Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Noir-a-Thon Double Feature Part 2: Pepe Le Moko (1937)

Following up our trip across China with Shanghai Lilly we took a journey to the casbah with the fabulously charismatic Pepe Le Moko. If you missed part 1 it is kept here and the archive here.

: Julien Duvivier
Starring: Jean Gabin
Year: 1937
Country of origin: France
Language: French

Synopsis: For two years famous French jewel thief Pepe Le Moko has been in hiding in the casbah of Algeria; whilst the police bide their time, waiting for the right moment, when they can finally arrest him. The combination of a beautiful woman, itchy feet and a cunning policeman bring the situation to a head.

What Indie Nights? review

Hello again bbbg-ers, Leah here, What Indie Nights? reporter extraordinaire. Welcome to today's second noir-a-thon post, Pépé le Moko, the tale of a jewel-thieving anti-hero with a heart of gold, trapped through his own actions in the vibrant maze of the Algiers casbah when his heart really lies in Paris.

As our last proto-noir before hitting the hard stuff, Pépé carries some heavier expectations on his shoulders than his predecessors. Where we were like 'Oh Lola-Lola, don't worry if you're not fatale enough, you've got years before noir really starts!' and where we were all 'M, Shanghai Express, don't worry if your plotlines aren't truly noirish, we'll let you off because you're blazing a trail,' to Pépé we said firmly, 'Our expectations have grown, Pépé, and we require elements of film noir that will point us in the right direction for the next 70 years. That means organised crime, eagle-eyed cops, double-crossings and plenty of steaming hot revenge, ok?'
I don't know if it was the time-travel or Duvivier just had really good hearing, but this is certainly the true proto-noir, where the elements all seem to coalesce into a film this close to noir-dom.

What holds it back, mainly, are two things: the light, and les femmes.
First, the light - where Pépé le Moko broke beautiful new ground in the style of filming, with real people and real places woven into the set-shots of the casbah, it somehow detracts from what we expect a noir to look like. There are no dark rainy nights, no foggy streets; instead there are busy alleys and bustling marketplaces, brightly lit by the blazing Algerian sun, in themselves serving to excellently create the mood of the casbah but not, in the truest sense, a noir. There are still plenty of starkly-lit faces and strong shadows inside seedy bars and cafés, and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the casbah drives the story forward in a way that mirrors many future noir plots, but that vital element is just not quite there.

Second, les femmes - I would tentatively venture to say that all the elements of the classic femme fatale are present in Pépé le Moko, but they are split between two female leads. Gabi, the glamorous slumming Parisienne who awakens in Pépé his old love of Paris and fuels a mad desire to escape the casbah, and Inés, his long-suffering gypsy 'woman' who begins to undermine him out of jealousy. Neither of these women are the conscious plotters, the beautiful temptresses that will surface in the noirs in a few years time; rather they both embody traits that are Pépé's own undoing. Here, however, as it hasn't been in any of our previous proto-noirs, the downfall is not truly deserved - we like Pépé and we sympathise with his plight, but the world just gangs up against him on this one.

Finally, a couple of special mentions for some of my favourite parts of the film: the constant presence of the casbah detective, patiently and politely waiting for Pépé to make a mistake - he lends a tone of uneasiness and doom to the entire film, always watching, always asking questions, never leaving for a moment...

The long, slow scene of an old showgirl, long ago grown fat and ugly, singing along to one of her own records and weeping for the days that were, that can never be brought back again. A beautiful scene foreshadowing Pépé's fate...

And finally, the use of the word 'shenanigangsters', because it makes me laugh every time.

[As usual, head over to my blog for a lot more pictures and a... more girly look at the film?]

Blahblahblahtoby review

This story of an adventurous womaniser trapped in a prison of his own making is an enjoyable study of human nature. A key film in the poetic realist movement in French cinema in the 1930's it combines the gritty nature of documentary with the stylised lighting we would come to expect in noir.

