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Shutter Island (2010, dir. Martin Scorsese)

 

I really wanted to like this film: directed by Martin Scorsese, filmed in Massachusetts, but it was a disappointment. If I had to pick one word to describe the film, it would be overwrought. The acting was sluggish, the Boston accents were terrible, Leonardo DiCaprio was wrong for the role. I read at Wikipedia that Dana Andrews in Laura was the inspiration for Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio’s role), but I thought Mark Ruffalo was much more suited to his noir role and even looked like Dana Andrews at times.

 

And yet I give it 12 out of 16 on our list of noir characteristics. Getting the Boston accent right isn’t on our list, after all!

 

Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are U.S. marshals who arrive on Shutter Island to help in the search for a missing patient. The island is the home of an insane asylum, and the time is 1954. Daniels becomes more and more convinced that the doctors are plotting to test their brainwashing experiments on the patients and that he and Chuck are in constant danger as long as they stay on Shutter Island.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color N/A

2. Flashbacks Teddy suffers flashback episodes from his time serving in World War II, and he also seems to be plagued by memories of a woman who may or may not be dead but who is someone he says that he cares about.

3. Unusual narration The flashbacks seem to follow two different stories or themes in Teddy’s life. The intertwining of the present and two strands from the past is unusual.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) The crimes have already been committed by the time the film starts, but they are discussed during the film.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate There’s no denying that Teddy’s past haunts him, and in several ways.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Teddy is worried that the government is using the insane asylum for ferreting out communist sympathizers (he struck me as a little paranoid). Confusion abounds: for Teddy, Chuck, and viewers.

8. Violence or the threat of violence It is mentioned more than once that the inmates of one of the wards of the insane asylum are criminally insane: people who have committed heinous acts and can’t be kept anywhere else because they are so dangerous. Teddy has a violent streak, too.

9. Urban and nighttime settings No urban settings but plenty of nighttime settings and dark, dank asylum chambers, hallways, and so on.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Both Teddy and his partner Chuck served in World War II. Teddy suffers flashback episodes from his time in the service, in Germany, in particular.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Teddy is alone, but it’s almost impossible to say why without giving anything away.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) The setting is an insane asylum that is isolated on an island in Boston Harbor. Psychology plays a huge role in the film. Different methods, some not so humane, of treating patients who are mentally ill are discussed.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal N/A

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Despite initial appearances, none of the characters are completely good or completely evil.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Dr. John Cawley gives his patient every chance to face reality, to face what he has done. To say any more would be giving too much away to anyone who cannot guess the ending.* But I would say that expertise does triumph.

 

Shutter Island rates 12 out of 16 on our list of noir characteristics. I wish I could recommend it more heartily.

 

*I read the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, so I knew the ending, and it’s impossible for me to say if anyone would be able to guess the end of the film. But when I read the book, I knew the ending almost right away. In fact, I finished the book only because I was reading it for a book group.

Edited by Marianne
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You asked that we draw our attention to the last words spoken by Gittes, because they are evident of his failure as a detective. I recently saw Chinatown and did just that and came away with this.

 

In Chinatown, Jack once did as little as possible because that’s what the District Attorney advised all his men to do. Now that he’s returned to Chinatown, he sees how Evelyn, who he thought he was keeping [safe], actually ends up dead- and it all comes back to him. As little as possible- that is what Lt. Lou Escobar does when Gittes tries to explain to him, of Cross’s involvement in Hollis’s murder. Instead, Escobar orders Gittes arrested for withholding evidence, extortion, and accessory after the facts. As Gittes sees Evelyn’s listless body in the car, it could be that her last words come to him: “He (Noah Cross) owns the police,” thereby giving meaning to the film’s final words: Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown,”- a town where police are expected to do little because men such as Noah Cross, own them.

 

J.J. Gittes is not as bad a P.I. as he’s made out to be. His review of county records along with his visit to the Mar Vista Rest Home, helps confirm the motive to the murder, which he shares with the Lieutenant.

Gittes: Mulwray was murdered and moved because. . . he found out somebody was dumping water [in the ocean]. That’s what they were trying to cover up.

 

He finds the key evidence- the bifocal eye glasses. Evelyn weakly confirms they were Hollis’s. A little while later, she corrects herself and tells him the glasses are not Hollis’s because he did not wear bifocals. He then goes and confronts the man they belong to. He figured out the motive then identified the murderer. I would suggest his actions prove worthy.

 

Yes, Gittes’s client dies at the end, the murderer he identified, literally walks away, and although he may not be a hero, neither should he be made to take the blame.

 

After all, it is Noah Cross who started it all by having Ida Sessions (under false pretense) go to Gittes and ask him to follow Hollis Mulwray. He had the motive to have the pictures taken of Hollis and Katherine published, thereby forcing Evelyn to risk exposure to her daughter, should she travel back to Mexico. He once bragged to Gittes, “I’ve still got a few teeth in my head, Mr. Gittes, and a few friends in town.” Perhaps he speaks of the police he owns.

 

Mr. Cross is to blame for having destroyed Evelyn’s life when he took away her dignity, and it is he who is solely responsible for her demise, not Gittes.

 

This is how I perceive it.

Ours has been a good discussion. Thank You.

If Jake Gittes isn't a borderline incompetent detective or at the very least a totally ineffective detective, give a single example of how he helps Evelyn Mulwray or helps the city negatively affected by the corrupt the scheme on the city.  A very blatant example of his (racist) incompetence was his misreading clues/evidence in Evelyn's backyard.  The Chinese gardener says "bad for the grass" and Gittes only interprets it as "bad for the glass" because he was so concerned about mocking a Chinese gardener's English despite there being no glass anywhere in sight but grass everywhere surrounding the backyard pond.

 

Moreover, you state that Gittes isn't a "bad" PI because of his review of county records and his trip to the Mar Vista Rest Home that "confims the motive to the murder."  How does this in any way help a city that is paying with their tax dollars something that they're not going to get to their own detriment?  How does this help farmers who are losing their livelihood?  How does this help the elderly whose identities are being exploited?  Above all, how is any of what Gittes does constructive?  You even state that Gittes shares this "evidence" with the Lieutenant.  Yet when they go to San Pedro to investigate, there's absolutely no evidence to any of Gittes' claims of water dumping that he is able to supply to law enforcement.  This all points to Gittes being a thoroughly ineffective detective.  

 

The water/land scheme and Jake Gittes are 100% mutually exclusive.  Gittes has absolutely no impact on the corrupt scheme. That's not really my interpretation. that's what occurs in the film.  So if we want to decipher Gittes' ability as a detective, it has to be seen through his impact on Evelyn Mulwray.

 

"As little as possible" is what he did in Chinatown, but that's not why he left Chinatown.  Evelyn asks him precisely that and he changes the subject.  When she prods him later he finally says that Chinatown "bothered everybody" and "you can't always tell what's going on in "Chinatown" (Just like he can't tell what's going on with Evelyn).  "I tried to keep someone from being hurt and only made sure that she was hurt"  Gittes tried to help a woman (like Evelyn) but only ended up cementing her demise (like Evelyn).  Don't forget he confirms with Evelyn that "As little as possible" was the DA's advice when working in Chinatown.  His neglect of that advice got an innocent woman killed.

