Farewells: John Hurt, Mary Tyler Moore, Emmanuelle Riva

John Hurt (center) in THE HIT

John Hurt (center) in THE HIT

In the past few days, we have lost the actors John Hurt, Mary Tyler Moore and Emmanuelle Riva.

John Hurt’s magnificent career started in the 1960s, but I first noticed him in 1976 when he leaped out of the screen as the lethally mad Caligula when PBS broadcast the BBC miniseries I, Claudius. Hurt is probably most recognized (by my generation) for his Oscar-nominated performance as the title character in 1980’s The Elephant Man or as the first victim of the alien in Alien. But Hurt was always able to stay current with performances in popular films like V for Vendetta and Hellboy and he played Ollivander in the Harry Potter movies. He also recently made Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) and Snowpiercer (2013), and was the best thing (as The Priest) about the awful film Jackie (2016). My own favorite John Hurt performance was as the more disciplined hit man in the 1984 British neo-noir The Hit.

John Hurt (left) with Derek Jacobi in I, CLAUDIUS

John Hurt (left) with Derek Jacobi in I, CLAUDIUS

John Hurt with Natalie Portman in JACKIE

John Hurt with Natalie Portman in JACKIE

Mary Tyler Moore, of course, is a giant of television history because of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and all the fine shows produced by her MTM Enterprises.  And her Mary Richards instantly became a societal icon.  If ever anyone doubts the genius of her comic timing, they can just watch the 4-minute Chuckles the Clown funeral from the Mary Tyler Moore Show (it’s on YouTube).

She made very few movies, but they are worth remembering.  She was Oscar-nominated for her still, emotionally distant parent in Ordinary People – a performance that she later said that she had modeled on her own father.  She was hilarious as Ben Stiller’s mom in Flirting With Disaster.  And she was also Elvis Presley’s last movie leading lady in the unintentionally funny Change of Habit, in which she played a social worker nun (!) who had to choose between her religious order and the ghetto doctor (Elvis!).

Mary Tyler Moore with Donald Sutherland in ORDINARY PEOPLE

Mary Tyler Moore with Donald Sutherland in ORDINARY PEOPLE

 

Emmanuelle Riva’s 89 screen credits are spread over the past SEVEN decades.  She was a fixture of the French New Wave, beginning with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959.  We remember her Oscar-nominated performance in 2012’s heartbreaking Alzheimer’s drama Amour.

Emmanuelle Riva in ARMOUR

Emmanuelle Riva in ARMOUR

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Movies to See Right Now

TONI ERDMANN

TONI ERDMANN

I love the wholly original German comedy Toni Erdmann, and today it opens widely throughout the Bay Area. It’s a Must See.

You’ll also enjoy these four movies:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • The Founder:  the enjoyably addictive story of how a the money-grubbing visionary Ray Kroc built the McDonald’s food service empire.
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.

I also recommend Noir City, the world’s best festival of film noir, running through Sunday in San Francisco. This year’s festival theme is the Heist Film, and they’ve got some bang up choices from classic film noir, international noir and neo-noir.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s gently funny portrait of a poet’s inner life. Starring Adam Driver.
  • The Salesman is another searing and authentic psychological family thriller from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past).
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.

This is Imogen Poots Week at The Movie Gourmet, and my Stream of the Week is A Country Called HomeA Country Called Home can be streamed from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. And last week’s pick was the TOTALLY OVERLOOKED neo-noir romance Frank & Lola, available to stream on the very same streaming services.  After seeing it at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I put Frank & Lola on my Best Movies of 2016.

On January 28, Turner Classic Movies will play Robert Altman’s superb 1992 satire of Hollywood, The Player. Wickedly funny, it features a stellar cast: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Lyle Lovett, Dean Stockwell, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard E. Grant, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Gallagher, Sydney Pollack and Dina Merrill.

