Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Neo-Noir Heist Gangster Watch: No Sudden Move (2021)




Watched:  07/08/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Soderbergh

I'm not going to bother with a plot summary for this one.  It's too twisty-turny, and anything I'd say would spoil the damn thing.  Plus, I want to watch it again almost immediately.

What is weird is that I've never not thoroughly enjoyed a movie by director Steven Soderbergh, but I also don't seek them out.  I've maybe seen 1/3rd or less of his output in film, and pretty much zero of his television (I did watch the first season of The Knick), but - I'll rewatch the movies when they're on and basically acknowledge I like his stuff.  

And this movie is no exception.  

Released directly to HBOmax in this year of 2021 as WB wades through the echoes of the HBOmax launch, COVID and whatever the AT&T execs thought were swell ideas before realizing "oh, damn, we don't know what we're doing and we keep setting the place on fire" with WB and dumping it... this one is easy to access if you've already got your HBOmax subscription - so go watch it.  No, seriously.

No Sudden Move (2021) stars a dozen people you know and like, and you'll grow to know and like a few more along the ways (this film was a reminder to go back and watch Uncut Gems to see Julia Fox in another project).  

Don Cheadle, Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Brenda Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Ray Liotta and Signal Watch fave Bill Duke.  And dozens and dozens more.  Standouts in an amazing cast include Amy Seimetz as Harbour's wife and young Noah Jupe as his teen son.  

What starts as a gangland picture becomes a heist picture, and all with a twinge of noirishness to it, more for some characters than others.  There's no small amount of commentary baked into the movie, so be ready for that - including the conflicts between ethnicities and races in 1950's Detroit - echoing through clearly to 2021.  It moves at a hell of a clip for a 2 hour film, and it's hard to know at the outset what's important and what's not - but assume it's all important.  Like most Soderbergh movies, it's satisfying because it uses all the parts of the animal in the stew.  

In an era where actors bemoan somehow having two Marvel movies per year means they can't get work or there's nothing else happening - it is a welcome change to see Soderbergh show up with his stock players and put on another show, even if it's not on the big screen.  

There's some technical choices made I have questions about, and I'm curious about, and we can discuss at some future date, but it was enough to make me wonder if I screwed up the settings on my TV.  

Anyhoo.  No Sudden Move is excellent.  I have no notes for the cast and crew.

And I have a question for anyone who wants to take the discussion offline.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Catch-Up Neo-Noir Watch: Layer Cake (2004)




Watched:  05/28/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's
Director:  Matthew Vaughn

For a moment there, Britain was exporting some hip crime movies that Americans decided were a pretty good idea.  For a number of reasons, I missed Layer Cake (2004) when it hit the States in the summer of 2005.  And just never saw it afterwards.  Which is crazy.  We're Daniel Craig fans in this house.

It's a plot-heavy, occasionally cheeky gangster movie that served as an accidentally good pairing with The Brothers Rico, which I'd watched the night before.  Both films are about guys who are doing well enough in legitimate business that they want to leave the life behind them - but in Layer Cake, we aren't there yet.  We're just considering retiring after years packaging and selling cocaine in London when our nameless lead, played by Daniel Craig (and - it's clear this is the movie that inspired someone to give him Bond), gets pulled in as an errand boy by his boss, to find a missing girl and to broker a deal with a wild-card hoodlum who has a million hits of ecstacy he's stumbled into and is looking to sell.  

Noir Watch: The Brothers Rico (1957)




Watched:  05/27/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Phil Karlson

For gangster and crime film fans, there's a lot to like in The Brothers Rico (1957), and I have to wonder how many future gangster pictures were influenced by this one.  A story about family loyalty, gang loyalty, and where the two intersect, it's a tough picture.

Fortunately, it stars Richard Conte, who plays Eddie Rico, the eldest brother, pitch perfect.  A former mob accountant, Eddie's gotten out, left NYC and is running a laundry company handling industrial jobs like hotels.  He's married to a girl from the old neighborhood who talked him into getting out - and he's domesticated and ready to adopt a child when he's reminded he's still taking orders from New York.  And on the heels of that, he finds his brothers have been involved in a hit, and aren't following the mobster playbook.  One of them fell in love and grew a conscience.  

