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.

Review: The Burglar

The Burglar is a film based on a book and screenplay by noir great David Goodis.  Goodis went to Hollywood after the massive success of the movie Dark Passage was based on his novel.  He got flustered with the Hollywood machine and moved to Philadelphia.  Who knew the Philadelphia movie industry would come calling.  When Philadelphia wanted to showcase their city like Los Angles and New York were doing, they looked at one of their own to write a screenplay based on his book.

This movie was actually made in 1955 and shelved.  This was probably more frustration with the movie industry Goodis would feel.  Luckily Producer Louis W. Kellman cast the relatively unknown Jayne Mansfield in a role, this was based on how guys were reacting to her on the set of Pete Kelly’s Blues, where she had a small part.  Kellman was not the only one to see something in Mansfield, movie goers fell in love with her after they saw her in The Girl Can’t Help It in 1956 and her star was on the rise.  This movie was finally released in 1957 because of her new-found star power.

This was also the first film directed by Paul Wendkos who went on to direct many television projects and movies with a very long career.  Columbia bought this film as a favor, but wanted Wendkos as part of the deal.

This film also stars one of noir’s favorite actors, Dan Duryea as our title character.  This film can be argued to have two femme fatales, they both contribute to our hero’s downfall.  Of course we have Mansfield as the girl our hero has vowed to protect and we have Martha Vickers as the girl our hero picks up in a bar, she happens to be working with a crooked cop, out to get our hero.

This story starts out with our hero and his crew robbing a rich women of her priceless necklace.  The burglary is an intense scene, with our hero outsmarting some cops and using his skill to break into a fortress to steal the necklace.  They go back to their hideout to determine the value of the necklace and what the split will be.  This is where we meet Mansfield and soon see she is in danger from an over lusting member of the crew.  Our hero sends her to Atlantic City for her own safety.  Duryea picks up Vickers in a bar and goes back to her house.  While she thinks he is asleep she goes to meet the crooked cop as our hero tails her and he learns they are working him and Mansfield to find the necklace.  Our gang of burglars take off from Philadelphia to Atlantic City to protect Mansfield even though they know this will put them in danger.

This is a good film and the finale on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk with scenes in a circus and carnival settings is very good.  Did Lady of Shanghai inspire this?  Worth watching for all noir fans and especially those of Goodis’ writing.  Goodis didn’t have much luck in America, but he would soon be discovered by the French and elevated to one of the greatest noir writers ever.

Favorite Tidbit:  This was remade in France as The Burglars, the second of a string of movies made over the next three decades in France based on Goodis’ books.

Book Review: Two Bullets Solve Everything By Chris Rhatigan and Ryan Sayles

Two Bullets Solve Everything is a double feature of noir novellas from All Due Respect.  Both stories are quite different from each other and unique in their own right.

Our first story is Disco Rumble Fish from Ryan Sayles.  This is written from a first person perspective of a SWAT team member.  A stranger who has bumped into a cop, while handing a mafia member a handgun.  This happens while the mafia member is in custody and being transported. The mafia member uses the hand gun on the officer and escapes.  The SWAT team is looking for the mysterious stranger who brought the gun to the mafia member.  This is my first story I’ve read about a SWAT team and it was interesting and action packed, as you would expect.

The second story is A Pack of Lies by Chris Rhatigan.  This story is about a small paper journalist, who is past his prime and basically going through the motions at his job.  He also bribes people to keep their stories quiet.  This story has him doing this twice, the first one may have him lose his job, the second may cause him to lose everything.  A Pack of Lies is interesting as our protagonist starts out in a bad place, but in control and we witness him make one bad decision after another on his downward spiral.

I really liked the first story and really loved the second story.  Disco Rumble Fish is action packed and has some good humor.  A Pack of Lies kept me turning the pages and looking at how few pages where left and kept wondering “how is this going to end?  Are there enough pages left to complete this story?”  The tension was strong and kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the end.  I think noir fans will really like both of these stories.  All Due Respect delivers again with this book.  Check out their website for this book and other great books here;

I can’t wait to read more from this little publishing house!  Thanks for getting these great noir stories out to the masses!

Re-watching the Classics: The Usual Suspects

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.

I can’t believe this film is 20 years old this year!  The Usual Suspects is one of the great modern neo-noir movies and launched the career of director Bryan Singer into the stratosphere.

This film is known for it’s all-star cast, and it is a great cast, but where they all-stars when this film was made?  Kevin Spacey was a great actor before this film, but wasn’t in much you would have heard of.  Though I loved Swimming with Sharks, most probably never heard of this film.  This film gave him an Oscar win and made him a big name in Hollywood.  Benicio Del Toro did some T.V. work and few movies before this as well, but as the scene stealing Fenster his star meter went up drastically.  Kevin Pollak was already a star as a stand up comedian, but this movie showed his dramatic side.  Pollak has worked steady ever since, bouncing from comedic to dramatic roles.  Alec’s little brother Stephen Baldwin was doing well and may have been considered a big star at the time.  His star power has dimmed in recent years, but he showed some great presence in this film.  Gabriel Byrne was probably the biggest draw for this film at the time of its release, and was excellent as always.  Chazz Palminteri plays his usual Italian tough guy from New York in this film and it fits perfectly.