 

You state that Gittes finds key evidence, but you leave out the part that Gittes completely misreads the evidence, falsely attributing glasses that belonged to Noah Cross to Hollis Mulwray and falsely concluding Evelyn killed her husband.  When he wrongly confronts Evelyn Mulwray, who is completely innocent of any crime or wrongdoing, she's flustered and shocked and understandably doesn't immediately recognize the glasses.  When she's regained her composure, she can finally recognize that the glasses didn't belong to Hollis.  The incompetent Gittes didn't figure anything out.  Evelyn practically told him who the glasses had belonged to when she confirmed that Hollis didn't wear bifocals but he had already mistakenly alerted the police without even confirming who the glasses belonged to.  Gittes already had his overconfident mind made up.   His foolish confrontation with Cross proved what exactly?  How does this help Evelyn Mulwray or affect Noah Cross except for basically laughing at the naive Gittes?

 

Where's the evidence that Noah Cross "owns"  Escobar and his partner Loach?  It's not unreasonable that Cross has corrupted police officers but what about the lead detectives in Hollis' death?  There is no evidence whatsoever of that Escobar or Loach are influenced by Cross.  Why would they even be investigating Evelyn's murder otherwise?

 

Here's what I think needs to be understood:  Gittes misreads clues and evidence throughout the film.  This isn't my interpretation but what actually occurs during the film.  Had he not misread evidence to confront Evelyn Mulwray, she would have been long gone with her sister/daughter to Mexico.  You cannot argue with this at all.  But he mistakenly alerted the police to Evelyn's location, told his associates where she'd be in Chinatown, and lead police to a dead end (at Curly's house) so that they could later confront Gittes' associates to Gittes' or Evelyn's whereabouts (which would be in Chinatown).  This put Evelyn and her sister/daughter in harms way rather than in Mexico.  

 

After looking at her corpse and witnessing a repugnant child molester take custody of a teenage girl, Gittes realizes the cost of his actions, recognizing that he should have followed his old DA's advice, and done "as little as possible", which he states and confirms his culpability.  It also helps point out that Chinatown is distinctly a neo-noir film, rather than classic film noir, if you watch it enough times.  You come to realize that Jake Gittes is far more similar to Harry Moseby of "Night Moves" or "The Long Goodbeye's" Phillip Marlowe than any classic film noir private detective.  Evelyn Mulwray is undoubtedly the hero of Chinatown while Jake Gittes is merely the overconfident and arrogant protagonist with good intentions.  Yes, Noah Cross is the ultimate villain in Chinatown, but Jake Gittes unknowingly facilitates Cross's intentions which wouldn't have happened if he had remembered that old advice and not repeat his past, fatal mistake. (With the aspect of past certainly in the "spirit" of film noir.)

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I am repeating the list of film noir and neo-noir characteristics (borrowings) we have been using to investigate neo-noir. Please use as many or as few characteristics as you like to discuss neo-noir. I started the discussion thread as a way to continue applying what we learned in Dr. Edwards’s course, TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (aka Summer of Darkness: Investigating Film Noir).

 

Also included (below the list of characteristics) is the most up-to-date list of neo-noir films; we have been adding—and continue to add—titles to the list. The list is broken down by decade, and alphabetized within each decade.

 

In the future, I’ll alternate between the neo-noir film list alphabetized by decade and the list alphabetized in its entirety.

 

Characteristics borrowed from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Unusual narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

List of neo-noir titles alphabetized by decade:

Branded to Kill (1967) dir. Seijun Suzuki

Bullitt (1968), dir. Peter Yates

Cape Fear (1962), dir. J. Lee Thompson

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Manchurian Candidate (1962), dir. John Frankenheimer

 Marlowe (1969), dir. Paul Bogart

Mickey One (1965), dir. Arthur Penn
The Naked Kiss (1964), dir. Samuel Fuller
Point Blank (1967), dir. John Boorman

Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller

Underworld U.S.A. (1961), dir. Samuel Fuller

Wait Until Dark (1967), dir. Terence Young

 

The Big Sleep (1978), dir. Michael Winner 

Chinatown (1974), dir. Roman Polanski

Farewell, My Lovely (1975), dir. Dick Richards

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), dir. Peter Yates

Get Carter (1971) dir. Mike Hodges

Klute, (1971), dir. Alan J. Pakula

The Long Goodbye (1973) dir. Robert Altman

Night Moves (1975) dir. Arthur Penn

Pulp (1972), dir. Mike Hodges

Taxi Driver (1976), dir. Martin Scorsese

 

After Hours (1985), dir. Martin Scorsese

A Better Tomorrow (1986), dir. John Woo

The Big Easy (1986), dir. Jim McBride

Blade Runner (1982), dir. Ridley Scott

Blood Simple (1984), dir. Joel Coen

Blue Velvet (1986), dir. David Lynch

Body Heat (1981), dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), dir. Carl Reiner

Down by Law (1986), dir. Jim Jarmusch

House of Games (1987), dir. David Mamet

The Long Good Friday (1980) dir. John Mackenzie

Manhunter (1986), dir. Michael Mann

Pennies from Heaven (1981), dir. Herbert Ross

Sea of Love (1989) dir. Harold Becker

Something Wild (1986), dir. Jonathan Demme

Stormy Monday (1988), dir. Mike Figgis

Year of the Dragon (1985), dir. Michael Cimino

 

Angel Heart (1997), dir. Alan Parker

Barton Fink (1991), dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Joel Coen

Blink (1994), dir. Michael Apted

Bound (1996), dir. The Wachowski Brothers

City of Hope (1991), dir. John Sayles

Dark City (1998), dir. Alex Proyas

Deep Cover (1992), dir. Bill Duke

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), dir. Carl Franklin

Fargo (1996), dir. Joel Coen

Following (1999), dir. Christopher Nolan

Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

Heat (1995) dir. Michael Mann

Jackie Brown (1997) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Jade (1995) dir. William Friedkin

King of New York (1990) dir. Abel Ferrara

L.A. Confidential (1997), dir. Curtis Hanson

The Last Seduction (1994), dir. John Dahl

Mulholland Falls (1996), dir. Lee Tamahori

Miller’s Crossing (1990), dir. Joel Coen

Palmetto (1998), dir. Volker Schlondorff

The Public Eye (1992), dir. Howard Franklin

A Rage in Harlem (1991) dir. Bill Duke

Red Rock West (1992), dir. John Dahl

Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Romeo Is Bleeding (1993), dir. Peter Medak

Serial Mom (1994), dir. John Waters

Se7en (1995), dir. David Fincher

Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme

State of Grace (1990) dir. Phil Joanou

True Romance (1993) Tony Scott

The Two Jakes (1990), dir. Jack Nicholson

The Usual Suspects (1995), dir. Bryan Singer

U-Turn (1997), dir. Oliver Stone

 

