Friday, April 13, 2007

Camera Obscura - More Ultra Noir Movies

My optimism for you fell somewhat last week. Reading that audiences were so dim they left the movie "Grindhouse" after the first feature, failing to see the second one because they did not know "Grindhouse" was two movies -- how the heck did they travel from home to theatre without hurting themselves? And to read other stories that audiences balked at seeing two movies for the price of one likewise makes me scratch my head. I suppose Rodriguez and Tarantino have shown us how impatient people are today. It's like these people stand in front of a microwave oven and yell "Hurry up! Why is this taking so long?"

Whatever. All I know is "Grindhouse" was the most satisfying time at the movies for me in a long time. And the car stunts in Tarantino's "Death Proof" are jaw-dropping. Zoe Bell riding the hood of that car is just amazing. And Kurt Russell's girly screams as he gets his payback are hilarious. Maybe the audiences weren't up for all that for an Easter Weekend. Well, this is Friday the 13th, so haul yourself into "Grindhouse" and thank me later for the recommendation.

Speaking of Friday the 13th, I am both deeply proud and somewhat envious of my brother and his son on this day. They are working as extras in a movie being made in their hometown of Rome, GA -- and not just any old extras. They get to be zombies!!

The movie is called Dance of the Dead and my brother said last week he was pondering a plan to be a zombie-priest with a rig for an altar cross stuck in his chest. Yes, I have asked for photos of the momentous day. This makes the first time anyone in our family has been in a bona-fide zombie movie. Can't wait to see the final product when released next year. And I loved the plot outline on IMDB --
"On the night of the big Homecoming Dance, the dead rise to eat the living, and the only people who can stop them are the losers who couldn't get dates to the dance."

While this weekend offers seven (!!) movies opening, I return to my old habits of suggesting some movies now on DVD which bear repeated viewings.

First, the 1999 movie "Payback" starring Mel Gibson as a crook who is assumed to be dead and instead returns to demand his share of a heist that got him (almost) killed. This tough-as-nails noir thriller has some fantastic performances -- the always vile Gregg Henry as the double-crossing partner, Maria Bello as Gibson's sort of girlfriend, and Lucy Liu as a vicious, leather-chaps-wearing hooker.

A new version is out now, and I do mean new. Writer/director Brian Helgeland lost control of the final theatrical version of "Payback" and this week he got his version released on DVD I do like the theatrical cut very much, and usually Director's Cuts offer few changes, but this is truly a different movie. Entire characters are gone, there is a new soundtrack and the final third of the movie is all new. I own a copy of the theatrical release but this new one has been ordered and I'm looking forward to it. If you like lean, mean thrillers, this is a little gem worth repeated viewings.

Still unsure? Then let me add that "Payback" is a remake of the 60s classic "Point Blank" with Lee Marvin and is based on the novel by Donald Westlake, one of America's handful of excellent crime writers. The pedigree for "Payback" continues with Helgeland, who penned the Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential."


Another 1990s movie jammed with street-realism I recommend is "Fallen Angels," from 1995 by director Kar Wai Wong. The story concerns a hitman and his manager-partner and a mute young man, whose lives all collide in the neon nights and cramped rooms of Hong Kong.

The movie is deeply indebted to the 1950s laconic thrillers of Jean Luc Goddard, filled with characters who embody alienation and isolation, drifters and oddballs who roam the streets in the wee hours of the morning. Wong's camera work is also a featured player here - hand held shots, often wide-angle, capturing the characters as they sit in blurry reflections of jukeboxes and dirt-streaked windows. It gets the claustrophobic feel of a city packed beyond reason with people whose lives endlessly stream past in the background and the foreground.

The city is a character too, and admittedly the movie often plays out like a student art film. Jagged and rough at times, and at others deliberately as composed as an art student photo exhibit. The movie demands you ride it all out and never wastes time spoon-feeding you with rational narratives. Wong also made another movie I've seen numerous times which is rich in textures and metaphors, "2046" and he's currently wrapping production on a remake of the Orson Welles thriller "Lady From Shanghai."


From the pages of Cinematical comes a most interesting reader survey, which I'm asking you to consider this week too. Celebrity crushes are one thing but I like this survey better -- If you could date a movie character, who would you pick?

Some of the answers submitted at Cinematical are here, and I must say the choices are - at best - really odd. It's as if no one has seen a movie prior to the year 2000.

Feel free to add your thoughts here. Me, I'll have to think some more on this topic and I'll offer my answers next week.

1 comment:

  1. Great story!


    Come join us! :)