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Posts tagged “noir

Best Shot Redux: Memento

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This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit me with your best shot series.

That’s fortunate since this season of the series requires me to rewatch movies that I’ve either seen before, or like Memento, four times. Twice, when the movie had its run on Showcase in Canada, when it still showed turn of the twenty-first century American independent film that began a new chapter of my love for cinema, unlike the less challenging cable programming and box office movies it shows today. The third time in Cinema and Modernity class, part of the Film Noir section, the first time I saw the beginning of the movie – or is it the end?

ph. Newmarket/Summit/Columbia TriStar/Alliance

Where was I? Rewatching any film means noticing things that I haven’t before. The first series of shots I’m going to talk about are what I thought my best shots were going to be. The bullet casing, animating itself through the film’s first scene playing in reverse, reminding me of Cobb’s totem in Inception. I started looking for other images here that reminded me of the other Nolan films. The birds in Natalie’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) room are less glamorous versions of the birds in The Prestige. Lenny’s (Guy Pearce) fire like the one that burned Bruce Wayne’s house down in Batman Begins. I’ll go for a stretch for The Dark Knight and talk about how both hero and villain mutilate their bodies and how both have unknown pasts.

But all roads lead to Inception, the connection between that magnum opus of a movie and this one are stronger than with Nolan’s other films. Like Cobb, the film shows Lenny remembering his wife through second long shots of her, the objects she used, of the things broken when she was attacked. Instead of the vivid feel of Mal’s flashbacks, Lenny’s wife’s seem fleeting and poetic, like how the only army wife in Malick’s The Thin Red Line is depicted. It’s also strange watching Jorja Fox be the prototype to Marion Cotillard, or is Cotillard Fox’s photocopy?

This one.

Second. The elusive Natalie, going from ordinarily shady character to foul-mouthed villain to everything in between. The audience sees minor characters like her through Lenny’s eyes and encounters. She’s the exception to the rule. Lenny leaves Natalie’s bedroom, leaving  her three seconds to herself, making me wonder about the film’s subjectivity, or if subjectivity is what Nolan is aiming for. She touches Lenny’s side of the bed. Who is she yearning for, Lenny or Jimmy, her drug-dealing boyfriend that Lenny has killed? Is she finding a kindred spirit with her boyfriend’s murderer, since they both have lost loves? Falling in love with him and falling into the trap that she has originally set out for him? The film repeats this moment but instead Lenny acts it out, his reactions to the half-empty bed in his motel room feel less genuine.

I tried avoiding the ‘beautiful woman’ shot I’m always tempted to use, but I couldn’t resist with Carrie-Anne Moss here. What kind of performances she would have given if she wasn’t relegated to being Trinity from the Matrix trilogy? She makes my favourite shot of the film. Also, a few bloggers, including me at one point, have accused Nolan of writing terrible female roles, but it takes him three seconds to turn a seemingly bipolar femme fatale into a nuanced, complex character. And he really likes his brunettes. Whether you think that’s enough is up to you.

Third. In which Nolan gives us the film’s twist, making me wonder why I haven’t noticed this in earlier viewings, or if Nolan just hid this well. And do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this screen cap? Ten minutes, seven times. Sammy Jankis (Sephen Tobolowsky) turns into Lenny. I am proud of this shot.


Smoke, Mirrors and Dames – L.A. Confidential


Noir’s style to me is its ink-like darkness and shadows. The colourful L.A. Confidential doesn’t necessarily give you that mood, even the music isn’t as bombastic. When it comes to the visuals, its characters don’t come out like figures in a diorama like it does in classic noir. The rustic colours bring the past image of L.A. infrastructure and fashion to the present, and sometimes red pops out either on a female character’s lips or on her dress, or both male and female characters bled to death, reminiscent of the crime tabloids like the fictional ‘Hush-Hush’ featured in the film. It’s Christmas in Los Angeles after all, and everybody’s neon Christmas lights are up.

ph. Regency

The film introduces us to main characters, the letters of their names appearing  obviously like it would on typewritten paper. Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) ‘has a thing for helping women,’ is a guy who gets attention through his tough demeanour, relegated through errands. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a detective adviser for a TV show, ‘Badge of Honour,’ with swagger of a narcissistic cop. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), is a young cop whose father has also been in the business whose superiors think is too clean-cut to be detective. There’s a fourth character who doesn’t get captions – Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), groomed to look like Veronica Lake.

Their lives are getting more intertwined as two criminal cases come up. The first is a beat-down by multiple officers including White and his partner Bud Stensland against six Mexicans – some racist cops call them ‘spics’ or ‘Poncho’ – probably wrongly jailed for killing a fellow officer and injuring another. The second is a shooting in the Nite Owl that leads to more deaths, more crimes revealed and more tarnished reputations.