Batman Begins (2005), dir. Christopher Nolan

The Black Dahlia (2006), dir. Brian DePalma

Brick (2006), dir. Rian Johnson

Collateral (2004) dir. Michael Mann

Criminal (2004), dir. Gregory Jacobs

Derailed (2005), dir. Mikael Hafstrom

Femme Fatale (2002), dir. Brian de Palma

Gangs of New York (2002), dir. Martin Scorsese

Gone Baby Gone (2007), dir. Ben Affleck

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), dir. George Clooney

Hollywoodland (2006), dir. Allen Coulter

The Ice Harvest (2005), dir. Harold Ramis

Insomnia (2002), dir. Christopher Nolan

Killshot (2009), dir. John Madden

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), dir. Shane Black

Memento (2000), dir. Christopher Nolan

Mulholland Drive (2001), dir. David Lynch

Mystic River (2003) dir. Clint Eastwood

Not Forgotten (2009), dir. Dror Soref

Oldboy (2003) dir. Chan-wook Park

Out of Time (2003), dir. Carl Franklin

The Red Riding Trilogy (2009), dirs. Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker

Sexy Beast (2000), dir. Jonathan Glazer

The Sweeney (2012), dir. Nick Love

Training Day (2001), dir. Antoine Fugua

Twisted (2004), dir. Philip Kaufman

2 Guns (2013), dir. Baltasar Kormakur

Zodiac (2007), dir. David Fincher

 

Drive (2011), dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

The Equalizer (2014), dir. Antoine Fuqua

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), dir. David Fincher

Irrational Man (2015), dir. Woody Allen

Nightcrawler (2014), dir. Dan Gilroy

Shutter Island (2010), dir. Martin Scorsese

Stonehearst Asylum (2014), dir. Brad Anderson

The Town (2010), dir. Ben Affleck

Winter’s Bone (2010), dir. Debra Granik

 

Neo-noirs from abroad:

Amores perros (2001) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, from Mexico

Animal Kingdom (2010), dir. David Michôd, from Australia

El aura (The Aura) (2005), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina (France and Spain)

 

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), dir. Diao Yinan, from China

Blow-Up (1966), dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, from United Kingdom and Italy

 

Caché (Hidden) (2005), dir. Michael Haneke, from France

Le cercle rouge (The Red Circle) (1970), dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

The Crimson Rivers (2000), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

 

Delicatessen (1991), dirs. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, from France

La demoiselle d’honneur (The Bridesmaid) (2004 in France), dir. Claude Chabrol, from France

Le doulos (1962), dir Jean-Pierre Melville, from France

 

Flic Story (1975), dir. Jacques Deray, from France

Foreign Land (1996), dirs. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, from Brazil

 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), dir. Daniel Alfredson, from Sweden

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), dir. Niels Arden Oplev, from Sweden

 

La haine (2012), dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, from France

 

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), dir. Mike Hodges, from the United Kingdom

In Bruges (2008), dir. Martin McDonagh, from Britain and the United States

Insomnia (1997), dir Erik Skjoldbjær, from Norway

 

Just Another Love Story (2007), dir. Ole Bornedal, from Denmark

 

Kill Me Three Times (2014), dir. Kriv Stenders, from Australia

 

Lantana (2001), dir. Ray Lawrence, from Australia

León: The Professional (1994), dir. Luc Besson, from France

 

The Moon in the Gutter (La lune dans le caniveau) (1983), dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, from France

 

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) (2006), dir. Guillaume Canet, from France

Nine Queens (2000), dir. Fabián Bielinsky, from Argentina

 

The Outside Man (Un homme est mort) (1972), dir. Jacques Deray, from France and Italy

 

Red Road (2006), dir. Andrea Arnold, from Scotland (United Kingdom)

 

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), dir. Juan José Campanella, from Argentina

Shallow Grave (1995), dir. Danny Boyle, from the United Kingdom

The Square (2008), dir. Nash Edgerton, from Australia

 

Thirty-Sixth (36th) Precinct (2004), dir. Olivier Marchal, from France

Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) (1960), dir. François Truffaut, from France

 

Where the Truth Lies (2005), dir. Atom Egoyan, from Canada

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Just Another Love Story (2007, dir. Ole Bornedal)

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

To be honest, our list is too confining to describe this neo-noir. The writing, the dialogue, and the editing are just wonderful. I fear that this Danish film will be ruined by a Hollywood remake in the too-soon future. But I give it 12 out of 16 on our list.

 

Just Another Love Story has a strong female lead, but it’s hard to describe why this is so without giving details away. Everyone in this film suffers, and she doesn’t escape the suffering either. She may triumph and she achieves her goal, but it comes at a heavy price.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (cinematography in general)

• The opening and closing shots of the main character Jonas in the pouring rain.

• The closing credits over shots from what I think are Vietnam.

• The unique use of a process shot during the scene at the car accident.

• The splicing together of scenes and dialogue to show Jonas’s confused state of mind.

2. Flashbacks Flashbacks come in the form of returning memories for Julia. She’s suffering from amnesia after a car accident.

3. Unusual narration The opening sequence consists of three “love scenes” numbered by the director as “Love scene no. 1,” “Love scene no. 2,” and “Love scene no. 3.” They lay out the intertwining threads in the story to come in the film.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Where to begin? Murder, gem smuggling, domestic violence.

5. Femme fatale There’s a femme fatale but not in the usual sense. Jonas gets swept away but not because Julia is trying to seduce him. In fact, she’s just been injured in a car crash, and the viewer wonders about Jonas’s good sense from the beginning. Even his friends, Frank and Poul, can’t understand what he’s doing. They know he is married (to Mette), but Julia doesn’t.

6. The instrument of fate The fateful car crash, Jonas getting swept away by Julia at the accident scene. He seems to be the perfect victim of fate. (Or did fate just give him an unhealthy lack of judgment?)

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Again, where to begin? The cheating, the lying, the betrayal. Everyone is on edge for different reasons. And who the heck is the Bandaged Man?! Even the viewer is caught up in the angst and suspense.

8. Violence or the threat of violence One of the characters is a constant threat. Saying anything more will give away plot details.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Not applicable (N/A)

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Jonas’s friend Frank poses several questions, some of which present philosophical musings in the film:

“Beautiful woman and a mystery. Isn’t that how all film noirs begin?”

“Have you seen the light?”

And then there’s the one he poses about love in the autopsy room. . . . It’s a great scene.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Julia suffers from amnesia after the car accident. The rest of the story hinges on her amnesia and her returning memories.

13. Greed (N/A, that is, only tangentially)

14. Betrayal Betrayal comes in many forms in this film: marital infidelity, dishonor among thieves, the betrayal that saves a life.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) This one is hard to describe because some of the characters don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. But then there’s Jonas, who is neither good nor bad. I’m going to count this one because of Jonas.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

 

The philosophical musings you describe (No. 11) has heighten my interest in this film, and taken with (No. 3) unusual narration and its three numbered scenes, well it is the sort of creativeness that I’m always looking for in new films. Although foreign films are difficult to come by on cable, I will continue looking for this title.

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Mulholland Falls (1996)

dir. Lee Tamahori

 

Four well dressed men wearing sharp, tailored, three piece suits and fedora hats, enter a fine dining restaurant, looking for Jack Flynn (William Petersen) and walking like they own the world.