The Americans remade the movie one year later, yes even in the 1930's they were stealing ideas from the rest of the world, as Algiers. Graham Greene himself said that it "had succeeded in raising the thriller to a poetic level" and reportedly it influenced him when writing the seminal noir The Third Man.

The irony that Pepe has fled France to the casbah of Algiers to avoid jail after a successful jewel heist only to find himself confined to an impoverished slum area surrounded by sycophants is the driving force behind the movie. A meet cute of sorts between Pepe and Gaby, a Parisian social butterfly, is the spark that ignites Pepe's frustration and leads to him returning to Paris. It would be easy to blame the woman once more, it is the nature of being after all but Gaby is a nothing sort of girl, pretty enough but nothing more. She could no more lead a man astray than change a tyre on a car. Pepe has only himself to blame. The movie's ending, his ending, was written the moment he took his first step in to a life of crime many, many years before the film starts.

Central to the power of the film is the star of Jean Gabin, future icon of the poetic realist movement in such fine films as Le Jour Se Leve, La Bete Humaine and Le Quai De Brumes, as the eponymous Pepe and it is his charisma that carries the film; he is in almost every scene. The tragic nature of his story, made even more painful by a wonderful performance, plays out in it's fatalistic way to maximum emotional effect.

The difference between Pepe being led to his downfall by a pretty little thing and the later heroes of noir matching wits with the femme fatale; is that Pepe refuses to accept his fate, clinging on to a faint hope of a better life right to the very end.

It is fitting that this is the final proto-noir before we hit The Maltese Falcon as Pepe is the archetype for all that would follow and the insecure, criminal world created within the limits of the casbah would go on to be mirrored in countless noirs. A splash of hyperbole required but without this movie the world of film might be a very different place.

As for motifs you can clearly identify the Gangsters and On the Run simply from the synopsis whilst the doomed love aspect of the Sexual Pathology identifier could be spoken about but only in a flimsy way, this movie was never about love of any kind, more a character study that uses lust as a plot device.

I feel bad for not even mentioning the direction of the major directors of 1930's French cinema, Julien Duvivier, so I shall squeeze in a few more words than normal. The film looks fabulous, Duvivier takes full advantage of some of the location shooting to add a real sense of what it might be like to have lived in the casbah of the 1930's to things. When I think about it I can almost sense the warm claustrophobic breeze meandering its way up and down and around the mazy streets, pushing you to run to the harbour, jump on a ship and escape to the cool sea air with the promise of a shower and a cold beer whenever you want one.

I have always liked this movie, much more so than the later Quai Des Brumes for example, and you should see it. To compare to Shanghai Express would be a disservice to both films, Shanghai Express was a fun movie that I enjoyed more but Pepe is much more satisfying an experience as well as being enjoyable.

Has anyone seen this wonderful film? Anyone going to see it now? What are your thoughts on the noir-a-thon so far? Impressed with proto-noir? As keen to see some of the Hollywood classics that are coming next as we are? Any from our list that you're particularly excited by?

And now for some coming attractions

I LOVE this trailer. I don't recall ever seeing anything like that Sydney Greenstreet introduction and the melodrama of it all!

I'm starting to notice a theme with these Thin Man references, in case you're wondering I decided against including it because it's largely a comedy.

Noir-a-Thon Double Feature Part 1: Shanghai Express (1932)

A double feature from the noir-a-thon this week, first up today is the supremely enjoyable Shanghai Express. For previous entries head over to our noir-a-thon vault.

: Josef von Sternberg
Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Anna Mae Wong, Clive Brook
Year: 1932
Country of origin: USA
Language: English

Synopsis: Amid the Chinese civil war a train is travelling from Peiping to Shanghai; amongst the eclectic first class passengers two former lovers, Shanghai Lily and Captain Doc Harvey, are reunited by fate.

What Indie Nights? review

Hello again bbbg readers, remember me?
It's Leah, from What Indie Nights?!

