Review: Marshland or La isla mínima

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Marshland is a Spanish neo-noir for 2014, recently released on DVD in the United States. This film is written by Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos and also directed by Alberto Rodríguez. This film takes place in Southern Spain in a poor community in the Marshland. The story takes place in 1980, where there was a lot of political turmoil taking place, with the working class on strike, demanding higher wages.

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Two homicide detectives are sent into the small town to solve the disappearance of two young sisters.  Juan, played by Javier Gutiérrez, is an older, more hardened detective. He realizes his best days are behind him and is happy to finish out his career in his current position. He also has some health issues and may not have long to live.

Pedro, played by Raúl Arévalo, is a young and upcoming detective with a lot of talent for the job. He is sent on this case as punishment for writing a letter to the editor of the paper expressing his political beliefs. The higher ups are not happy with him for this. If he can solve this case in a timely manner, he can get himself back on track for his career goals.

Shortly after arriving on the case, our duo is given some clues that lead to the bodies of our sisters. Soon a few cold cases come to light that show this may be a serial killer. With a slew of local characters adding some great spice to this film and some amazing cinematography this is a well made film.

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I really enjoyed this film and think most noir fans will too. This film really reminded me a lot of True Detective season 1. This is due more to atmosphere then anything. The setting of the film reminded me of the locations in the South where True Detective takes place. There are similarities in both sets of detectives as well. The plot covers some of the same topics, but the story is totally unique. I’m not sure if Rodríguez was inspired by the American television series or not. Filming of this movie had to be underway when True Detective started airing on H.B.O. so I can’t imagine it was a big influence, but the coincidences are uncanny.

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This film is for fans of foreign cinema and those who like a good neo noir. I would also recommend this to those who loved the first season of True Detective. No this is not as brilliant as that series, but it is very good and has the same feel.

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Review: The American Friend

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The American Friend or Der amerikanische Freund is a neo noir from 1977 by director Wim Wenders. Wenders wanted to do a film based on a Patricia Highsmith book. His first choice was The Cry of the Owl, but when the rights to that book were already taken, Highsmith offered him Ripley’s Game, a new Ripley book that was not published yet.

I still have not read a Highsmith book, I know, I know…I hope to soon. I do have to say I don’t get the Ripley character at all in the films I have seen. I have seen Purple Noon, which I found interesting, and my favorite film with the character, it is also the first one. I need to re-watch Ripley’s Game and The Talented Mr. Ripley because it has been over a decade since I have seen them, but remember being underwhelmed by them when I originally saw them.

I was really looking forward to seeing American Friend after reading all the great reviews and seeing it is highly rated by most. If you can’t already tell I was not a huge fan of this film. I will not say it is a bad film, it has a lot going for it, I guess my expectations going in may have been to high.

Dennis Hopper is good and has a very unique take on the Ripley character and Bruno Ganz is very good as the innocent man that gets sucked into Ripley’s world.

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The story starts out with Ripley having a dead artist, who isn’t really dead, paint new pictures which Ripley sells at auction. Jonathan(Bruno Ganz), is a framer who thinks something is a miss with these paintings. Ripley takes offense to this and goes into a scheme to convince Jonathan he is dying and should take an assassination job to make money for his family before he dies.

There is a lot of cool things going on in this film, like a number of great directors playing criminals throughout the movie. The locations are interesting and fun to see. I liked Ganz’s internal battle on what he should do. I didn’t get Ripley’s choices all the time, and I don’t think Ripley thought out a lot of what he does, maybe he is too much of a real psychopath and isn’t supposed to make sense all the time. I wanted to know more about why these hits on the mafia were happening. How did Ripley and his partners find out about these hits?

This maybe one of those films that are better on a second or third viewing, or after you read the books it is based on. I think fans of the Ripley character will enjoy this film. Like I said this is not a bad film and worth a viewing, but I did not find it as good as I had hoped it would be.

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Francine Prose wrote a great review of this film and obviously loved it much more then I did. After reading this review, I would like to go back and re-watch it and hope I find it more entertaining then the first time.

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/3866-the-american-friend-little-lies-and-big-disasters

 

Review: The Bastard

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The Bastard is an interesting film that I can not find much about. It looks like it has been released under The Cats, Sons of Satan and The Bastard. It looks to be an Italian film, but filmed in New Mexico. The version I saw is in English, but looks to be voiced over in areas, so may have originally been filmed in Italian in parts.

The film is from writer and director Duccio Tessari and was released in 1968. This film definitely has the feel of a grind house, drive-in, B-movie which actually makes for a more interesting viewing today. This story seems to be a simple revenge plot, but is much more intricate and subtle story hiding in a bloody late night film.

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This film starts with a simple but violent smash and grab heist of jewels.  Giuliano Gemma plays Jason, our protagonist. He soon “gets ride of the competition” in a quick series of car chases and shot outs. These early scenes seem to be confusing, in that we don’t really know who these people are other then Jason. These scenes seem to be there to satisfy the grind house crowd with some bloody violence and action. In this part of the film, Jason contacts his girl, Karen, played by Margaret Lee.