Max: Jack Flynn?… I’m Maxwell Hoover. I’m with the Los Angeles Police Department… We came here to deliver a message…

Moments later the four detectives and Jack are riding in a convertible police car (!) headed to the airport by way of Mulholland Falls.

 

These detectives get their swagger as a result of a squad they belong to, set up by their chief.

Max: Bill, when we set up this squad, we answered to no one but you. That was the deal. Four men, no politics, no favorites, we answer to no body.

Chief: When we set it up it was organized to do two things; get rid of gangsters and criminals.

 

The story here revolves around the mysterious death of Allison Pond, (Jennifer Connelly) whose body is found embedded into the ground near a construction site.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

There are shots of the blazing sun and arid desert. Tints of light olive, grey and orange/brown dominate the hues in the film. Sporadically, we see green trees and grass then blue skies to contrast the toned down hues.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes.

The film opens with a b&w 8mm film focusing mostly on Allison Pond. We learn of Allison by two means; that film and several visual flashbacks from those recalling her past or events with or of her.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Assault

Conspiracy

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Colonel Fitzgerald’s fate (Treat Williams) is decided by his actions involving the case being investigated. Sort of the Golden Rule.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes

Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) fears that an amateur film (wanted by many) may be made public and it has him in panic mode for most of the film.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

Los Angeles in the 1950s with the wardrobes and cars of the times. There is also a view of Mulholland Drive overlooking the city at night.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Yes.

Post war nuclear testing and its affects on civilians, play a small but intricate part in the story. An Army General and Colonel are characters in the story.

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness N/A

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

 

13. Greed Half. Not greed of money, but certainly an element of selfishness or self interest involving the amateur film. We see threat of blackmail, assault, deceptions, lies all because of the film.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Max carried-on a 6 months affair with Allison and then defends his actions to a fellow cop:

Max: Let me tell you, …you meet somebody. Maybe they’re a little off center, but they tell you the truth and you like them for that. Then one thing leads to another and you end up in bed. Now that’s weak…Nobody gets hurt. Now you go home and you see your wife and you feeling bad. You want to unload and you want to get it off your chest and so you tell her and now she’s hurt. Now that’s weak too, but it’s also cruel. Here is something that doesn’t cost you $25 an hour. You carry your own water, Elleroy. You understand? Carry your own water.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

This may be trivial, but amusing just the same. Some of the characters have names associated with U.S. Presidents: Hoover, Coolidge, Arthur, Fitzgerald, Jimmy, Jack, and Bill.

The film opens with much promise; the introduction of the four detectives in the restaurant, the cinematography at the nightclub and  Mulholland Drive, even an old tune by the Platters, Harbor Lights, sung by Aaron Neville, but the rest of the film does not continue the wonderful start. Still, there are two reasons to see this film; the neo-noir cinematography by two-time Academy Award winner Haskell Wexler and the ensemble of many established actors appearing together in the film.

 

9.5 of 16 on our list of characteristics. A sound neo-noir

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Mulholland Falls (1996)

dir. Lee Tamahori

 

Four well dressed men wearing sharp, tailored, three piece suits and fedora hats, enter a fine dining restaurant, looking for Jack Flynn (William Petersen) and walking like they own the world.

Max: Jack Flynn?… I’m Maxwell Hoover. I’m with the Los Angeles Police Department… We came here to deliver a message…

Moments later the four detectives and Jack are riding in a convertible police car (!) headed to the airport by way of Mulholland Falls.

 

These detectives get their swagger as a result of a squad they belong to, set up by their chief.

Max: Bill, when we set up this squad, we answered to no one but you. That was the deal. Four men, no politics, no favorites, we answer to no body.

Chief: When we set it up it was organized to do two things; get rid of gangsters and criminals.

 

The story here revolves around the mysterious death of Allison Pond, (Jennifer Connelly) whose body is found embedded into the ground near a construction site.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

There are shots of the blazing sun and arid desert. Tints of light olive, grey and orange/brown dominate the hues in the film. Sporadically, we see green trees and grass then blue skies to contrast the toned down hues.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes.

The film opens with a b&w 8mm film focusing mostly on Allison Pond. We learn of Allison by two means; that film and several visual flashbacks from those recalling her past or events with or of her.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Assault

Conspiracy

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Colonel Fitzgerald’s fate (Treat Williams) is decided by his actions involving the case being investigated. Sort of the Golden Rule.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes

Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) fears that an amateur film (wanted by many) may be made public and it has him in panic mode for most of the film.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Murder

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

Los Angeles in the 1950s with the wardrobes and cars of the times. There is also a view of Mulholland Drive overlooking the city at night.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Yes.

Post war nuclear testing and its affects on civilians, play a small but intricate part in the story. An Army General and Colonel are characters in the story.

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness N/A

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

 

13. Greed Half. Not greed of money, but certainly an element of selfishness or self interest involving the amateur film. We see threat of blackmail, assault, deceptions, lies all because of the film.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Max carried-on a 6 months affair with Allison and then defends his actions to a fellow cop:

Max: Let me tell you, …you meet somebody. Maybe they’re a little off center, but they tell you the truth and you like them for that. Then one thing leads to another and you end up in bed. Now that’s weak…Nobody gets hurt. Now you go home and you see your wife and you feeling bad. You want to unload and you want to get it off your chest and so you tell her and now she’s hurt. Now that’s weak too, but it’s also cruel. Here is something that doesn’t cost you $25 an hour. You carry your own water, Elleroy. You understand? Carry your own water.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

This may be trivial, but amusing just the same. Some of the characters have names associated with U.S. Presidents: Hoover, Coolidge, Arthur, Fitzgerald, Jimmy, Jack, and Bill.

The film opens with much promise; the introduction of the four detectives in the restaurant, the cinematography at the nightclub and  Mulholland Drive, even an old tune by the Platters, Harbor Lights, sung by Aaron Neville, but the rest of the film does not continue the wonderful start. Still, there are two reasons to see this film; the neo-noir cinematography by two-time Academy Award winner Haskell Wexler and the ensemble of many established actors appearing together in the film.

 

9.5 of 16 on our list of characteristics. A sound neo-noir

 

The nuclear test angle of the story is a nod to Kiss Me Deadly but I've read that the film's original ending was for Hoover and Coolidge, after surviving an emergency landing too near a test site, were to be incinerated by a nuclear blast.  Now how utterly noir would that have been?  B)

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The nuclear test angle of the story is a nod to Kiss Me Deadly but I've read that the film's original ending was for Hoover and Coolidge, after surviving an emergency landing too near a test site, were to be incinerated by a nuclear blast.  Now how utterly noir would that have been?  B)

I thought the successful crash-landing was improbable.

I would guess the producers decided on the lesser of two improbable scenarios.

I tend to agree.

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Hollywoodland (2006, dir. Allen Coulter)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, both when I saw it in the theater at first release and on DVD. The director’s feature commentary on the DVD was fantastic and very informative.

 

Plus the film has Lois Smith. Hats off to her! She’s been in some great films over her long career.

 

Hollywoodland gets 13 out of 16 on our list of noir characteristics.

