly done straight up horror movies, but in the 1970’s he made quite a few really good crime, mystery, suspense and neo noir films.  Argento says this is his least favorite of his films and has disowned it over the years.  Though this is not his best work, it is watchable and has an interesting story.

This film stars Karl Malden as a blind crossword writer, who used to be a journalist before he was blinded 15 years ago.  His intuition takes over on a case that looks like a simple breaking and entering, which happened across the road from where Malden lives, and a scientist who falls in front of a train a day later.  Malden thinks the two incidents are linked and recruits James Franciscus who is a current journalist to help him with the case.  More people are murdered and the plot thickens as our now serial killer may be coming after one of our heroes.  Catherine Spaak plays are femme fatale and gets involved with Franciscus.

This is Argento’s second film and his youthful sophomore experience is not his best.  He definitely cribbed some Hitchcockian themes and even some camera shots in this film.  Argento’s horror movie future does start to show in this film, with the death scenes a little more grotesque and violent than most suspense films.  Most of the death scenes are shot from the point of view of the killer, this was nothing new, but was still very stylish and different than most films from the era.

This would not be the first film I would recommend for Argento newbies, but if you are a fan of his, it is worth checking out.

Review: Crime Wave

Crime Wave is a classic film noir from 1954 staring Sterling Hayden as a police detective this time instead of the criminal. This film is Directed by André De Toth who made this film under budget and in only 13 days!  The studio scheduled this for a 35 day shot and De Toth said he could do it in 15, he beat that.  The studio wanted Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, but De Toth said he could do this faster and come in under budget if he got to pick the stars.  De Toth wanted Hayden and this is how he got him.

For me Gene Nelson is the center of the story and this was his first dramatic role.  He was more known as a dancer and appeared in a number of musicals.  Phyllis Kirk plays Nelson’s wife and pretty much is just a pretty face in this.  Nelson of course is trying to keep her safe, but Kirk really is hard to read in this role as the sacred housewife.  Timothy Carey has a small uncredited role, but it stood out to me.  The biggest small role goes to Charles Buchinsky who plays one of the thugs that recently escaped prison.  Buchinsky is a scary tough guy with a hard edge to him, he later changed his name to something you may recognize,  Charles Bronson.

Our story starts out with three escaped convicts robbing a gas station.  They get away but one is shot and not doing to well.  Hayden is the lead detective on the case and one of his leads is an old prison cellmate who is trying to get his life on the straight and narrow(played by Nelson).  He is married now and has a good job, but Hayden is suspicious.  Soon the shot escapee shows up at Nelson’s apartment with a veterinarian that is known to work on the occasional injured criminal.  The doctor is too late and the man dies in Nelson’s apartment.    Soon Hayden shows up at the apartment and all hell breaks loose.

This is a very good movie all film noir fans will love.  It is also a great film for Hayden fans as well as Bronson fans who would like to see some of his early work.

Favorite Tidbit:  This movie was an inspiration for part of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and part of the screenplay is dedicated to director André De Toth.

Review: Wild Card

Wild Card is a neo-noir film starring Jason Statham and directed by Simon West.  West seems to be the go to director for a remake these days.  This is a remake of Heat starring Burt Reynolds.  I have not seen this film so I can not compare it to this updated version.  This is also the first screenplay from William Goldman in over 11 years.  This is also based on Goldman’s novel.  Goldman is one hell of a writer and has written many classic books as well as written screenplays for his and other great authors works.

This story takes place in Las Vegas where Statham plays Nick Wild.  Wild is a classic hardboiled muscle for hire.  We never really learn about his past, but hints throughout the film lead us to believe it was pretty epic.  The first part of this film is a little case he takes where he plays the bad guy trying to pick up a guy’s girlfriend in a bar.  If you seen the trailer you already know about this.  He basically takes a fall to make the girlfriend look up to and fall in love with her boyfriend.  Then we get a call from a girl who asks Wild for his help.  He looks into it a little and realizes this is way over his head and does not want to get involved.  Our beat-up femme fatale is played very well by Dominik Garcia-Lorido.  She sucks Wild into the case and he knows this will not end good.  Our bad guy who needs taken care of, for our femme fatale is played by Milo Ventimiglia.  He does very well as the spoiled rich kid with a bad attitude.

Wild is a hard drinker who likes to gamble and isn’t very good at it.  He is very self-destructive and this may be his downfall in the end.  The cinematography has some great noir style throughout the film.

This film has a ton of little parts played by pretty big actors, with the likes of Hope Davis, Michael Angarano,  Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofía Vergara, and Anne Heche.

This film has not been well received by critics or the film going public and I’m not sure really why?  I rather enjoyed this film, though it starts out pretty slow and the action doesn’t really get started until the last 30 minutes or so.  I can see why people wanting a Jason Statham action film would have got to bored with the story before the action got good for them.  I rather liked the slow build up to our hero’s destiny.  I think if you are a neo-noir fan or noir fan, you will find this a very good film well worth your time.