Throw in an old school Italian mother (Argentina Brunetti) who sees her ties to the mob as a good thing for she and her family, when not genuflecting, and it's more than the usual mob story, and hints at what's coming in mob fiction.  

There's no white-knight cop in this, nor any sign of law enforcement.  Nor is there anywhere to go where the New York mob hasn't syndicated operations.  As noir, it's about a character's belief in people, despite the fact they run a system that was always murderous, violent and corrupt.  He may have walked away as a friend in his mind, but he had never truly walked away - especially with his brothers remaining entangled.

There are some phenomenal scenes in the film (Conte waiting all day with the local boss in his hotel room), and Conte's scenes with his mother.

But at the end of the day, the film has a very weird Hollywood ending that just doesn't fit everything we saw before.  And absolutely can't have been what was in the original novel by Simenon or in the original screenplay.  

Still, worth watching.  Sometimes it feels positively modern.

Monday, March 22, 2021

PODCAST: "The Long Good Friday" (1979) - a SimonUK Canon episode w/ Ryan



Watched:  03/16/2021
Format:  Criterion Channel
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1970's
Director:  John MacKenzie



We're still talking our personal canon, and SimonUK brings a favorite from the UK - and one hell of a film. We talk amazing performances, tight stories, and the real world of late-70's England that informed one of the hallmark films of the gangster genre. Join us for a long chat on a good movie.




Music:  

The Long Good Friday Theme, Extended Edition - Francis Monkman


Signal Watch Canon:

Friday, February 19, 2021

Noir Watch: Johnny Eager (1941)




Watched:  02/18/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Mervyn LeRoy

Summing up the plot to Johnny Eager (1941) would be extraordinarily difficult - but the short version is: ex-con pretends to go straight, meets Lana Turner, uses her and her step-father to get his new dog track open.  Poetic boozy pal plays Eager's conscience.  

Honestly, it's a hell of a movie, and it's likely the goofy title that's kept it from being checked out by enough people.  

I'm not a huge fan of star Robert Taylor - who is pretty rock solid here as a handsome, devil-may-care gangster with no refinement.  That's not a dig, but I think I'd only seen two or so Robert Taylor films previously.  But he's totally buyable as Johnny Eager.

The real hook is that Johnny can spot an angle, spot a dope, and has a mind perfectly set for operating in the criminal world - but he can't understand the straight world.  People with pure motivations are a mystery that gnaws at him.  More than that, his understanding of women is only as pliable tools, either as sexual playthings or as employees.  

What makes the movie curious - and maybe different from other gangster films with bent leads - is the presence of Van Heflin as Jeff Jartnett, a drunk and seemingly a man of education, who hangs around Johnny as pal, enabler, and because he sees the greatness within Johnny and wants to bear witness to either the rise or fall of a great mind.

Out of prison, Johnny has put everything he's got into a dummy organization trying to open a dog track with no permits, but meanwhile it seems his control on the city is slipping.  Others may be moving against him. 

Annnnd in the middle of all this, he meets Lan Turner, who more or less throws herself at him.  But winds up in way deeper than she barganined for, and it takes a toll on her psyche.

This is very early to be considered true noir, but not so as a gangster picture, which this most certainly is.  And Turner is a femme fatale only in that she leads Johnny toward his downfall because he actually does come close to understanding sacrifice via whatever passes for love in his heart.  It absolutely is a man making bad decisions (that, I mean, get him dead) over a woman, but they also redeem him, which isn't very noirish.  But that he goes down throwing a hail of bullets and popped off by the cop who married his first girl?  That's some symmetry there.

And that's the interesting thing about the movie, really.  It's a down-in-the-streets gangster picture about a guy trying to build an empire, and sees the poetry and literary mythology in it all - right down to pointing out "he's just some guy" who dies badly in the middle of the road.