I was sorry to miss out on last week's post, on the incredible film M, but unfortunately essay-writing is what will (one day, hopefully…) pay the bills, and it has taken over my life in the past two weeks. It's a poor excuse for having missed the second ever noir-a-thon post, but it's all you're gonna get. Anyway, Brian did a great job in my stead.

And so we come to Shanghai Express, the third of our four proto-noirs, and in many ways the least 'noirish' by our strict academic standards. I would like to begin by saying that there is very little point in existing if one can't be as glamorous as Marlene Dietrich in this film, and so we should all just give up now and start eating our weight in ice-cream daily and living in unwashed pyjamas and bedsocks, because, really, what does it matter?

But seriously, folks, there is actually very little in the way of noir attributes to Shanghai Express. It collects together a group of caricatures in the forms of the eponymous train's first-class passengers, more akin to a grouping an Agatha Christie novel than a true noir. These characters were considered hackneyed and one-dimensional even at the time of this film's release - read this review from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1932 if you don't believe me. They are a humorous backdrop to the very simple plot and, if anything, distract from the sense of noir.

The one place in which we find some characteristics that will later define the genre is in Marlene Dietrich's mysterious Shanghai Lily. Her story has been a tragedy up to this point, a string of meaningless lovers and a reputation to boot, travelling up and down the China coast on the whim of men. She lost the love of Clive Brook's Captain Harvey years before and has become an infamous cold-hearted harpy with a glamorous name. Once reunited, the old issue of trust rears its head again.
Where this storyline falls down is that Dietrich is literally so charming, warm and real that we don't for a moment believe all the rumours whispered about her through the train's compartments.

Speaking of compartments brings me to the other noirish aspect of Shanghai Express - the cinematography. Although the story being told is rather melodramatic and not particularly dark, von Sternberg's framing, lighting and sets tell a different story entirely. Starkly-shadowed faces, meetings in compartment doorways and curtained windows, backlit shots of silhouettes in steam and smoke create noir images that hint at darker stories beneath the surface.

In the end, although the film has a [SPOILER] happy ending and there really isn't a lot of noir, or even plot, once again we find Dietrich and von Sternberg laying the path down which hundreds of directors, writers and actors would someday trudge, overcoat collars upturned, cigarettes lit, guns at the ready...

Blahblahblahtoby review

Following only two years after The Blue Angel we are treated to another von Sternberg/Dietrich pairing but this time in America posing as China. As it was an American film the tone is a lot more jovial and quite importantly for some, it was in English.

Again Marlene has her name above the title but this time it is much more deserved. Whilst not entirely about her, she is given a chance to show off her star quality, and the camera loves her throughout. Her performance in a second language is quite remarkable in terms of quality but I think perhaps she is most remembered for the way she looks. Scene after scene passes by with her looking absolutely fabulous, frocks and furs draped around her at all times, ignoring the fact that they are traveling on a cramped train, albeit in first class.

The film itself is rather wonderful, filled with wonderful characters and the quick dialogue we have come to associate with the era and country of production giving the story the required colour and shape. The background actors may just be caricatures of a priest, a proper boarding house madam, an Arab, an old European soldier and an American gambler but they all share similar traits, they are all hypocrites, fake in one way or another, thus serving as a reinforcement of the overall theme; liars cannot prosper and be happy as the falsehoods will inevitably cause harm. Or something like that.

The treatment of Dietrich as Shanghai Lily by von Sternberg is apparently the first time Hollywood used lighting and camerawork to highlight an actor or actress, allowing their personality to come across to the audience in a range of moods and attitudes and all I can say about her is wow. That is sadly what has been left with me from the movie, to a point where I am struggling to divert my attention away from Marlene.

