Review: Mojave

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William Monahan has stated that Mojave is definitely not a neo-noir film, which seems to be a strange thing to say. The reason this film came to my attention is because of most of the reviews I read on this film stated it was a modern L.A. noir or a neo noir. The other reason this seems strange is that Monahan has done nothing but neo noir and noirish work for the last 10 years!

This film is based around Tom played by Garrett Hedlund, who is a filmmaker from Hollywood. When he wrecks his vehicle out in the Mojave, he meets Jack, played by Oscar Isaac. Jack is a cold blooded serial killer and when Tom gets the upper hand a cat and mouse game of epic proportions begins.

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As themes of murder, drug dealing movie producers, accidental murder, revenge and a dark look at the film industry are all themes that may appear in a neo noir and also appear in this film. With most all the film shot in low light areas and at night making it very neo noir in style as well. So why would Monahan say this is not a neo noir film?

After watching this film, I would say it falls solidly in the neo noir genre and feel Monahan was saying this film is more than a genre picture. With elements of a modern day western and dialog from a arthouse film, it is more than a neo noir film. I have enjoyed most everything Monahan has written and I like his eye for direction, even if some of the reviews and ratings are not that favorable for his work. I love the way he writes a conversation, though these conversations seem a little too smart for the characters that are speaking them, they are very entertaining and original. Though he is known more for his writing and this is only the second film he has directed, I liked the look of this film and look forward to seeing what he does next.

Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins shine in smaller roles.

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Mojave has not really found an audience yet and some of those that have seen it have not been kind. I really enjoyed this film on many levels and think neo noir fans will enjoy it too, even if the writer/director was hoping for a wider fan base.

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Re-watching Fear

Fear is a film from 1996 with a two young actors getting their start in the movie business. I think both of them have done pretty well since this film. Mark Wahlberg was more well-known for being a rapper at this time then an actor. This was his first starring role after having a few supporting roles. Reese Witherspoon had a few starring roles under her belt by this time, but most where in low-budget films. This was these two stars introduction to most film goers.

Our two stars were put in pretty good hands with James Foley directing, coming off directing an all time classic Glengarry Glen Ross. Foley has had a pretty good career in the thriller and neo-noir genre. With some classics under his belt and a few misses this one falls somewhere in-between. We also have veterans William Petersen and Amy Brenneman playing Witherspoon’s parents. Alyssa Milano who had already been in the spotlight quite a bit by this time in her career stars as Witherspoon’s best friend.

Fear starts out with our two best friends accompanied by their male friend to a coffee shop in the wrong part of town. This is where Wahlberg catches her eye. We soon realize that Witherspoon lives in an overprotective house while her best friend runs free. Wanting a taste of her friend’s freedom, she soon joins her to go to a party. Here she meets and talks to Wahlberg and after a fight breaks out and the police come in, Wahlberg is her knight in shining armor as he leads her out of the mayhem to safety. A young romance starts until Witherspoon sees a side of Wahlberg that scares her. He is violent and bets up her male friend out of jealousy. This starts a chain of events which pits Witherspoon’s father, played by Petersen and Wahlberg against each other for the love of Witherspoon.

I really liked this film when I watched it back in the 1990’s and after re-watching it I still do. After revisiting it, I can see glimmers of greatness to come. I thought Wahlberg was great as the psycho boyfriend and have always enjoyed his work. Witherspoon  shows her charm and you easily side with her in this film. I also thought Milano was great as wild and free friend that makes some bad choices. Petersen is always good in these thrillers as the average joe that rises to the occasion.

This film is worth watching for fans of Witherspoon, Milano and Wahlberg. It is also a must see for fans of Foley. If you are looking for a modern noir thriller it is worth a look.

Review: The Gambler

The Gambler is a neo noir film from last year and I was finally able to see it on Blu-Ray.  The reviews are a mixed bag for this film.  I got to say I really enjoyed it.  I loved the noirish cinematography, the story and the performances. Reading some of the headlines for the negative reviews for this film, mention how it don’t stand up to the original.  I’m the first to jump on the” re-make is unnecessary” camp and understand where these people are coming from.  I, unfortunately have never seen the original(though I hope to someday) so I went into this film with no preconceived idea of what to expect.  Maybe this is why I enjoyed it so much.

This film is based on the original screenplay by James Toback and tweaked for a new generation by William Monahan who has done some great neo-noir and crime films.  The film is directed by Rupert Wyatt.

This film stars Mark Wahlberg as our anti-hero main character.   He is a writer and a professor, but that is second to being a gambler.  We also have Jessica Lange as his mother.  Brie Larson as his brilliant student and his romantic interest as well as perhaps his saver.  We have Michael Kenneth Williams and John Goodman as opposing gangsters. We also have Williams’ co-star from The Wire,Domenick Lombardozzi, showing up as Goodman’s top henchman.

Our story starts with Wahlberg gambling in a Korean gambling den.  He is playing blackjack and doing very well at first, he then loses.  The Korean’s want their money, Williams offers Wahlberg $50,000 to try to get even, he doesn’t.  He then goes to Goodman for a loan.  Goodman reminds him that Williams will kill him if he doesn’t pay back his debt.  We then find Wahlberg at his day job as a professor.  We take off from there as he juggles his debt, his family, and his class of students.

I really liked the neo noir filming style in this film.  One of the things you will notice while watching this is each person our protagonist owes money has their own color,the Korean’s color is green, Michael Kenneth Williams’ gang has the color black and John Goodman’s color is red. I first picked upon this in the scene where Wahlberg is waiting to be picked up by Lombardozzi.  I noticed all the cars are white, grey and black in a wash of Land Rovers and BMW’s we see Lombardozzi pull up in a bright red Porsche Cayenne.  There are a lot of beautiful noir like scenes in this from the smokey gambling halls, to a grayed out class room, to the neon lights of a casino.  I also loved the soundtrack for this film and how it was used.  Also pay attention to Wahlberg’s suit throughout the film and how it changes.

Like I said, I really liked this film, but I have not seen the original.  I think if you go into this with fresh eyes and do not compare it to the original you may enjoy it too.  I would love to hear from those lucky enough to see both of these films and what your thought on both are.

Favorite tidbit: Mark Wahlberg dropped 61lbs for his role going from 198lbs to 137lbs, to show the characters lack of caring about his health and well-being.