The interesting visuals come up fifteen or twenty minutes after the film begins. Crime lord Mickey Cohen’s henchmen and potential successors slowly get mowed down, like Deuce Perkins. Smoke and dust clouds appear occasionally on the screen. When Perkins gets slain, the glass in his house shatters and smoke builds and thins out, two men in the background walk away. A vehicle on the outskirts of the city drives further away. Little trails as White sneaks into a suspect’s house. Police cars approach Exley after a deadly final shootout.

While Vincennes reluctantly agrees to snitching Stensland about the ‘Bloody Christmas’ incident, Exley watches from the adjacent room, his reflection on the screen like an omnipresent reminder. More mirrors appear in this film. One where Vincennes looks at himself before going to a motel to find a young actor murdered. There’s another mirror again between Exley and those observing him after the big shoot out, Exley only able to see his own reflection. The observer’s reflections are bigger, but he’s able to bridge the gap, telling them his conditions.

Lynn – a threatening figure who becomes White’s girlfriend – and other women’s looks have symbolic attachments. She belongs to network of prostitutes groomed, cut and dyed like the era’s movie stars, and tells White that this at least lets them act. Exley mistakes Lana Turner for a prostitute cut to look like the actress. White sees a woman with a bandaged nose, assuming abuse on a woman who has undertaken plastic surgery, commenting on the practice itself. The bandaged woman becomes a Nite Owl victims, a cop comments that she looked like Rita Hayworth, funny since a Margarita Cansino underwent operations to become Hayworth. The film ends with Lynn voluntarily changing herself to look like Marilyn Monroe, the latter herself is a dyed and cut creation of Norma Jean and Hollywood. Prostitutes are actresses are girlfriends, their physical changes mark the times their and their society’s attitude change from urban mystery to an optimistic, domestic retreat.


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


ph. Warner Home Video

There’s little to say intellectually about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang except that it has a lot of great banter between the characters. And as much as Robert Downey Jr. is great at being twitchy here, I’d appreciate it if he didn’t do it in every film and TV guest appearance after this. I prefer Colin Farrell’s twitchiness. I’m also worried about the self-aware narration and how that would age, because that’s stating to annoy me a bit now.

I really like the shot above. Just the mix of the greens, blues and the yellows, the latter diagonally popping in the lower left hand side of the screen. Here’s the same colour scheme before that.

And way before that. Are they trying to make people think that fall exists in Los Angeles or are yellow streetlights dominant there? I don’t remember yellow street lights.

And landscapes with diagonal divisions after that. Kudos to DP Michael Barrett for adding gloss, style and colour to the film. He also worked on Takers, snob sigh.

Hey, model/actress/mom Angela Lindvall as Flicka, the first girl to reject Harry (Downey Jr.), eventually making him generalize LA girls. She’s in the same generation of models as Gisele Bunchen, and arguably Angela’s prettier.

Also, Michelle Monaghan as Harmony is a great crier, enduring a memorable walk of shame in film history. Until she finds something in her pocket, that is.

I also put this movie n the ‘Nighthawks’ club, because it’s always on after midnight at least twice a year, or more often than that. Another movie in said club is The Third Man, the latter of which I can never finish because it’s always on so late. When I click ‘Info’ on my remote, it always gives the movie two stars, showing the divisive reception of a movie that garnered applause at Cannes. This movie should be regarded as a Christmas movie like Die Hard. I also just found out that Downey Jr. and Monaghan are reuniting in Due Date. Excited!


Somerset Hitting the Books


Before I show my answer, I wanna show my back-ups.

ph. New Line

The most elegant/scary opening credits.

Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) reacts to stuff.

ph. NewLine

Four reasons why Mills is a terrible person are shown/implied in this shot.

I suppose this is the right space to write about my complaints about this movie, on how Mills, a guy who’s worked homicide for five years is still a moralizing optimist. Or that the murders wherever Mills is from can’t be as bad as the one’s he’s about to see in L.A. I also have problems with John Doe (Kevin Spacey) hating fat people but hating skinny people too. I don’t know about California law but around here if a the defence admits to his counsel of being guilty, the fight is over. I’m also sure that the whore he killed has used condoms while she’s on duty.

Thankfully, my latest viewing of this movie is one when the dominant force is Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), patient, pensive yet jaded. My answer after the cut.

Director David Fincher‘s always known for his low-light sfumato effect in his films. The same goes for Se7en, where even the ‘white’ shots are wedged in contrast with sharp black. There are, however, instances within Se7en when big dots of colour appear, like here, colour shown behind a car window, made translucent by the rain, looking like a Van Gogh.

The neon signs of the city can advertise anything, including, sadistically, this

But my best shots and two that I can expand upon are these.