Our story starts out with our Usual Suspects all getting arrested in connection to a load of gun parts being hijacked.  They quickly become good friends and team up together on some more heists.  The whole story is told in flashback fashion from Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal being interrogated in a police station in Los Angels.  Our plot thickens as new evidence becomes available and they ask Verbal more questions on what happened.  As the audience we want to know the answers as much as the police do.  What is going on?  What was really on the boat?  Who got away alive?  and of course Who is Keyser Söze?

I’m not going to lie, I love Singer’s X-men films, but what would really make me happy is if he made another neo noir film.  This is a film you can watch over and over again and find little hints and clues to one of the greatest mysteries in movie history.

Favorite Tidbit: **semi-spoiler alert**  As this film was being made, all the actors were told “they are Keyser Söze.”  None of them learned the truth until the first screening of the movie.

Review: Mr. Arkadin or Confidential Report

Mr. Arkadin is written, directed by and starring Orson Welles in an epic film noir.  There are 3 versions of this film floating around and if you buy the Criterion Collection release of this, you will get all three.  I caught this on Turner Classic Movies and watched the comprehensive version.  From my understanding Welles lost control of this film when it was in editing.  Nobody knows for sure what version he wanted released or if his version of the film ever really existed.

This film starts with our protagonist played by Robert Arden and his girlfriend played by Patricia Medina find a man about to die.  He has a knife in his back and the last things he says is Mr. Arkadin and a female’s name they are not sure of.  We also find Arden talking to a dying man about the whole story in flash back fashion.  Our couple decide to investigate the incident themselves and infiltrate Arkadin’s inner circle including his daughter played by Paola Mori.  Our hero soon meets Arkadin, who hires him to investgate….Arkadin.  He claims he has memory lose and can not remember anything before 1927.  This gets stranger and stranger as we go.  It is very creepy as well.   Welles looks frightful himself with a weird beard and some crazy make-up.

We also have a crazy religious ceremony where people are dressed up like KKK members. We get a strange Masquerade party that looks like something out of a strange horror movie.

Finally in one of the most interesting scenes of the film, we have a conversation with a ring master of a flea circus.  The ring master has some of the best dialog in the film.

Welles also shot this with some amazing angles and it has an interesting look.  The voice overs were a little annoying to me, but this is a minor complaint.  The story is kind of crazy with very little reasonable explanation why most of the characters do what they do. I guess you could say that for most people in real life too.  Like anything Welles does this is pretty damn good.  It isn’t my favorite Welles noir, but a strange adventure worth viewing.

Favorite Tidbit:  As if this film isn’t strange enough Orson Welles was married to Paola Mori at the time of this movie.  Yes that’s the actress playing his daughter in this film!

TCM Makes Summer School Cool w/ Free Film Noir Course

This sounds great! I plan to sign up for this course, who about you?

cinematically insane

Lizabeth-Scott-and-Dick-Powell-in-PitfallFor a generation of fans old and new, Turner Classic Movies has been like film school without the student loans. Now, more than two decades after the channel’s launch, you can remove like from that sentence.

On June 1, TCM will become an actual educational institution (of sorts) when it launches Into Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, a on-line course presented in conjunction with Indiana’s Ball State University. The nine-week eLearning class will explore “the means, motives, and opportunities that led Hollywood studios to make these hard-boiled crime dramas” and will be taught by Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D., co-author of The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism and co-host of the Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noirpodcast (with TCM staffer Shannon Clute).

And best of all, the course is entirely free – and it’s open to non-TCM subscribers. (TCM promises “free links to online public domain films noir…

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Review: Talaash The Answer Lies Within

Talaash is a neo noir from Bollywood revolving around 3 characters with Aamir Khan’s Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat being the central character.  The other two are his wife played by Rani Mukerji and a prostitute and our femme fatale for this tale played by Kareena Kapoor.

Our story starts with a tour through the red light district as our credits role.  We soon come to a beach side road and a car swerving for an unknown reason and flying into the water.  Our hero gets the case and soon finds out the victim is a popular Bollywood movie star.  We find out the car was in good working order, he had no drugs or alcohol in his system and he died from drowning.  Why did he swerve off the road?  What was he doing down in the red light district at 4 in the morning by himself?  The plot thickens as we soon meet a pimp who was with the star that night and he soon disappears.  We learn from the  dead movie star’s girlfriend that he recently had his accountant give him a large sum of money that night as well.  Where did the money go?  Our main character and detective on this case, has recently lost his young son in an accident.  He blames himself for this and this causes tension between him and his wife.  He soon turns to our femme fatale for support and help with the case.  What is her part in this case?  What does she know?  What isn’t she telling our hero?  Can our hero resist her charms?

The more we go the more we question what is going on in this film.  It is well written and does make sense all in the end.  In fact this may be the best plot twist and writing I’ve seen in a while.  This movie deals with a lot of death and loss for all the characters and how they react to those loses.  The mystery is strong and the cinematography is very good.  I’m not going to lie, all the Bollywood movies I’ve ever seen feel a little campy and though in parts this one does too, it is the least campy film from India I have seen.(Not that I have seen a lot of Indian films.)  We don’t have anybody break out in song and dance, though there are some music montage moments.  There isn’t any over the top special effects, though there are a few that push the limit.

This is worth a watch for any foreign film fan and neo noir fans.  The twists and turns are hard to see coming and are well executed.  It definitely isn’t a traditional noir story and I think that is a good thing.