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Jason soon contacts his brother, Adam, played by Klaus Kinski. Adam is the man who put together the jewel theft. Then we meet their mother, played by film noir great Rita Hayworth. When Adam double crosses Jason with the help of femme fatale Karen the plot really starts rolling.

Though some blurbs on this film says Adam left his brother Jason for dead, this is not true. He humiliates him and has a doctor cut his wrist. on his shooting hand, making him useless in the criminal world. Jason is soon rescued and rehabilitated by Barbara, played by Bond Girl Claudine Auger.

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This story is very noir, with a twisted family lead by Rita Hayworth. The title The Bastard comes to light later in the film when Hayworth talks about Adam and Jason being half-brothers. Jason’s father proposed to her the day Adam’s father was killed in the electric chair. She said no and Jason’s father went out for the night, knowing they would kill him. She lost both of her son’s fathers on the same day.

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In this film Rita Hayworth is at the end of her film career. She would only make 3 more films after this one. Hayworth is around 50 years old in this film and her beauty is still there, but not burning as bright as it was in her classic older films. This aspect is brought up through out the film. She plays her role a little over the top, but is playing an alcoholic mother who realizes she is past her prime. At one point in the film, she looks at photos on the wall and talks about how beautiful she used to be. The photos are actually from her past films, like Gilda and Cover Girl. I didn’t know if I should feel bad seeing “the fall” of this great star or if I was seeing a brilliant performance from an amazing actress. I prefer to believe it was the latter. She may have already been showing early signs of  Alzheimer’s disease here.

This is a bit of a hidden gem I think fans of 1960’s neo noir and grind house films will enjoy. I also think fans of Rita Hayworth will enjoy this film as a last glimpses of her greatness.

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Favorite Tidbit: Rita Hayworth’s part originally went to another classic film noir great, Joan Crawford. She dropped out due to disagreements about the script. Maybe she was not brave enough to portray a woman that realizes she is past her prime.

Article: Dennis Lehane drops into St. Petersburg for a riveting reading

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Here is a short article about Dennis Lehane at a reading in St. Petersburg. It talks about what Lehane is working on right now, including a new book and a couple television series. I don’t know about you, but I’m always excited for new projects from this man. Read the full article here for all the details:

http://www.tbtpics.tampabay.com/blogs/media/dennis-lehane-drops-into-st-petersburg-for-a-riveting-reading/2262592

Article: 10 Great European Neo-Noir Films

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Jessica Kiang over at Indiewire has put together a nice little list of European neo noir films. I will be adding a few of these to my queue for sure. Is there any European neo noir films that should have been mentioned that were not?

Here is a link to the full list and article:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/10-great-european-neo-noir-films-20160121?page=1

True Detective Season 2-What Went Wrong?

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I don’t have H.B.O., so I had to wait 6 months for the Blu-Ray release of Season 2 to get a chance to watch this. In that 6 months I have seen reviews from critics and other looks at the series from novelists and fans. All of these reviews were negative, I did not read one thing about this second season that was positive. Some of these looks where things like how Ray Donovan was the better show on Sunday nights or how Fargo Season 2 got it right and True Detective got it wrong, etc. Needless to say, I had low expectations of this when I started watching it.

Season 1 of True Detective may have been the best first season of a television series in history, it maybe the best season of television ever. I really was amazed by Nic Pizzolatto story and the acting was second to none.  Here is my look at Season 1:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/04/23/re-watching-the-best-of-2014-true-detective-season-1/

Season 2 is a totally new cast, story and location, the only thing that is the same is Pizzolatto is in charge again and we are going to cover another story of crime. From this alone Pizzolatto was set up to fail. How could he ever match his masterpiece of season 1? How could he create a completely new world with no connection to season 1 and make it just as good?

I don’t believe Pizzolatto failed at all! Where Season 2 fails is only when it is compared to something else. Stop comparing this 8 hours to something else and just enjoy it for what it is.

For me Season 2 was a great modern take on California’s noir world, a homage to noir of the past. I think Pizzolatto took cues from past greats and put them in a big stew and threw them into modern Southern California. I seen hints of Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald and a lot of Ellroy in the story. I seen scenes that looked a lot like scenes from High Sierra, Mulholland Drive, L.A. Confidential, and others. The best thing I liked about this series is he took some of classic film noir tropes and characters and threw them into a modern setting and gave them an original spin.

Lets break down each of the four main characters:

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Colin Farrell is Detective Ray Velcoro

Ray is our classic hardboiled detective for this story. He takes a bit of the cop looking for revenge, and a pinch of dirty cop, add a man that has lost his way and his family. The twist here is we learn what set this good guy into a downward spiral of evil.

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Taylor Kitsch is Officer Paul Woodrugh

Woodrugh is a motorcycle cop who is part of a tabloid news story involving a famous actress. Woodrugh maybe the most classic film noir style character of the group. He is back from the war and that war has effected him. He is trying to fit into a society, he no longer recognizes. He is trying to hide his homosexual tendencies by making a nice family life everybody expects of him.