Not too much in the way of noir elements, it’s not sexual pathology as such and more a film of repressed passions, the adventure is there but whilst Doc is the ‘hero’ he doesn’t really deserve the title, as he is quite ineffectual at almost everything. The major noir identifier is that of the femme fatale, Shanghai Lilly is a lady of questionable morals and revels in her reputation; men are obviously led in to temptation in an effort to be near her. Her feminine charms are directly responsible for at least one death in the movie.

This is a fun movie that brings to mind the word 'romp' in a traditional Hollywood sense, driven along by quick-witted characters and a beautiful leading lady. I can’t sing its praises highly enough, for a modern audience it’s extremely accessible and I insist that you all watch it as soon as possible.

I'd stretch to a 7.5, which equates to 1 and a bit thumbs or 3 magic puddings. How about you good people in google reader land? Any thoughts on Shanghai Express? Tune in later today for part 2 in which we review the inimitable Jean Gabin in Pepe Le Moko.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Week In Movies 22/8/11 - 28/8/11

The week started off well with a quickfire 3 films but then descended in to anarchy and lack of sleep as i only managed to watch another three in the following 5 days. I really must watch Tokyo Story today or it will be a late return to the DVD shop.

I saw The Merry Gentleman on Friday, a movie that is much loved by me but generally unheard of by the general population. Drawing similarities between such classics as Le Samourai, Michael Keaton's debut film is reviewed by me here for those who missed it.

Noir Night was a wonderfully entertaining double feature this week and the Tuesday reviews for Shanghai Express and Pepe Le Moko will hopefully be nearly as enjoyable.

Robocop was practically a first time viewing for me, I remember so little about having seen it when i was much younger. And I was a little disappointed to tell you the truth. I was expecting something, more. Perhaps it hasn't aged well? I do highly recommend you go see Edgar at Between The Seats for a full review from somebody who didn't seem to think it had anything lacking.

I saw I Am Love finally. I've been wanting to see this movie ever since I saw a poster for it on the underground at Cockfosters in 2009. I found the poster quite compelling but managed to miss it at the cinema and then as if by magic I was looking in the Japanese section at Starland and there it was. I Am Love is an Italian movie. It stars Tilda Swinton as a Russian matriarch. She learned Italian with a Russian accent specifically for the role apparently. It's a shame as the movie was a little too much style combined with not enough substance. It wasn't bad but once I got past the fact that every single shot looks like a work of art it wasn't that good either. Tilda Swinton is an entirely separate matter. She was great. As usual. Robert at His Eyes Were Watching Movies initially had the same reaction but changed his mind later, Stevee, yes, THE Stevee stuck to her guns and continued to dislike it and had this to say on the subject and BT gave it a 7.1 whilst including some of the beautiful images from the movie.

Final film of the week was a revisit to my least favourite Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I initially saw this on the one and only date I had with a girl I met whilst horrendously drunk at a VIP party in Covent Garden. When she sent me a message the next morning I had absolutely no idea who she was, I could barely remember getting home. Tequila girls and an free bar will do that to you by 9pm apparently. Anyway I was enamoured with this particular Anderson at the time and thought it would be a good way to show off how awesome I was with my taste in quirky indie type films. Backfired. Big time. We were both obviously bored throughout, it just didn't feel like a Wes Anderson at all. I never saw her again after that.

Leah hadn't seen it and I thought it was about time gave it another shot and I was much more impressed than the first time but I still can't place it anywhere near the level of his other movies. Leah however loved it, she laughed at it a lot more than me that's for sure. Bill Murray was especially great. I may not watch it again however. For a nice contrast of opinions check out a positive (Defiant Success) and a negative (NerdVampire) experience.

So that's it, a quick roundup and on to other things, like more work. What you guys been watching? Have I missed the point of Robocop? Can anyone offer any explanation for Life Aquatic other than the Noah Baumbach script? Who missed The Merry Gentleman review?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cool Off With The Classics Blog-a-Thon

The second of Go-See-Talk's Winter Blog-a-Thon's is essentially a Top 10 Classics which became the hardest decision making process I've experienced since I started blogging.