Anyhoo... I enjoyed the heck out of this movie, and not just because Turner had amazing hair through the whole thing, even when we were told she looked "awful".*



*she did not



Saturday, January 16, 2021

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)




Watched:  01/16/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Not sure
Decade:  1940's
Director:   Stuart Heisler

Measured by the fact I think this is the fourth time I've seen this movie, you can take it at face value - I think pretty highly of The Glass Key (1942).  But, it is based on a novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, co-stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and has a large supporting role for William Bendix - w, yes.  I'm pre-disposed to like the film.  

We're going to cover Miller's Crossing on the podcast at some point, an early 90's Coen Bros. film, and one of my personal canon.  I think I was in early college when I read my first Hammett on JAL's recommendation and got a few pages into Red Harvest before saying "wait a minute, maybe the Coen Bros. weren't so darn clever after all...".   Because, honestly, Miller's Crossing is the love child of The Glass Key and Red Harvest, both Hammett books.*

I did read The Glass Key before seeing this film (and just learned via Eddie Muller there's an earlier version starring George Raft - which may lead to me skipping it) - and, sure, the book is better, yadda yadda.  But, the film is terrific all on its own - a twisting, double-double-crossing political/gangland yarn that adds up perfectly, but the first time through can be hard to keep track of all the parts of the equation.  

Ladd plays the lieutenant to a political boss who, upon meeting the daughter (Lake) of a reform candidate  decides to back the reform candidate.  This gets his boss crosswise with another, shadier, political boss, and all of a sudden Lake's brother winds up dead on the street.  

The movie has a similar tone to a Hammett novel when it comes to casual brutality and unsavory characters.  That includes our lead, who never really throws a punch, but he's not exactly a knight in shining armor as he works angles, falls out with his boss, and tries not to fall for Lake.

The movie is difficult to discuss, but the characters in it are terrifically drawn, each instantly knowable in broad strokes, even if in the framework of the story, they're all capable of anything - which is part of what keeps the mystery of the story rolling.  

Frankly, this is a "could be a TL;DR post" kind of movie, and I'm not going to do that.  Maybe I'll podcast this movie one day instead.  But in the meantime, I highly recommend the film.  Just go with that. 


*and a bit of visual flavoring from The Conformist

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Noir Watch: Destination Murder (1950)




Watched:  10/21/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Edward L. Cahn

Shown on Noir Alley, Eddie Muller set the stage perfectly - Destination Murder (1950) is not going to fool anyone into thinking they're watching an A picture, but it is a wild ride of a film with a lot of character and more twists than a bag of pretzels.  

Laura Mansfield (Joyce MacKenzie) has come home from college on the east coast when her father opens the door for a seeming delivery man and takes a fatal bullet.  The cops seem to be stumbling, so Laura takes it upon herself to do some snooping.  Unfortunately, all of the delivery drivers in their line-up had alibis, but Laura fakes trust in her most likely suspect, and that opens a door into the underworld of the city, all based around The Vogue nightclub.  

Cast includes most recognizably Stanley Clements as the delivery man and assassin, Albert Dekker as the boss of the nightclub, Hurd Hatfield as the brains and manager of the nightclub, and Myrna Dell as a competing femme fatale.  

For the first thirty minutes, it feels like a standard B-picture, and then the twists start coming hard and fast.  Some are jaw-droppers, some are "say what?" moments, but all of it does fit into the logic of the movie.  And, anchored by the solid delivery by Joyce MacKenzie, it's all a bit crazy but just works.  That said - no one will be in a rush to nominate anyone here for an Oscar.  

Highly recommended in a "well, that was crazy!" kind of way.