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) I’m not so sure about the color being used to enhance the mood of the film, but some of the camera techniques certainly are used to that end. For example, Louis Simo goes to George Reeves’s house and imagines his guests sitting in the living room the night that he died. One of them thinks she sees someone outside the house, and the film cuts to Simo inside the house continuing his investigation. When Simo examines Reeves’s bedroom, where Reeves’s death occurred, he tries to imagine him on that night, and the film cuts back and forth between the past and the present, until Reeves looks directly into the camera, almost like he and Simo are present in his bedroom at the same time.

2. Flashbacks Yes. All of George Reeves’s story is told in flashback.

3. Unusual narration I thought the intertwining narratives, one focusing on Louis Simo and the other on George Reeves, weren’t so unusual, but the technique was done so effectively that I am counting this characteristic for this film.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder or suicide for Reeves? Murder. Corruption in the film industry. Police corruption.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Both George Reeves and Louis Simo resist accepting what the world has offered to them. Both want something bigger; both want what they imagine is better and attainable. Both resist fate to some extent, and at great cost for one of them.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Simo is confused and alone, more so than he even realizes at first. Reeves is unhappy and driven and constantly searching.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Louis Simo’s questions lead to violence, and his is under constant threat of violence because he continues to ask questions.

9. Urban and nighttime settings The film takes place in Los Angeles. The film opens with the police investigating George Reeves’s death at night. Some of Louis Simo’s investigation takes place at night, and the crime scene.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A Louis Simo mentions being a World War II vet, but it’s not really a major theme of Hollywoodland.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Both Louis Simo and George Reeves are trying to establish themselves, and they alienate people along the way. Neither one is particularly happy in their respective lives. Reeves wants to be a movie star and he doesn’t think playing Superman is the right way to achieve his goal. Simo is stringing a client and his assistant along, then finds out his assistant is really stringing him along.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Maybe manipulation, especially on the part of the public relations man for MGM, Howard Strickling. He issues vague threats to Louis Simo, tries to offer him a job at the studio to pull him over to his side, protects the Mannixes from any unfavorable interactions with Simo.

13. Greed Maybe a half point. Eddie Mannix is in the film industry for the money. His only comment about Gone with the Wind is about how that picture made money. Everything about Howard Strickling’s job is to protect MGM’s reputation and thus its financial solvency: its ability to sell movie tickets.

14. Betrayal Maybe a half point. Louis Simo’s assistant is sleeping with him and another man. Mr. Sinclair is convinced that his wife is cheating on him, which leads to domestic violence: Sinclair believes that she’s cheating and acts on it, so I think a half point works.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Even the “evil” characters have good intentions at times. For example, it is implied that Eddie Mannix could have killed George Reeves, but he says to Toni, his wife, that he will do anything to protect her, that she is always safe with him.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” I’m not sure that anyone or anything related to George Reeves’s death triumphs in this film. But I interpreted the ending to mean that Louis Simo realizes what he has lost up to that point and that he will try to make amends, so I count this one.

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I thought the successful crash-landing was improbable.

I would guess the producers decided on the lesser of two improbable scenarios.

I tend to agree.

I don't, I think like with Kiss Me Deadly's ending it would have been Iconic.

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Mulholland Falls (1996)

dir. Lee Tamahori

 

. . .

 

The film opens with much promise; the introduction of the four detectives in the restaurant, the cinematography at the nightclub and  Mulholland Drive, even an old tune by the Platters, Harbor Lights, sung by Aaron Neville, but the rest of the film does not continue the wonderful start. Still, there are two reasons to see this film; the neo-noir cinematography by two-time Academy Award winner Haskell Wexler and the ensemble of many established actors appearing together in the film.

 

9.5 of 16 on our list of characteristics. A sound neo-noir

 

 

HEYMOE:

 

I would say that Aaron Neville would be another reason to see Mulholland Falls, especially if he appears on the rest of the movie soundtrack.

 

But I detect that you didn't like the film. Would you recommend it ? I haven't seen it in its entirety, but I have caught bits and pieces of it here and there.

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Hollywoodland (2006, dir. Allen Coulter)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, both when I saw it in the theater at first release and on DVD. The director’s feature commentary on the DVD was fantastic and very informative.

 

Plus the film has Lois Smith. Hats off to her! She’s been in some great films over her long career.

 

Hollywoodland gets 13 out of 16 on our list of noir characteristics.

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) I’m not so sure about the color being used to enhance the mood of the film, but some the camera techniques certainly are used to that end. For example, Louis Simo goes to George Reeves’s house and imagines his guests sitting in the living room the night that he died. One of them thinks she sees someone outside the house, and the film cuts to Simo inside the house continuing his investigation. When Simo examines Reeves’s bedroom, where Reeves’s death occurred, he tries to imagine him on that night, and the film cuts back and forth between the past and the present, until Reeves looks directly into the camera, almost like he and Simo are present in his bedroom at the same time.

2. Flashbacks Yes. All of George Reeves’s story is told in flashback.

3. Unusual narration I thought the intertwining narratives, one focusing on Louis Simo and the other on George Reeves, weren’t so unusual, but the technique was done so effectively that I am counting this characteristic for this film.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder or suicide for Reeves? Murder. Corruption in the film industry. Police corruption.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Both George Reeves and Louis Simo resist accepting what the world has offered to them. Both want something bigger; both want what they imagine is better and attainable. Both resist fate to some extent, and at great cost for one of them.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Simo is confused and alone, more so than he even realizes at first. Reeves is unhappy and driven and constantly searching.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Louis Simo’s questions lead to violence, and his is under constant threat of violence because he continues to ask questions.

9. Urban and nighttime settings The film takes place in Los Angeles. The film opens with the police investigating George Reeves’s death at night. Some of Louis Simo’s investigation takes place at night, and the crime scene.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A Louis Simo mentions being a World War II vet, but it’s not really a major theme of Hollywoodland.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Both Louis Simo and George Reeves are trying to establish themselves, and they alienate people along the way. Neither one is particularly happy in their respective lives. Reeves wants to be a movie star and he doesn’t think playing Superman is the right way to achieve his goal. Simo is stringing a client and his assistant along, then finds out his assistant is really stringing him along.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Maybe manipulation, especially on the part of the public relations man for MGM, Howard Strickling. He issues vague threats to Louis Simo, tries to offer him a job at the studio to pull him over to his side, protects the Mannixes from any unfavorable interactions with Simo.

13. Greed Maybe a half point. Eddie Mannix is in the film industry for the money. His only comment about Gone with the Wind is about how that picture made money. Everything about Howard Strickling’s job is to protect MGM’s reputation and thus its financial solvency: its ability to sell movie tickets.

14. Betrayal Maybe a half point. Louis Simo’s assistant is sleeping with him and another man. Mr. Sinclair is convinced that his wife is cheating on him, which leads to domestic violence: Sinclair believes that she’s cheating and acts on it, so I think a half point works.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Even the “evil” characters have good intentions at times. For example, it is implied that Eddie Mannix could have killed George Reeves, but he says to Toni, his wife, that he will do anything to protect her, that she is always safe with him.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” I’m not sure that anyone or anything related to George Reeves’s death triumphs in this film. But I interpreted the ending to mean that Louis Simo realizes what he has lost up to that point and that he will try to make amends, so I count this one.

