Review: Criminal Activities

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Criminal Activities is a small budget neo-noir marketed as a John Travolta film, and though Travolta is great in this film and if you are a fan it is a must watch, he has a fairly small role. The real star for this film is  Jackie Earle Haley. Haley took a script from the 1970’s that has been shelved for decades, rewrote it for a more modern time and changed some of the story. He did this without taking a screenplay credit. This is also his directorial debut and he also has a small but great role in the film.

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This story starts with a young man that dies, it looks like suicide or an accident, but was it murder? He is hit by a bus, but was very paranoid in the days leading up to the incident. When four classmates meet up at the funeral, a drink leads to smoking weed in a car and talking. When one friend mentions some insider information on a stock, the four decide to go in as partners on the deal. Another says he can get the money and they can split the profits after they sell the stock. When the information backfires and the stock is worthless, they find out they have to payback a mob boss at a large premium. When they cannot pay it back the mob boss has the four friends commit a kidnapping to pay off the debt. This is where things get interesting.

Travolta plays the mob boss and Haley plays one of his thugs. Michael Pitt,  Christopher Abbott, Rob Brown and Dan Stevens play the four friends. Stevens’ work is something that has stood out to me lately in small films. The Guest is another small film he is in that is well worth checking out. Edi Gathegi is also great as the kidnap victim.

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I have always enjoyed Haley as an actor, but now I also look forward to his work behind the camera. If you are a noir fan and have been skipping by this film thinking it is another low budget Travolta vehicle, you need to stop. Not only is Travolta a minor character in this film, he is also at his best. This is the best Travolta I have seen in the last 10 years. This is a very good film I really enjoyed and I think neo noir fans will enjoy it too.

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Review: Triple 9

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When you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, life is pretty great 99% of the time. The 1% it isn’t that great is when you want to see that small film on the big screen. In this case I drove 100 miles in one direction to see a film on opening weekend that I have been excited to see for months now. Sometimes the movie going general public surprises me. Here is a film that stars…well lets just say this film has so many great actors in it, it maybe easier to list who wasn’t in it. The film opens on the same weekend as the “blockbuster” Gods of Egypt, that happened to be this year’s first flop(who didn’t see that coming?). I really thought this crime noir might surprise the box office. Triple 9 finished 5th at the box office this weekend with $6.1 million and very little coverage and fanfare. With a budget of $28 million, this is far from a hit, but should still make a decent return on investment after its full theater run and DVD release.

So is this film worth going to the theater for or should you just wait for the DVD release to watch it at home some quite night?

This film has a great ensemble cast with a lot of noir fan favorites. Casey Affleck plays the clean cop that wants to make a difference. Woody Harrelson plays his Uncle who isn’t such a clean cop and has a lot of power in the police force. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the head of the team of thieves who is not just doing this job for the money, but to save his son. Gal Gadot plays the mother of that son and her sister runs the Jewish Russian mob.  Kate Winslet plays the sister that is the head of the Jewish Russian mob. Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins Jr. make up the heist team, some are cops, some ex-military. As a bonus,Teresa Palmer plays Affleck’s wife.

This makes a modern noir stew of people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, double crosses, crooked cops of various degrees, and just plain evil men and women using whoever they can to get what they want. All these characters could be the main character in their own neo-noir film and all are interesting and entertaining in their own ways. I liked all the actors in this film. The standouts in this film?  Woody Harrelson, though he does nothing new here, he is David Douglas Brown from Rampart with a little bit more control of his anger or Marty Hart from True Detective with less family issues, but still has plenty of problems to make him an interesting hardboiled detective. Kate Winslet plays something totally different than what I have seen her do in the past as the female mob boss with no heart. Both were great, just for different reasons.

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This film has some interesting cinematography with a very film noir feel. No, it isn’t in black and white, but you do get a feel of black and red, as you can see from the posters and I found that coloring throughout the film. John Hillcoat is one of those directors that consistently makes good films, but seems to stay under the radar. If you haven’t seen Lawless, do it! I look forward to seeing more from Hillcoat in the future.

So back to our original question, is this worth going to the theater to see? I enjoyed this film and found it an above average movie. This film doesn’t cover any real new ground, but twists up old themes into a story I found complex and well put together. The acting is top notch and though it isn’t an instant classic I would say noir fans will enjoy this film and it is worth going to a matinee to see it, even if that matinee is 100 miles away.

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Favorite Tidbit: Look for Michael Kenneth Williams in a small role like you have never seen him before. If you are not looking for him, you may miss him.

Article: 8 Classic Film Noirs Every Horror Fan Should See

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Patrick Cooper from the horror site Bloody Disgusting has an interesting look at some classic film noir from the prospective of a horror fan. He admits he purposely left out Cat People, but what other classics did he leave off the list that you think horror fans would enjoy? Check out the full article here:

8 Classic Film Noirs Every Horror Fan Should See

Review: Gang War

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Gang War is a little known film from 1958 starring a soon to be big star, Charles Bronson. This film is one of 4 films Bronson would star in, in 1958. The one that has grew to cult status is Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly. The other 3 have not had as much success over the years.