Watch Party Watch: Slighty Scarlet (1956)




Watched:  10/20/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Allan Dwan - Director of Photography:  John Alton

This week's Tuesday selection by Jenifer was Slightly Scarlet (1956), an RKO noir picture that seemed to have all the hallmarks of an RKO crime picture, and - starring the late Rhonda Fleming - was released in technicolor.  Jenifer no doubt selected the film because Fleming passed just last week on the 14th, and it seemed like a good way to remember the red-head bombshell, known as "Queen of Technicolor".*

Shot by John Alton, one of the now-most-famous noir DP's, it's wild to see a noir of this period in color, and one that was still being lit like all we were working with was gray tone and black and white.  Even if the story of the film doesn't grab you, it's interesting enough just to see how the rules for how these movies would be shot that had been brewing for a decade works and doesn't work once your subjects are in living color.

The story is James M. Cain, who gave us Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, so you know it's family melodrama mixed with MURDER.

Fleming plays a career-gal who has just landed the next mayor of her California coastal city (the fictional Bay City) as her beau.  She's picking up her sister from jail, a troubled young woman with a bent psyche.  But along comes John Payne - an educated fellow playing dirty in the rackets and has an eye on the Big Man's chair (Ted De Corsia).  

Payne romances Fleming, the sister - who becomes increasingly unhinged out of her prison environs - decides she wants her some John Payne, and city politics mix with mob corruption.

All in all, a tight noir plot.  Aside from color, the stand-out difference is really Arlene Dahl's portrayal of the troubled sister, who would be winding up in a Mental Health Court these days, and how treatment and support of family (even as Dahl is blaming Fleming for her state) is everything.  It does lean into "there's a specific event that caused this" psychology of the time, at least as far as movies are concerned - and it is lifted wholesale from 1946's The Locket - but it's still an interesting twist to not just write off the sister as twisted or evil.

Also - a harpoon gun is deployed!

I think I did a phenomenal job of not acting like a Tex Avery wolf cartoon when Fleming was on screen - and the movie (in classic RKO noir fashion) - was certainly going for production value.  I can't tell if this was part of the Howard Hughes era of the studio - certainly it has the feel of something he would have had his hands on, from Fleming's wardrobe, to Arlene Dahl's personal line of negligee playing a featured role, and fight scenes that feel a little bone-crunchy.  My suspicion is: yes.  But I'm not sure when Hughes' grip on RKO slipped, and it would have been around this period.  But, man, that poster looks like something Hughes would have insisted on.



*it's hard to say the impact red-heads had on Technicolor and it had on red-heads.  I know Maureen O'Hara was also considered a highlight of Technicolor film.  

Friday, June 19, 2020

Noir Watch: Backtrack (1990) and Murder by Contract (1958) w/ JAL & Ryan


Watched:  06/11/2020 (Backtrack) & 06/16/2020 (Contract)
Format:  Amazon Streaming and TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First / Second
Decade:  1990's/ 1950's
Director:  Dennis Hopper/ Irving Lerner

More ways to listen - choose an app


We're back with more noir - neo and otherwise! It's two movies about weirdo hitmen filmed 30 years apart. One is from the go-go 90's and has a lot of surprises, and the other is a cult classic of noir, about a man who just wants enough money to get that house he's had his eye on. Both have casts worth discussing and off-kilter approaches to their form. Join JAL and Ryan as we make our way through two features that don't get that many mentions.





Music:
The Executioner Theme - Perry Botkin, Murder By Contract score


Noir Playlist:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Noir Watch: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)


Watched:  03/25/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's

I've been meaning to read some Dorothy B. Hughes, and now I'm deadly curious.  She wrote the novel this movie - a gritty, all-in-one-night (well, two nights) - is based on, and it sounds like the book is even meaner.

But you kind of have to know that anything that's called "Ride the Pink Horse" is either a children's book, porn or something rough and tumble enough that it can have a goofy name and walk away with it.  Sort of the "Boy Named 'Sue"" effect.  I won't pretend Ride the Pink Horse (1947) is a great film, but it's different and interesting enough that I can see why it's got it's own reputation among noiristas and landed a Criterion edition release.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

PODCAST: Vampire Halloween Watch: "Vampire Circus" (1972) and "Innocent Blood" (1992)



Watched:  09/13/2019, 09/0152019
Format:  Amazon Streaming/ DVD
Viewing: Second/ First
Decade:  1970's/ 1990's

For more information on the PodCast and places/ services where you can find the PodCast

Become a Patron!