The rules: Must be black & white, must be pre-1960's. That's it.

It's just cruel to set such a wide selection criteria. Bad Marc! Being a fan of noir my instincts were to include more from that canon that I have but in the interests of, well, interest I've abandoned that track and tried to select a mere ten of my all time favourite movies that I would happily watch again and again.

In chronological order I submit my selection for the Cool Off With The Classics Blog-a-Thon:

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

I know it can be considered a bit camp and a bit soft compared to the source material but I just love watching Bogie and Lorre and Greenstreet, I could watch this movie once a week with no hesitation.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Quite often I think that this is my favourite movie ever made. I love the absolute Britishness of it all. The stylised speech patterns and the repressed passions. Andre Bazin himself lavished praise on it for it's apparent realist approach towards painting a portrait of British society and manners. Although he did later recant his praise when he realised he's been had by David Lean's fabulous melodrama.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

What isn't incredible about this movie? I don't know. Nothing. It's a special piece of film making from one of the masters of the art, Billy Wilder.

Rashomon (1950)

There's something so simple and appealing about this movie. Possibly the Kurosawa I enjoy the most and one of the earliest films to offer this kind of narrative structure. I haven't come across any before 1950 anyway.

Tokyo Story (1953)

Beautifully shot, haunting portrayal of the loss of traditional family values in Japanese society of the 1950's. It's easy to say but this is my favourite film from Ozu.

The Killing (1956)

Possibly the only Kubrick film that I have fully enjoyed. I know, blasphemy. Another movie I could just watch and watch and watch. Among other things there's the clown masks being used by Nolan for The Dark Knight and the ending, wow, the ending will stay with me forever I think.

Touch of Evil (1958)

It seemed only right that I would feature the first and last films from the classic film noir period. This one is definitely may favourite from Welles if only for the excellent opening sequence.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

I know. It's another obvious choice. But I actually got so carried away writing a list of noir movies that I forgot that this film qualified. A late addition but oh so good indeed. Another Wilder movie but with an entirely different mood, this is a jolly good time all round.

Our Man in Havana (1959)

A film that seems to have been forgotten about and my attempt to have at least one unexpected pick. Based on the superb spy farce from Graham Greene, the film comes close to matching the novel for it's pace, intrigue and absurdity but doesn't quite reach the same stellar heights. Starring a young Old Ben Kenobi.

A Bout de Souffle (1960)

The ultimate in cinematic cool non? Barely scraping in as a classic with a release year of 1960 but Godard's New Wave figurehead features the infinitely cool Belmondo and the irresistible Jean Seberg in an enjoyable take on the film noir style.

I'm looking forward to seeing what others have done with this, I feel like I've been way too obvious. Any arguments over my selections? Any replacements you care to suggest? You know where the blahs are kept.

Friday, August 26, 2011

FRC Icon World Tour

Today my good friend Scott/Custard has allowed me to guest post over at Front Room Cinema.

For those of you not aware of his fantastically interesting series on the icons of world cinema, the concept was to invite bloggers from around the world to introduce iconic film makers and actors from their countries to Scott's front room.

I was post #10 and shared my appreciation Australia's unwanted son Christopher Doyle.

Before me however other great bloggers have shared the following talented film makers:
Kiyoshi Kurosawa of Japan (from Jason at Genkinahito)
Wong Kar Wai of Hong Kong (from BT at Bonjour Tristesse)
Amitabh Bachchan of India (from Raghav at Ticker Talk Films)
The Babes of Serbia (from Dezmond at The Hollywood Spy)
Oleksandr Dovzhenko of Ukraine (from Lesya at Eternity of Dream)
Aki Kaurismäki of Finland (from Anna at Split Reel)
Mikael Persbrandt of Sweden (from Joel at Deny Everything)
Klaus Kinski of Germany (from Vanessa at The Movie Ness)
Henri Georges Clouzot of France (from Jack at Jack L Film Reviews)

I think this may have been the last week as we are now as far from England as possible unless there's a New Zealand post or America and Ireland maybe? I'm not sure but it's been a fun and enlightening 10 weeks so far.