This film is directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and is based on a book by Ovid Demaris.  This is a short B-movie of only 75 minutes. I am kind of surprised this hasn’t found a cult following itself. Not only for having an early performance from a major star like Bronson, but for it’s fun performances from the rest of the cast.

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Bronson plays a school teacher that is out late one night, getting medicine for his pregnant wife, when he witnesses a man murdered by two thugs. He soon is recruited by the police as a star witness against the two thugs. The thugs work for a major mafia boss, and the police figure they can get the two thugs to snitch on their boss, rather then go to prison for murder. The police promise to keep our hero’s identity secret, but a cop on the mob boss’s payroll tells the papers and the mob our hero’s identity.

The boss sends his ex-pro boxer, bodyguard to scare Bronson’s wife, but he scares her a little to much and kills her. Bronson is out for revenge, but will the mob boss’s other enemies beat him to it?

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Bronson has a good performance in this film, playing it straight and a little subdued. The rest of the cast seemed to know they are in a cheap B-movie film noir and camp it up and go just enough over the top to not be annoying and still be entertaining.

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John Doucette plays our mob boss and he steals the show. With an odd fetish or two and a cadence with his dialog that is fun to listen to. Telling his girlfriend to read a book while he talks about how the Chicago mafia screwed up at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is priceless.

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Jennifer Holden a year after appearing with Elvis Presley in Jail House Rock, plays our mob boss’s girlfriend. She is the classic all looks and no brains bimbo, or is she? With lines like “Minks don’t look good with bullet holes!” and “Dead men got no dough!” shows she may have more brains then one would think in the end. Holden only appeared in three films, Jail House Rock, then this one and a small role in the western Buchanan Rides Alone(never seen it). I’m not sure what happened after 1958 and her film career, but I enjoyed her campy fun performance in this film.

Larry Gelbman plays the punch drunk ex-boxer Chester. He does a great job of playing the man that lives a breaths for his boss. He’s portrayal of a brain damaged thug is great fun!

Are you a die hard Charles Bronson fan? Are you looking for an entertaining and short B-movie film noir with a decent story and fun performances? This is the movie for you.

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Book Review: Diesel Therapy by Greg Barth

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All Due Respect and Greg Barth are at it again! Diesel Therapy is book two in the Selena series and does not disappoint.

We find Selena paying for her crimes from the first book. She finds herself in a Federal Prison at the beginning of the book and that is paradise compared to what is to come. She soon finds herself in Diesel Therapy, a method of torturing prisoners…legally. They shackle and handcuff the prisoner, who is then transported from one institution to the next. As we learned in book 1, Selena is a tough cookie, but Diesel Therapy breaks her down. One night Selena meets a girl from back in her home town in a small town jail. She soon learns, the cause of Selena’s troubled youth is still going on. Revenge on those causing young women their pain drives Selena. This includes her Father and Uncle, as well as a handful of the evilest men you will ever come across outside a horror book.

Will Selena escape or get out of her tortured prison to seek revenge? Will she find help along the way?

The look at a violent and evil backwoods Southern breed of men is pretty dark on its own, double that with the torture Selena is going through makes for another gritty and dark pulpy noir story. If this sounds like a brutal story, I actually think book 1(simply titled Selena) is even darker and more violent. If you want to journey into the depths of the darkness, start with Selena and continue with this book. Selena is a character I look forward to reading more of, and we will not have to wait long, as book three is scheduled for release later this year.

Article: ‘Hap And Leonard’ Review: SundanceTV’s Texas Noir Series Shines

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The Hap And Leonard series debuts March 2nd on Sundance and Dominic Patten over at Deadline has a rave review for the new series. The same team brought us Cold Day in July, which I loved, also based on a Joe R. Lansdale’s novel. Here is my look at the book and film for Cold in July:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/03/04/review-book-vs-film-cold-in-july-2/

Here is the link to Patten’s video review at Deadline:

‘Hap And Leonard’ Review: SundanceTV’s Texas Noir Series Shines

Who else is excited for this new series?

Film vs. Film: Murder, My Sweet vs. Farewell, My Lovely

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These two films are based on the classic noir novel by Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely published in 1940. Murder, My Sweet was released in 1944. The name was changed because Dick Powell was known more for his musical roles and Farewell, My Lovely sounded like another Powell musical. Powell wanted to have more hardboiled roles and signed with R.K.O. as long as he got to play Marlowe.  Thirty one years later, film noir great, Robert Mitchum finally got his chance to play the iconic private eye. After a noir resurgence in the 1970’s and Marlowe having success in a modern retelling of The Long Goodbye, timing was good for another Marlowe adaption. Here is a round by round bout of two classics from two different eras.