 

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Rachel McAdams is Detective Ani Bezzerides

Ani is the cop with the dirty mouth. The cop that uses the opposite sex and throws them away. The cop that is as hard as nails and you want by your side in a knife fight. In today’s world this is the cop that needs to go to sexual harassment meeting for their affairs with co-workers. Pizzolatto flips the scrip here and makes this cop a female.

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Vince Vaughn is Frank Semyon

Frank is a gangster who has worked his way up to the top and used his life savings to go legit with a land purchase. Frank is our classic gangster getting out, but never really does. He made it to the top by surrounding himself with loyal guys he trusts, and that may be his downfall.

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Kelly Reilly and Abigail Spencer play opposites. One will do anything to stay with her husband and the other will do anything to get as far away as possible from her ex-husband.

Pizzolatto uses a lot of classic film noir tropes in this basic 8 plus hour movie. We see the heist film, the gangster film, the hardboiled cop film, and the revenge film all rolled into one. There is a couple McGuffins, one in the form of some rare blue diamonds and another in the form of a hard drive with some compromising films on it. We have double crosses, corrupt politicians and police, a prostitution ring, a freaky psychologist(played by an almost unrecognizable Rick Springfield), a dark and dingy bar, a night club where it is easy to get whatever you want, a semi legit casino and it goes on and on.

Pizzolatto’s plot is not easy to follow and doesn’t take you on simple A to B trip. This series takes some thinking and may even need to be watched more then once to get everything out of it. Some didn’t like how all the questions are not answered, but I think it is more like the answers they got are not the ones they wanted. This may upset the average viewer, but is right up the noir fan’s alley. Not having a clue on how a show is going to end is half the fun of the ride. So what went wrong with Season 2? Personally I don’t think anything went wrong. I really enjoyed this season. I think what went wrong is when it is compared to the first…or a totally different show. No Season 2 is not as good as Season 1, but it is still very good. I look forward to a third season and hope Pizzolatto takes on some different film noir tropes, like a really interesting femme fatale, maybe a location in New York, Atlantic City and Philadelphia. How about taking on the subject of drug dealers and using the Canadian/American border as a focal point? Whatever you do, Mr. Pizzolatto, I look forward to watching it.

Book Review: Dog Eat Dog by Edward Bunker

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Dog Eat Dog is a novel by Edward Bunker. Bunker is an interesting character. His past involves a criminal career, a horrible childhood, a very high I.Q., becoming an author in prison and acting in some of the most classic neo noir films of the last 40 years. This book was released in 1995 and should be read by any crime fiction fan and especially any fan of noir fiction.

This story is about 3 ex-convicts who have been friends since juvenile hall. Mad Dog lives in Portland with his girlfriend and young daughter. Diesel has been working with a union in Sacramento and does the odd job for the local mob boss from time to time. He has a nice house, a wife and a brand new Mustang. Troy is our third man in this trio. Troy is a smart man that most criminals love. Troy has just got out of prison and is already got a plan in place to make some money.

This journey takes us to the underworld of Los Angeles in the 1990’s. We have drug dealers, crooked lawyers, kidnapping, murder, drug addiction and robbery just to wet your appetite for the dark corners this book goes to.

You can tell Bunker cribs from his own experience in crime for this book. There is a lot of parallels between Troy and Bunker. Bunker also covers some social issues in this book. One thing he covers is the disappearance of the middle class in Los Angeles. Something that continues to happen in many areas of the country today. Another topic is the Three Strike Law that went into effect in California in 1994, a year before this book was released. The law basically states that after your third felony you where going to go to prison for life. This book basically tells us that with this law, we are making people with two strikes willing to do anything not to go back to prison. This maybe a very good point and is something that has been changed in 2012, now it has to be a serious or violent felony for your third strike. I am no lawyer and don’t get into politics much, but for example, in one case a 2 time felon was caught stealing a set of golf clubs. He was sent to prison for life because of the 3 strike rule. Though he is a 3 time felon, and I have no idea what his previous 2 felonies are,(and he did already serve his time for those) life seems a little extreme for stealing golf clubs.

This is an amazing book and I could not put it down. Knowing a little bit about Bunker’s background made me interested in reading him. I was not expecting such a well written book. You will not be disappointed in this book! I highly recommend reading this before the movie is released later this year.

This movie could be amazing or it could be very disappointing. Lets look at the information we have so far. First off the material is second to none for a neo noir film. Second is the talent involved. Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay and is directing. His movie writing credits are some of the best neo noir films in the last 40 years. On the other hand his directing credits have been hit and miss, some are very good and some are unbelievable bad. Our main star, playing Troy is Nicolas Cage, if there is ever an actor in modern film that can be absolutely brilliant in one film and then over act and go totally campy in the next, it is Cage. Schrader promises a return to form for both him and Cage in this picture and I really hope he is right. Here is a link to a couple articles about the upcoming film:

http://deadline.com/tag/dog-eat-dog/

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One thing this film has me excited about is Willem Dafoe as Mad Dog. This casting should be worth the price of admission.