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

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NOIR CITY 2017: a bang up final weekend

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

I’ve been recommending  the Noir City film fest, underway in San Francisco and running through Sunday. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD. And we get to watch them in vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.  Here are the highlights of Noir City’s bang up final weekend:

  • Charley Varrick: the shamefully underrated American neo-noir from the 1970s with Walter Mathau.  To survive, he’s got to outsmart the mob all by himself.
  • The Aura: A completely overlooked 2005 neo-noir from Argentina about an epileptic taxidermist.  He’s smart enough to plan the Perfect Crime, but does he have the sociopathic ruthlessness?
  • Before the Devil Know You’re Dead: A masterpiece from the then 84-year-old director Sidney Lumet, it features one of the best performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Then there’s Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Michael Shannon – but Albert Finney steals the movie at the end.
  • Victoria: A 2015 European thrill ride filmed in a single 138-minute shot.
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

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THE SALESMAN: an authentic slow burn with very high stakes

Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini in THE SALESMAN. Photo: Cohen Media Group

Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini in THE SALESMAN. Photo: Cohen Media Group

The Salesman is another searing and authentic film from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. Set in contemporary Iran, a young educated, middle class couple (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti) has to change apartments in a rush. He’s a literature teacher by day, and the two are starring in a production of Death of a Salesman. The new apartment is sketchy, and something traumatic happens to the wife, something that she says she can’t fully remember. He embarks on a whodunit while doing everything he can to support her – but it turns out that he’s not equipped to keep up with her reactions to events. By the end, the two must determine the fate of a third character, and the stakes are very high.

Farhadi is perhaps the world’s leading master of the family psychological drama. The two Farhadi films that have received wide release in the US are the award-winning A Separation and The Past . Those two films are constructed with astonishing brilliance and originality, and the audience shifts allegiance between the characters as Farhadi reveals each new layers of his stories. The story in The Salesman is more linear than in its sister dramas, but it is compelling nonetheless. Both A Separation and The Past can be rented on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and can be streamed from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Farhadi does not make Feel Good movies; his dramas are challenging. That’s because he makes the audience care so much about his characters that we ache along with them. The payoff is that Farhadi delivers genuine human behavior and authentic human emotion.

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Stream of the Week: A COUNTRY CALLED HOME – to move on, she needs another look at her past

Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Imogen Poots in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Since this is Imogen Poots Week at The Movie Gourmet, this week’s video recommendation is a totally overlooked drama from just last year, A Country Called Home. Somehow A Country Called Home missed out on any significant theatrical release even though it’s a very satisfying Finding Yourself drama.

Poots plays Ellie, a young Los Angeles woman with an underachieving job and a lousy boyfriend who takes her for granted. She hears that her estranged father has become gravely ill, and we learn that she has escaped a Texas childhood with an alcoholic father.  Her brother (Shea Whigham) also lives in Los Angeles; he is flourishing and doesn’t care a whit about their father – the brother has moved on from his upbringing.  But Ellie is a poster girl for low-self esteem, and she feels obligated to travel to her father’s bedside.

Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Ryan Bingham in A COUNTRY CALLED HOME

Once in Texas, she finds that her father has just passed, leaving the detritus of his alcoholic life.   Everything in her old hometown is trashy, complicated or just plain unsupportive.  She meets a misfit wannabe singer-songwriter (Mackenzie Davis, unrecognizable from Bad Turn Worse).  And there’s a pressured-out single dad played by the sad-eyed Ryan Bingham (the Oscar-winning songwriter for Crazy Heart).

A Country Called Home is the debut feature for director and co-writer Anna Axster, and it’s a successful and engaging study of a woman finally emerging from a childhood with an alcoholic parent.   It turns out that, to move on with her life, she needed another look at where she came from.

A Country Called Home can be streamed from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.  And last week’s Stream of the Week, Frank & Lola, is also available from those same streaming services.