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Round 1: Screenplay

Since both of these films are based on one of the most iconic books in all of noir, as well as all of American literature, one has to be careful not to change this story too much for the screen. I have not read this book in a few years, but have read it more than once.

John Paxton adapted the book to the screen for Murder, My Sweet and stuck pretty close to the book. When you have Raymond Chandler writing dialog, why change it? This was Paxton’s first film noir screenplay and it was a good one. He went on to write many more classic film noir screenplays.

David Zelag Goodman started out in television and went on to write a few good neo noir and gritty films in the 1970’s. Goodman left the setting in the 1940’s, but added a bit more grit to the story. He also added a few , dropped a few and changed a few characters. He added a bit of historic background to plant the viewer back in the 1940’s. He also added some diversity to the story. The original film has an all white cast and not only did Goodman add some African Americans, Asians, and Gays but he also threw in a bi-racial couple with a child. He also threw in some noir tropes not found in the original film, like a whore house, dirty cops, and corrupt businessmen. He also made the McGuffin of the jade necklace, that drives the original movie, a none factor in his screenplay. Goodman also adds his own Chandler like dialogue and only uses Chandler’s dialogue sparingly.

Though I like Goodman’s added diversity, I felt he added a bunch of tropes just to add them. Chandler’s wit fits in the 1940’s time frame and I can see changing or updating the dialogue if it was to take place in a different decade, but if you are going to set it in the 1940’s, I would stick more to the original lines. I’m going with Chandler here and since Paxton stuck with the original material better, Murder, My Sweet wins this round.

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Round 2: Direction and Cinematography 

Edward Dmytryk directs Murder, My Sweet and uses a number of awesome techniques, from placing unseen glass panes to get the right effect and some of the best noir lighting ever. This is as good as it gets for looks in the classic film noir era. The scene where Marlowe is drugged and has a nightmare is a sequence you have to see.

Dick Richards does a good job taking us back 30 years. He may use a lot of memorabilia laying around to take the audience back in time. The cars and buildings look great and the lighting is well done. Richards even does a smaller nightmare scene, not as long, but still gives a nod to the original.

Though Richards makes Farewell, My Lovely look like a great throw back to the 1940’s, it’s hard to beat a black and white film actually filmed in the 1940’s for that authentic look. Dmytryk wins this round for Murder, My Sweet.

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Round 3: The Male Lead

Dick Powell went from big studio musical star to hardboiled film noir star in this film. Some, including the director, didn’t think Powell could play Marlowe, but he pulled it off. It was probably good that this film came out two years before The Big Sleep or his turn as Marlowe, no matter how good, would not have been a success. Powell isn’t Bogart, but he is pretty damn good in this film.

Robert Mitchum is dream casting as Marlowe, but was a 58 year old Mitchum too old to pull off Marlowe? I don’t think so, he plays Marlowe as well as you would ever expect. He plays Marlowe understated and tough without overly trying to be. Like the trailer for this movie says, “last of the tough guys.”  Sure, I would love to have seen Mitchum play Marlowe in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, but an older Mitchum as Marlowe is better then not having one at all.

This is a tough round, but the round has to go to Mitchum.

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Round 4: Female Lead

Claire Trevor is one of the best femme fatales of all time. She was born to play the evil woman and she does it well here. She seems to be able to lie to a man and he knows it, but he doesn’t care.

Charlotte Rampling can say more with her eyes and a slight smile then most can do with a 10 minute monologue. In Murder, My Sweet you felt Marlowe was always one step ahead of Helen, but in Forever, My Lovely, Helen seems to be one step ahead of Marlowe all the way to the climax.

This was also a tough call, one of the best femme fatale actresses from the classic era or one of the best actresses in the world playing a femme fatale. This one is a draw.

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Round 5: Supporting Cast

Mike Mazurki as Moose is the role that made him a star. It also may have type cast him as the big, not so smart, thug. He is brilliant in this role and is a highlight of this film.

Anne Shirley plays Helen’s stepdaughter Ann in her last film. She was great in this role as Helen’s rival for Marlowe’s affection. The character Ann is not in Farewell, My Lovely.

Jack O’Halloran tries to step into very big shoes as Moose and does well in Farewell, My Lovely. Harry Dean Stanton and Burton Gilliam in smaller roles are highlights. Also one year before his big break in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone plays a thug in love with a hooker in a very small role.

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Even though Farewell, My Lovely has a lot of great talent in small roles through out, the round has to go to Murder, My Sweet based on Mike Mazurki’s Moose alone.

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So there you have it, the original film wins again. Though the score was 4 to 2 this was a lot closer then it looked. Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe is one of the best, if not the best noir character of all time and I would rather see more remakes than less here. Go watch both of these films yourself and see what one you feel is the best.