Movie Review: The Merry Gentleman (2008)

Digging back in to my viewing archives from 2009 I thought I'd share some thoughts on the quite lovely directorial debut from Michael Keaton, The Merry Gentleman.

Billed as a crime thriller but in reality this is a sort of love story about Frank, a suicidal hitman, Kate, an unknowing witness to one of his hits and Dave, the cop investigating it.

The Merry Gentleman is a neo-noir that feel remarkably similar to the work of Melville, calling to mind most prominently Alain Delon in Le Samourai. The pace is incredibly slow with the focus on the feelings and interactions of these lost souls rather than action and fast talking like you might find in a sub par Tarantino clone. Here you will find no car chase, no gun fight, no explosions; instead we are treated to suspense and tension built around the secrets and lies these characters tell each other.

The subtle yet compelling performance of Keaton in any other movie would surely have garnered award attention but somehow got overlooked, probably due to the low key nature of the movie. He hardly says anything, he lets his face and his gestures do the talking for him as a character who is struggling to find reasons to live. But outdoing him is the fabulous Kelly MacDonald, who by now can surely play the permanently optimistic yet troubled/damaged young woman with her eyes shut, yet she always seems to put that something extra in to it. It's a good thing too as she has to carry the majority of the film's dialogue as the centre of attention for three men all looking to her as some kind of angel of mercy or forgiveness ready to wipe out all of their past transgressions and usher them in to a good, wholesome, happy life. It was quite a strong year for female actors but when Mo'Nique and Sandra Bullock are winning awards you have to wonder why a movie needs to have a big financial backing for a performance as good as Kelly MacDonald's in a film as wonderful as this can just go completely ignored.

I am really quite astounded by the creative eye of Keaton. There is the visual beauty crafted by Keaton and his cinematographer Chris Seager which will leave you breathless combining with the simple yet essential nature of the relationships that develop to create something both poetic and magical, powerful and moving. There's so much beauty contained within these 100 minutes that I was left silent for a long time afterwards. I could tell you about the way Keaton manages to get right to the soul of his character by his choice of where to place a camera as a director and what words not to say as an actor but then if I went in to too much detail it might spoil the wonderful surprise that this movie is. Be prepared to be touched by a ghost and his angel.

Michel Keaton is a fine actor and based on this movie he has all the makings of a fine director too. I very much hope he gets another shot at directing a feature.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one if you've been lucky enough to see it. Share some blah below.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top Fives: Phillip Seymour Hoffman Movies (you may not have seen)

In response to last weeks list I thought I'd compile another one on Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This time trying to select his lesser known roles that really deserve to be seen.

It's difficult to know what people haven't seen. That's tough aspect number 1, tough aspect number 2 is narrowing down his awesome performances. The man really is that talented.

I have left off a few that may or may not be that obvious; Savages was thoroughly depressing for me and Sydney/Hard Eight because he's barely in it, but that doesn't mean that Paul Thomas Anderson's debut isn't worth viewing.

1. Happiness

Todd Solondz tends to divide opinion but this powerful film about the underside of suburban life features strong performances all round and an unflinching look at controversial material.

2. Love Liza

Philip Seymour Hoffman as a desperate man coping with the death of his wife by slowly killing himself by sniffing glue. A role made for him and the pairing with Kathy Bates as his mother-in-law makes interesting viewing.

3. Punch-Drunk Love

Possibly Paul Thomas Anderson's least known movie and certainly Adam Sandler's best performance. A slightly surreal romance opposite Emily Watson with Hoffman adding his weight to the main undercard. Up until There Will Be Blood this was my favourite movie from PTA.

4. Jack Goes Boating

Hoffman starring in his own directorial debut, a role that seems completely written for him and his usual socially awkward performances. This was originally a play featuring Hoffman also. Just to demonstrate his immense and diverse talent.