Green study lamps, aesthetically pleasing. What a way to visualize enlightenment ignored in a dark, seedy, crass city. Bright objects always get to me.

The library guards are on good terms with Somerset, leaving the books all to himself. He chooses a table, sets the briefcase down, looking at all the books that the guards are ignoring. He eventually addresses this disconnect ‘All the knowledge in the world at your fingertips.’ The guards see his bet and tops it by playing Bach on the boom box, making this trip to the library a relaxing time.

It’s been established that Somerset wants to give up his badge. However, it’s stuff like pulling all-nighters that make others, like the guards in this library, think that he’s eternally linked to this job. He absorbs the information on a handful of books neither with young earnestness nor a yawn. No coffee breaks. The film also establishes this scene as if this might be his last trip to this library, and wants to sit down and take his time with the books.

A guard say ‘Hey Smiley, you’re gonna miss us.’ He responds ‘I just might.’ Interesting nickname.

Also notice the lamps in the second shot are pointing different direction, the mise-en-scene arranged in meticulous disarray.

This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot Series.


Image: Touch of Evil


Who dat? ph. Universal



James Mason: Odd Man Out


This Carol Reed directed British film noir has everything and will make you feel everything. A leader of Irish rebel group (IRA in everything but name), Johnnie McQueen (James Mason) decides to lead a part of a heist, despite his dizzy spells. A short chase scene, then the team who made the heist loses him. Everyone including the team, the police, urban bounty hunters and priests start to look for him, with slightly different motivations for doing so. The film has the intense mood that fits the genre and ages well, and it also conveys the paranoia that comes with living in a police state.

It is also, however, very funny. The humour’s not in the same vein as “The Third Man’s” absurd goodness, it’s more subtle. Dim bulbs make stupid decisions, like Johnnie’s mates who drunkenly confide in a gambling madam who is obviously gonna give them up. There’s also people who were going to have a good time in the shed where Johnnie was hiding, which would have been awkward. There’s also some intelligent humour, like the banter of two housewives who discover Johnnie. I also hope that I discovered a few firsts in movie history featured in here, like violent street children influenced by their urban playground and an actor getting kicked in the face on-screen. There’s also Johnnie, filmed from below, making a powerful speech but something he unconsciously does diminishes that power. They’ve always done everything better in Europe. The comedy within the characters’ actions is naturalistic and didn’t seem like it was selling the jokes too hard. We don’t feel like Reed is mocking the characters he’s directed. This well-balanced set of tones within one movie is instrumental in being the precursor to the Coen style of humour. But then those guys mock the people they’re filming, which they’re free to do so.

I love it when a movie examines characters going through the chaos of urban scenes. I love that here too. When Johnnie moves from his second location to a third, and we get introduced to a minor character’s friends in the second half, the film almost lost me there. The movie’s also about the last low points of a chapter leader. The audiences just sees the weaknesses instead of a Shakespearean pull to the ground, which might make some viewers question his leadership. And the hallucinations are dated as hell. Thankfully Reed gets rid of the fat and ties all the loose ends with a remarkably effective ending.


Highway Robbery of 1958


ph Warner Video

Inspired by Nathaniel, again. Nominees for that year.

I don’t wanna be that guy who ridicules the Academy for its missteps, but I just noticed something about the year I indicated above. What do I know, I’ve only seen seven movies from that year, but those seven have pretty good performances. In essence, I’m FYC’ing people 50 years too late, and I’m really pushing myself for a chance to watch the movies that won and were nominated pretty soon.

Elizabeth Taylor got a nod for her performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” I haven’t seen it in a while. For an untrained viewer it would seem like there’s nothing special about her performance. But then her husband died while she was filming. Another actress could have made Maggie unwatchable, desperate and shrill but she made her character alluring and strong. But is that enough? Besides, Richard Brooks turned the movie into a ‘sexy drama’ and I still wonder what Elia Kazan would have done if he directed.

I do however have high praises for the supporting cast, who stole the show. Judith Anderson was haunting as Big Momma, and I can’t believe she was overlooked. And she gets better with other movies, but I love Madeleine Sherwood here too.

ph. Paramount

And then there’s Kim Novak in “Vertigo.” Honestly, I like her more as Judy Barton. Matt Mazur called Judy Barton ‘de-glammed’ although I see a campy character who’s rough on the edges, the total opposite of the classy Madeleine. Basically a character who’s lived two lives. Novak thankfully made her character balance these two personas well, without seeming schizophrenic. Novak could either have been a lead or supporting, but the poor box office revenues probably took it out of consideration for the Academy.

ph. Universal

Another overlooked masterpiece is “Touch of Evil.” I don’t know why I’m so partial towards Janet Leigh because she becomes so much better a few years later and the Academy only paid attention to her once. Regardless, she can do more asleep and drugged up more than most of her generation can do awake.