 

 

As an eight, nine and ten year old growing up, I am not embarrassed to say, Superman was my hero. Although I knew his capabilities were not real, it never stopped me from daydreaming of the possibilities.

 

Now, many years later, I again have an opportunity to see a neo-noir film centered on the actor who portrayed him. Talk about coming full circle! I’m a young boy all over again, waiting to see “Superman” again in Hollywoodland.

Nostalgia and noir.

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As an eight, nine and ten year old growing up, I am not embarrassed to say, Superman was my hero. Although I knew his capabilities were not real, it never stopped me from daydreaming of the possibilities.

 

Now, many years later, I again have an opportunity to see a neo-noir film centered on the actor who portrayed him. Talk about coming full circle! I’m a young boy all over again, waiting to see “Superman” again in Hollywoodland.

Nostalgia and noir.

 

Hollywoodland portrays George Reeves sympathetically, I believe, but it doesn't portray Superman in "black and white," that's for sure. George Reeves is all grown-up and trying to get ahead in a cut-throat world. I'm not sure that the film will bring up any nostalgia about Superman and childhood memories.

 

Hollywoodland is a great movie, though. Ben Affleck gives a great performance. And so do Adrien Brody and Lois Smith.

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HEYMOE:

 

I would say that Aaron Neville would be another reason to see Mulholland Falls, especially if he appears on the rest of the movie soundtrack.

 

But I detect that you didn't like the film. Would you recommend it ? I haven't seen it in its entirety, but I have caught bits and pieces of it here and there.

Marianne:

 

Certainly another song or two from Aaron Neville would have been welcomed. He only appears once in the film though.

 

Did I like the film? Yes I did. I may have reservations with the whole, but not with the parts that work; they were done well.

 

Would I recommend the film? Yes, with reservations. (But still yes!)

The film wants to be romantic, thrilling, melodramatic and noir and succeeds being so the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we only see flashes of the first three, the rest of the way. The stage was set for something grand, except some scenes were less so.

 

Mulholland Falls is among the hundreds of films that many enjoy despite their shortcomings. It and I are one of each, respectively.

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Derailed (2005)

dir. Mikael Hafstrom

 

Charles Schine (Clive Owen) has it good. He is happily married to Deanna (Melissa George) and they have a lovely daughter, all living in a house along a tree lined neighborhood. One morning, he boards a commuter rail passenger car on his way to work, when he discovers that he doesn't have the money to pay his fare. A young women he has never met before, pays for his fare. These two innocent but fateful occurrences, will change their lives.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

The chiaroscuro in this film, uses shadows technique not so much to hide, but rather to expose the dissimilarities between shades, which helps us to see clearer the intensity and emotional content on the various facial expressions seen in certain scenes of high suspense.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes.

We see a prisoner begin writing in a journal and very briefly, a voice begins speaking those words:

The morning it all began, began like any other morning…

The story has occurred already. The flashback ends near the end when we see the journal already finished. The technique is used effectively.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

A very brief narration (No.2) lasting less than ten seconds.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Assault

Blackmail

Embezzlement

Extortion

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes.

From the moment the camera focuses on Lucinda’s crossed legs, wearing black stockings in high heels, we get the sense that Charles is interested and perhaps she may be our femme fatale. Then the conversation they have moments later confirms both.

Charles: Thank you. There’s an ATM in Union, if you’re getting off there.

Lucinda: Tomorrow is fine… Of course there is a 10% interest charge overnight… plus the handling fee.

Charles: Never met a woman Loan Shark before… You break legs?

Lucinda: Just parts.

Charles: Oh, you’re a lawyer.

Lucinda: I’m a financial Advisor. I cheat clients.

Charles: I’m a commercial executive… I con housewives.

Lucinda: Where do you work?

Charles: JMB Marsh. It’s a midsize place. We get semi decent accounts. You?

Lucinda: Avery Price. It’s a big place. We don’t do semi decent accounts.

Charles: This your usual train?

Lucinda: Why?

Charles: So I’d know how to pay you back.

Lucinda: It’s nine dollars. I think I’ll survive.

Charles: No, I’ve got to give it back. I’d feel ethically impugned if I didn’t

Lucinda: Impugned? Well I wouldn’t want you to feel impugned.

 

Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston) having already attracted Charles, will next get him further involved in typical femme fatale manner and have no worries about consequences in the process.

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Lucinda, like a Venus flytrap, never chooses who comes to her, rather, the fateful come to her. Once the catch is secured, they are devoured mercilessly. Fate here is as random as the children’s rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe. Charles is it.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

At one point or another, Charles goes through, confusion, fear, guilt, frustration, humiliation and desperation. The culprit behind all his angst is his tormentor, LaRoche (Vincent Cassel).

Having already given in to LaRoche’s demands, Charles answers his cell:

Charles: Yeah, this is Charles.

LaRoche: You ever get a little sidetracked, Charles

Charles: How did you get this number?

LaRoche: That’s it. Keep thinking like that. How did I get your cell number? It isn’t listed, is it?

Charles: You called my wife?

LaRoche: No. Guess again…Okay, I’ll give you a clue… On this phone it’s speed dial No. 8, Hospital one, doctor two, you’re number 8... You don’t rank in the top five. How does that feel, Charles?

Growing suspicious, Charles checks the caller ID, it reads: HOME.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Killings

Murders

Rape witnessed by Charles

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

Compelling urban setting. This time we see Chicago’s commuter rails, busy business district, crowded streets, skyline with skyscrapers and highway with rush hour traffic. There are several nighttime scenes.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness N/A

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

 

13. Greed Yes.

Blackmail and extortion for and of large amounts of monies.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Infidelity, double cross, embezzlement and this:

Charles sells out his family in order to keep his wife, Deanna from finding out about his infidelity.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Yes.

Lucinda is a good Samaritan; she helps a total stranger pay for his train fare when he could not. He then pays her back and they become “friends”. Before long, we see the chameleon in her. She’s far from a good Samaritan. She’s evil disguised as good.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

11 of the 16 characteristics on our template, suggests Derailed is a neo-noir and I agree. The film is a suspenseful thriller, with a standout performance by French actor Vincent Cassel, who plays the vicious villain, LaRoche.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Zodiac (2007)

dir. David Fincher

 

July 4, 1969 - Vallejo, CA

A man approaches a car on the passenger side and open fires, killing two people inside. Moments later we hear the following:

I want to report a double murder. If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway to the public park, you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye.

 

Four Weeks later, the San Francisco Chronicle receives the following letter:

Dear Editor,

This is the murderer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman, and the girl on the 4th of July, near the golf course near Vallejo.

To prove I killed them, I shall state some facts which only I and the police know…

… Here is part of a cipher… print this cipher on the front page of your paper [or] I will go on a kill rampage…

Unsigned.

 

Over the next 20 years, two detectives, David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), an investigative reporter, Paul Avery, (Robert Downy Jr.) and political cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) follow many leads in hopes of capturing Zodiac.