SimonUK and I rise from the grave with two more takes on the Vampire Genre! In the first film, vampires make a killing running a circus while carrying a grudge and harassing a small European town. In the other, Italian mafia stereotypes collide with a French vampire in a 90's-tastic take on The City of Brotherly Love, and we can't figure out which sangria anyone is drinking. It's a Halloween vampire fest!





Music:
Vampire Circus Suite - David Whitaker, Vampire Circus OST
Night - Jackie Wilson, A Woman, a Lover, a Friend


Halloween 2019



Halloween 2018

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coen Watch: Miller's Crossing (1990)



Watched:  02/03/2018
Format:  Google Play Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown, but somewhere over 25th
Decade:  1990's

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)

For reasons I don't quite understand, The Glass Key (1942) isn't discussed all that much and doesn't get the same hagiography as other pictures.  Nor has it been as readily available as other crime/ noir movies on home video, although I do note its available in a boxed set and a kind-of-pricey stand alone DVD.  That second-class-movie-citizen status is a shame, because the film is fantastic; a winding, complicated detective story taken on not by a private eye, but the right-hand man of a political boss.  Throw in some of my favorite talent (Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix), and you've got a good picture going.



Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, The Glass Key feels distinctly like a Hammett novel, never over-simplified, with all of the characters existing in a moral gray area, all possible suspects when it comes to a murder.  Whether its The Thin Man or The Maltese Falcon, everyone has a motivation, and no one does.  Sorting out whodunnit has terrific implications, but everyone might also be happy to see it just go away.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV Watch: Peaky Blinders - recommended

We've been watching the BBC series, now streaming on Netflix, Peaky Blinders.  In BBC or HBO big-budget style, the show is only 6 episodes per season, but the production is incredible per episode with top flight talent in front of, and as near I can tell, behind the camera.



Our resident music snobs will like the soundtrack.  Though the setting is 1919 Birmingham, England, the show makes excellent use of Nick Cave in season 1 (including use of "Red Right Hand" as the credits track) and, as we've just cracked season 2, they've subbed in Ms. Polly Jean Harvey.  The music fits shockingly well against the late Industrial Age backdrop as working-class gangs move like sharks through the factory workers, IRA sympathizers, nascent communists and blue-clad cops on dirt streets in flat caps and tweed.

Season 1 playlist
Season 2 partial playlist

You can't get thrown by the name of the show (the name of the family-based gang at the center of the show) any more than you can get thrown by the accents and patter unfamiliar to American ears, but all of it understandable enough.

The lead of the show, Thomas Shelby, is played by Cillian Murphy - most recognizable to Americans as The Scarecrow from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.  The cops out to get the gang are led by Jurassic Park's Sam Neill.  One of my favorite characters is Tommy's Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, who you might have seen as Draco Malfoy's mother in the Harry Potter films and briefly in Skyfall.  I hear Thomas Hardy shows up here in Season 2, so I'm ready for that.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Noir Watch: The Big Heat (1953)

I have to assume I've annoyed you people before by talking about the 1953 Fritz Lang directed noir, The Big Heat.  But, what's not to like?  Glenn Ford as a straight-and-narrow cop pushed too far, Lee Marvin as a semi-psychotic mob heavy, Gloria Grahame as...  Gloria Grahame, really (and what more do you need?).

The title does not refer to the lady depicted on the poster


Monday, March 18, 2013

Join Us: Miller's Crossing at The Drafthouse Ritz

If you knew me in college you knew two things about me:

  • I was probably up for getting some tacos
  • I never got over that first viewing of Miller's Crossing





The movie comes to The Alamo Ritz on March 28th.  Simon, Paul and I have our tickets, and we expect you'll be joining us (we're seats 7 - 10 on row 21 for reserved seating).

Put on your fedora or mink coat and come on out and join us to see the movie that sort of set me on the path of being into movies with guys in hats and a lifetime fascination with women in gowns who talk fast and maybe carry a gun.