5. Synecdoche, New York

Possibly the most obvious choice on the list what with it being the directorial debut of indie superstar screenwriter Charlie Kaufman but Hoffman stars and if you haven't seen it yet those two facts alone make it must watch in my eyes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Lavazza Perth Italian Film Festival 2011

Hot on the heels of the recent Russian Resurrection announcement comes October's offering in the Australian minority film festival stakes. Sponsored by a coffee company that I am not that enamoured with The Italian Film Festival hits Perth 13th - 26th October.

If you head to their website you will be greeted by a Benvenuti page that uses way too many exclamation marks. Do people not understand the power of the exclamation mark?! Ha. And be told about the "highlights" which include an Italian film starring Robert De Niro and Monica Belucci, The Ages of Love, which I can safely say I have no interest in seeing. De Niro should be taking a long hard look at his recent career trajectory, he could've been someone, he could've been a contender, instead we get a constant stream of nothing movies that are only worth seeing because a once great man is acting in them. Perhaps that's a little harsh. The other major highlight is a film called Basilicata Coast to Coast which is advertised as featuring a 3 minute introduction by the Basilicata tourism office narrated by another former great of American cinema Francis Ford Coppola.

I'll be quite blunt about this festival, it all seems a bit bland. The large majority of films seem aimed at a middle aged, middle class audience who enjoy average genre films and I was hard pushed to find much to excite me in to buying tickets. If this is the state of contemporary Italian cinema then I think their industry needs an injection of new ideas from its youth. There's a chance that it was merely curated by somebody who is middle aged, middle class and enjoys average genre films however.

From the 31 new films selected for the festival I can raise a meagre amount of hope for the following films:

Gorbaciof AKA Gorbachev

A crime film with a lead character who doesn't speak much and an unlikely romance with someone who doesn't speak the same language. It sounds familiar in theme but it screened at TIFF and Venice and looks/sounds worth a watch.

Lost Kisses AKA I Baci Mai Dati

A dramedy about a young girl who claims the Madonna appears to her in a dream and her family who try to cash in on her sudden fame. With satire in a foreign language you're always taking a chance that you'll have no idea what they're satirising but this one sounds fun and the blurb compared it to early Almodovar with its use of colour, drab realism and sardonic humour. Played at Sundance and Venice also.

A Quiet Life AKA Una Vita Tranquila

A slow-burn sophisticated crime film focusing more on character than action; sounds like something I might enjoy. Interestingly this one also stars the same guy who plays Gorbaciof, Toni Servillo.

School is Over AKA La Scuola E Finita

A gritty drama set in an Italian high school, centering on a bored student and the warring divorced pair of teachers who both try to 'save' him from himself for their own interests. Apparently it mixes a realism/documentary style of film making (I hope that doesn't just mean handheld shaky camerawork) with naturalistic acting performances to great dramatic effect.

A measly 4 films from 31 means at least I won't be making myself poor in October and work won't be inconvenienced too much by my requests for days off. There is a Dario Argento retrospective which is quite cool of them but I've not exactly been taken by his work in the past so will also be skipping those sessions.

Anyone heard anything good about some of the films in the program? Drop me some blah with your recommendations.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Noir-a-Thon: M (1931)

The second review from our Noir-a-Thon is Fritz Lang's M; another great piece of proto-noir from 1931.

Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Peter Lorre
Year: 1931
Country of origin: Germany
Language: German

Synopsis: There's a child killer on the loose in a nameless German city; the police manhunt is disturbing the regular workings of the criminal underworld so they join in the hunt.

Unfortunately Leah from What Indie Nights? has university assignments due and couldn't find the time to share her thoughts on this one so I have asked Brian from Brian vs. Movies to share some thoughts after my main review. If you've not been to his blog yet, he is a new LAMB who reviews everything he watches, no matter how bad, which leads to some entertaining reviews of seemingly random movie choices.