 

This film is based on the book, Zodiac: The Full Story of the Infamous Unsolved Murders in California by Robert Graysmith.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

Incredible aerial shots of San Francisco at night. As the film moves forward, both in time and narrative, you get the sense that the cinematographer changes canvases along the way in order to keep pace with the changing times. The tones (tints and hues) seen early in the film, are different later on, giving the film a sense of realism.

 

2. Flashbacks N/A

 

3. Unusual narration Yes.

Extensive use of timestamps throughout the film, act to guide the viewer through the who, what and when in this fact-filled story covering a span of thirty-two years.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

Assault

Menacing

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

 

6. The instrument of fate Yes.

Yes to the extent that Zodiac never chose his victims in advance, but instead took advantage of opportunities presented. His victims just happened to be where they were when he happened to be there as well. There was one exception.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

As years go by, and the case remains unsolved, confusion and self-doubt among the investigators, begin to take a toll; one requests a transfer, another takes to alcohol and leaves his employment and still another has trouble keeping his family together. And then there are the victims; all their angst, inflicted by Zodiac.

 

A young couple, talking on the grass in a park are approached by a stranger, who ties them up and makes them lie faced down. Cecelia begins to hyperventilate as if in a panic. Zodiac pulls out a knife and repeatedly stabs Bryan in the back. Cecelia, begins to scream. Horrific but not gory.

 

After manipulating a mother, traveling with an infant, into accepting a ride to the next service station, we have this:

Mother: I think you just passed a filling station.

Zodiac: It was closed. (she looks bewildered as if why is he lying?)

Mother: You always go around helping people in the night?

Zodiac: When I’m done with them, they don’t need much help

She’s looking worried now.

Zodiac: … Before I kill you, I’m going to throw your baby out the window.

Mother turns to look at him; her face frozen in disbelief.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Cold and calculated murders by serial killer

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

We get to see San Francisco’s harbor, skyline, City Hall- all beautifully photographed by cinematographer Harris Savides (Milk, American Gangster). Such beauty would give any municipality incentive to hurry and catch a serial killer.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness N/A

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes.

Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with solving the case. Early on, we see him go through a reporter’s trash, in order to read notes thrown away. Later he reads a book, Homicides Investigation, in hopes that it will help him look for patterns in the killings and/or crime scenes. At one point, he even has his three young children go through documents, looking for clues. He tells them: Guys, don’t tell mom about our special project, okay?” His preoccupation causes tensions at home and his wife leaves with the children.

 

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal N/A

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

This is the second David Fincher film to make our neo-noir list (Se7en was the first).

 

I try to avoid hyperboles, but in my opinion, the first eleven minutes of Zodiac are near perfect: the camera movement, aerial photography of Vallejo, CA., song selection: Easy to be Hard, cinematography, make up, montage of a father making his way to work, writing… it plays like a visual Ode to the art of film making.

 

With 8 of 16 characteristics, I suggest Zodiac makes for a more convincing neo-noir than the score indicates.

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The Town (2010, dir. Ben Affleck)

 

This film has it all—and then some—for a neo-noir: honor among thieves, betrayal, murder, bank robberies, armored car heists, loyalty to family and friends, and romance. And a greater Boston location. I read the novel (Prince Among Thieves) and enjoyed that even more, but the film, The Town, is a great story. The writers did a wonderful job adapting it to the screen.

 

According to our list of noir characteristics, The Town gets only 11½ out of 16, which still makes it a neo-noir, but that number just doesn’t seem right. I think it should be higher. Or maybe I’m biased because it takes place in the greater Boston area. And I read the book. And I rooted for Doug and Claire in the book and in the film. And Ben Affleck gets the Boston accent right.

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) I’m going to give this film a half-point, not for lighting but for the wonderful use of music and sound. There’s a great scene when Doug and his crew are deafened by some sort of bomb set off by the FBI, and the audience hears only what they hear, that is, no sound at all that leads to a slow fade into ringing like ringing in the ears.

2. Flashbacks N/A

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Practically the entire film is about planning the heist of banks and armored cars. People get killed along the way, too.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate If you are born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, it is practically a given that you will be inducted into a life of crime. Here are a couple of opening quotes from the film (I think they open the novel, too, as I recall):

“One blue-collar Boston neighborhood has produced more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere in the world.

Charlestown.”

 

“Bank robbery became like a trade in Charlestown, passed down from father to son.”

—Federal Agent

Boston Robbery Task Force

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Doug suffers because he doesn’t know how to tell the truth to Claire, and when she finds out the truth, she lashes out at him. Claire suffers because she feels betrayed by Doug.

8. Violence or the threat of violence See number 4 above. Doug’s friend Jem threatens Doug at one point, so there is even some violence among the friends.

9. Urban and nighttime settings The greater Boston area is the setting for the film. The nighttime scenes are rather few and far between, but I’ll still count this one. The setting is almost like another character in the film.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Doug becomes caught between his world in Charlestown and the world he glimpses because of his feelings for Claire. It puts him in a new position that alienates him from the people he grew up with.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Fergie the florist is a master manipulator. He has the goods on everyone and uses the information to his advantage when he needs to, and he’ll wait for as long as it takes to use it. The FBI agent Adam Frawley is also a master manipulator: He is willing to use people to get the information that he needs. Krista Coughlin is the one who suffers the most from the position that she finds herself in and the way that Frawley uses her to get what he wants.

13. Greed This one is a hard one to count because the heists are considered part of the job for Doug and his friends, but it’s still theft and they still want the money, so I’m counting it.

14. Betrayal No one rats on their friends in Charlestown, but Jem’s sister Krista is forced to make a choice about her daughter that leads her to make a betrayal she doesn’t want to make. Doug betrays Claire by not telling her the truth.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Doug is one of “the bad guys” but how the heck did I end up rooting for him throughout the film? And for him and Claire to come to terms with their feelings for one another? No one, except maybe Fergie the florist, can be called all good or all bad in this film.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Doug’s expertise at pulling off crimes, robberies specifically. If I say any more, I’ll give even more away than I already have.

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The Nice Guys (2016)

Directed by Shane Black

 

This film stars Russell Crowe (Healy) and Ryan Gosling (March) as a hired strong man and private detective (respectively). The two work together to investigate the deaths of a porn star and her associates as well as a possible cover up of political corruption. In doing so, their own lives are threatened; the more they uncover, the higher the body count. The film is set in 1977 Los Angeles during the energy crisis. In all its seriousness, the film maintains a comedic element as the two protagonists (who start off as bitter enemies) grow closer together and develop a professional relationship.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color.

Yes – Some scenes have muted color set against a black background particularly when Healy has a moment of introspective thought.

 

2. Flashbacks

Yes – There were a few scenes delving into a Healy’s past.

 

3. Unusual narration

Yes – March has a rather bizarre dream sequence.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

Yes – We have murder, pornography, revenge, and political gain.

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

Yes – I would say there are 3 femme fatales where double crossing is apparent and one homme fatale who is the threat.

 

6. The instrument of fate

Yes – The reel of pornographic film.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst)

Yes – Especially from the daughter of a U.S. Justice.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence

Yes – there is a mounting body count as well as severe injury.