Blahblahblahtoby review

Being ranked at #53 on the imdb Top250 you expect the film to be good from a historical point of view or something that people feel the need to say they loved. In the instance of Fritz Lang's M however the accolade is thoroughly deserved from both a film history and a film enjoyment perspective.

Peter Lorre puts in a powerful performance as the child killer and is the only name I recognise from the cast list but in no way is he the main character of this ensemble piece. Fritz Lang chooses to tell the story from a multitude of perspectives, the child on the streets, the worried parents, the police, the gangsters, the mob and finally the killer and in so doing you are taken on a journey of mixed emotions including, quite incredibly, sympathy for the killer.

This truly is masterful film making and superb visual storytelling from Lang. At times we were quite shocked at how advanced some of his techniques were, making last weeks Blue Angel seem positively simplistic in comparison. The three act structure is divided in to what would become melodrama, police procedural and heist movie signifiers as we are treated to montage, dual narrative, scientific explanation, social commentary, the first use of a leitmotif in association with a killer and more.

Looking over Dugnant's noir signifiers I think this one manages to touch on 9 of the 10 points without really being about any one of them. Crime as Social Criticism and Blacks and Reds are accounted for by the final message "this won't bring back our children, one has to watch over the children" taken to be an anti National Socialism message in the years before Hitler's rise to power. Gangsters and On The Run are featured aspects with the fearful killer running from the gangsters arriving to kill him en masse. The theory that it is the fate of the killer to kill, it's in his DNA, leads you towards Hostage to Fortune whilst the fact that he is a sexually deviant child killer covers Psychopaths and Sexual Pathology and of course the constant use of reflections in mirrors and windows covers Portraits and Doubles. All early examples of the key notes of the film noir style finding their feet in this movie made decades before it's time. There's little surprise that Lang would go on to become a major film maker in the noir movement.

It really is a masterpiece worthy of the name, if you haven't seen it then you really should. For pure enjoyment it's worthwhile and from a film history perspective it's invaluable. I would rate this as a 9 without any hesitation at all. Not many films are as good as this.

Brian vs. Movies capsule review

Greetings, Blahblahblahgay folks! I am Brian from Brian Vs. Movies. Some of my favorite movies are film noir, but I have never delved too deeply into the waters of noir. I wanted to start with one of the originals, but I was a little apprehensive about watching M. Sure, it's famous, but it's old. And German. I don't know what you know about 1931 Germany, but they weren't famous for their humor; this promised to be a viewing that was full of capital-A "Art" that I would write off as being educational and nothing more.

I'm happy to say that my presumptions were way off base. M may be eighty years old, but some aspects of it are strikingly modern. Most critics will spend their time on Fritz Lang's excellent cinematography --- and with good reason --- but the scenes that captured my attention belonged to the star. This was future noir all-star Peter Lorre's big dramatic break, and he delivers a great monologue toward the end of the film about evil as a choice or compulsion that is years ahead of its time. He didn't get a whole lot of screen time, but this is a great showcase for Lorre's talents, particularly his ability to look genuinely panicked. The story has lost some of its shock value over the years as the story elements have been recycled over and over, but M is still a film that stands the test of time, both as Art and as entertainment.

You can read Brian's full review here and for further reading check out the Big Thoughts From A Small Mind review, Andy Buckle's review and this piece from Matt's Film Reviews. The most indepth appreciation I've read outside of a textbook came from Brent at The Silver Screen.

And that's all we have time for this week, we had hoped to watch Shanghai Express this week but with assignments due in I decided not to pressure Leah. Leave some blah below and if you have anything you want to contribute to the Shanghai Express or Pepe Le Moko posts let me know.

I went to the cinema for the first time in forever this week and saw some trailers and it reminded me of the scene in Brief Encounter where the two leads watch some terrible 'Coming Attractions' for what would be screening in the following weeks. So here are some coming attractions for the Noir-a-Thon.