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings

Yes – many nighttime scenes with the setting 1977 Los Angeles.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

Maybe – March often makes references to Hitler when criticizing others’ behavior that he finds inappropriate. This is also post-Vietnam War and the energy crisis that has some correlation to the political theme in this film.

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

Yes – The loss of March’s wife and his daughter’s constant criticism of his work. March's daughter is the moral compass for both March and Healy. For Healy, there seems to be some self-doubt.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

Yes – manipulation particularly Basinger’s character as well as her minion who double crosses March and Healy

 

13. Greed

Always – we have the auto industry in cahoots with the U.S. Justice Dept. for a massive cover-up. March is also a bit sleazy on how he milks his clients for more money.

 

14. Betrayal

Yes – Lots of double crossing.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Yes – March tends to waver between good and bad (not so much evil). The character of Amelia is also dichotomous (as well as extremely annoying). Crowe is a hired strong arm but again more good and bad and less evil.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

Yes – It’s March's expertise that triumphs with some rather questionable ethics in getting to the truth of the matter.

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Just a thought about quintessential actors of the noir genre. Most would think of Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Robert Mitchum. Then I started to reflect on actors of neo-noir. I find that Ryan Gosling is the go-to guy for neo-noir flicks as he's done many of them: The Nice Guys, Drive, Blue Valentine, All Good Things, Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, Lost River. 

 

Any thoughts?

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The Nice Guys (2016)

Directed by Shane Black

 

This film stars Russell Crowe (Healy) and Ryan Gosling (March) as a hired strong man and private detective (respectively). The two work together to investigate the deaths of a porn star and her associates as well as a possible cover up of political corruption. In doing so, their own lives are threatened; the more they uncover, the higher the body count. The film is set in 1977 Los Angeles during the energy crisis. In all its seriousness, the film maintains a comedic element as the two protagonists (who start off as bitter enemies) grow closer together and develop a professional relationship.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color.

Yes – Some scenes have muted color set against a black background particularly when Healy has a moment of introspective thought.

 

2. Flashbacks

Yes – There were a few scenes delving into a Healy’s past.

 

3. Unusual narration

Yes – March has a rather bizarre dream sequence.

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

Yes – We have murder, pornography, revenge, and political gain.

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale

Yes – I would say there are 3 femme fatales where double crossing is apparent and one homme fatale who is the threat.

 

6. The instrument of fate

Yes – The reel of pornographic film.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst)

Yes – Especially from the daughter of a U.S. Justice.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence

Yes – there is a mounting body count as well as severe injury.

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings

Yes – many nighttime scenes with the setting 1977 Los Angeles.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional)

Maybe – March often makes references to Hitler when criticizing others’ behavior that he finds inappropriate. This is also post-Vietnam War and the energy crisis that has some correlation to the political theme in this film.

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

Yes – The loss of March’s wife and his daughter’s constant criticism of his work. March's daughter is the moral compass for both March and Healy. For Healy, there seems to be some self-doubt.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

Yes – manipulation particularly Basinger’s character as well as her minion who double crosses March and Healy

 

13. Greed

Always – we have the auto industry in cahoots with the U.S. Justice Dept. for a massive cover-up. March is also a bit sleazy on how he milks his clients for more money.

 

14. Betrayal

Yes – Lots of double crossing.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Yes – March tends to waver between good and bad (not so much evil). The character of Amelia is also dichotomous (as well as extremely annoying). Crowe is a hired strong arm but again more good and bad and less evil.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

Yes – It’s March's expertise that triumphs with some rather questionable ethics in getting to the truth of the matter.

 

I saw The Nice Guys and found it to be not quite the comedy it wanted to be and more of an action film than a neo-noir. I really liked March's relationship with his daughter. In fact, I'm looking forward to a sequel in which he has to deal with her as a teenager with boyfriends he doesn't like!

 

But I'm going to add it to our list because I might be the only one who feels that it wasn't a neo-noir.

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Just a thought about quintessential actors of the noir genre. Most would think of Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Robert Mitchum. Then I started to reflect on actors of neo-noir. I find that Ryan Gosling is the go-to guy for neo-noir flicks as he's done many of them: The Nice Guys, Drive, Blue Valentine, All Good Things, Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, Lost River. 

 

Any thoughts?

 

You've seen more of Ryan Gosling's neo-noir movies than I have. I have seen only two on your list: The Nice Guys and Blue Valentine. I agree that Blue Valentine could be a neo-noir; I haven't seen it in a while and I would like to see it again.

 

But yes, Ryan Gosling is certainly a candidate for "quintessential actor of neo-noir."

 

What about Russell Crowe? He was great in L.A. Confidential. Can you suggest other movies of his that would put him in the same company as Ryan Gosling?

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The Town (2010, dir. Ben Affleck)

 

This film has it all—and then some—for a neo-noir: honor among thieves, betrayal, murder, bank robberies, armored car heists, loyalty to family and friends, and romance. And a greater Boston location. I read the novel (Prince Among Thieves) and enjoyed that even more, but the film, The Town, is a great story. The writers did a wonderful job adapting it to the screen.

 

 

I saw the film when it first opened and really enjoyed it.

Your review helped me recall most of the film but I want to see and experience it all over again.

A plus for me were all the scenes of Fenway Park; the oldest stadium in MLB. Priceless.

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Just a thought about quintessential actors of the noir genre. Most would think of Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Robert Mitchum. Then I started to reflect on actors of neo-noir. I find that Ryan Gosling is the go-to guy for neo-noir flicks as he's done many of them: The Nice Guys, Drive, Blue Valentine, All Good Things, Gangster Squad, Only God Forgives, Lost River. 

 

Any thoughts?

A big yes for Drive! A somewhat violent crime drama. 

I also would suggest, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) also a crime drama.

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I saw The Nice Guys and found it to be not quite the comedy it wanted to be and more of an action film than a neo-noir. I really liked March's relationship with his daughter. In fact, I'm looking forward to a sequel in which he has to deal with her as a teenager with boyfriends he doesn't like!

 

But I'm going to add it to our list because I might be the only one who feels that it wasn't a neo-noir.

 

Hmm...I had the opposite effect. I thought it was hilarious with very little action; and I dislike action films immensely. 

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What about Russell Crowe? He was great in L.A. Confidential. Can you suggest other movies of his that would put him in the same company as Ryan Gosling?

 

Ugh. I really, REALLY abhor Russell Crowe. I try to avoid his films because I just can't stand him, and it's because of L.A. Confidential (a film I do enjoy and novel I absolutely love) that I dislike any of his characters. It takes a noir film or a very strong cast that will get me to watch a film with him in it.

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Ugh. I really, REALLY abhor Russell Crowe. I try to avoid his films because I just can't stand him, and it's because of L.A. Confidential (a film I do enjoy and novel I absolutely love) that I dislike any of his characters. It takes a noir film or a very strong cast that will get me to watch a film with him in it.

 

Okay, let's skip Russell Crowe for now!

 

What about directors who contribute to neo-noir?

 

In going over your list of "Ryan Gosling" suggestions, some directors' names that appear more than once are Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance. Other names that are already on our list and that come up a few times as directors of neo-noirs are Ben Affleck and Martin Scorsese.

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