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IMOGEN POOTS: girl for all seasons

Imogen Poots in GREEN ROOM

Imogen Poots in GREEN ROOM

Sometimes actors become a brand name in the sense that you can depend on a movie being good if they are in it. Actors like Robert Duvall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Parker Posey, Alfre Woodard and Michael Shannon come to mind – they just don’t seem to ever be in a lousy movie.  Imogen Poots is proving that she belongs on the list.

Poots is only 26, but she’s been in EIGHT really good movies in the past eight years.  She can play anything except uninteresting.

Here’s her most recent work:

  • Me and Orson Welles – don’t blink or you miss her in a good indie coming of age film.
  • Solitary Man – after Michael Douglas beds a girlfriend’s daughter (Poots) while taking her to tour colleges, she gets the best of him.
  • Jane Eyre – haven’t seen it, but she got good notices.
  • Greetings from Tim Buckley – she’s the girl who takes the musician Jeff Buckley off track from his coming-to-terms-with-his-dad navel gazing.
  • A Late Quartet – has the best monologue in a movie filled with great actors; she blasts her mom (Catherine Keener) out of the water with a lasered-in rant.
  • The Look of Love – almost steals the movie as the daughter who inherits a porn empire.
  • A Country Called Home – In this underrated indie, she’s a low self esteem young woman who returns to the funeral of her estranged alcoholic father and finds self-discovery.
  • Green Room – In this bloody thriller, she goes from a numb basket case to a fierce force of nature bent on survival at all costs.
  • Frank & Lola – her most complex role so far as an unreliable girlfriend; but the roots of her unreliability are a mystery – is she Bad or Troubled?

That doesn’t count two not-so-great movies from great directors: Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way and Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups – those certainly weren’t  her fault.  And we’re not counting her debut as a 15-year-old in V for Vendetta.  Right now, she’s also starring in the Showtime series Roadies.

Poots is on an impressive streak, and she’s earned this much – if it’s an Imogen Poots movie, we should all go and check it out.

Imogen Poots with Michael Shannon in FRANK & LOLA. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Imogen Poots with Michael Shannon in FRANK & LOLA. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

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THE FOUNDER: moneygrubbing visionary

Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER

Michael Keaton in THE FOUNDER

In the enjoyably addictive The Founder, Michael Keaton brings alive Ray Kroc, the man who created the global corporate superpower that is McDonald’s.  It’s both a vivid portrait of a particular change-maker and a cold-eyed study of exactly what capitalism really rewards.

Speaking of capitalism, it’s hard to imagine a truer believer than Ray Kroc, not even Willy Loman.  When we meet Kroc, he is grinding through small town America selling milkshake mixers none too successfully.  Each night he retires to yet another dingy motel for heavy doses and Early Times bourbon and a motivational speaker on his portable record player.

Then Kroc stumbles across the McDonald brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch).  In their Riverside, California, hamburger stand, the McDonald brothers invented the industrialization of food service, their achievement being “fast food” as we know it today.  One the most fascinating sequences in The Founder is a flashback of the McDonald brothers designing the most efficient fast food kitchen possible with chalk on a tennis court.  The brothers are passionate about their business, equally devoted to their product and their customers.

Kroc falls in love.  Having driven through every town in the country as a traveling salesman, he can appreciate the untapped market.  He persuades the brothers to let him take over franchising McDonald’s restaurants.  It turns out that that the 50ish Kroc is well-equipped for the job because he’s driven, absolutely ruthless and always on the verge of desperation.  He HAS to succeed.  Kroc is hungry, perpetually hungry, and learns to identify potential franchisees who are not complacent investors, but are who are also driven enough to accept his discipline and run each franchise by the numbers.  Egotistical as he is, Kroc is also smart enough to adopt a brilliant idea from someone else – the key to making McDonald’s his.

John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER

John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman in THE FOUNDER

Dick McDonald is a humorless detail freak with brilliant ideas; Mac is the conflict-avoidant, supportive brother, always unruffling Dick’s feathers and keeping their options alive.  Both are proud and true to their values.  The McDonald brothers are authentic American business geniuses, but are they too principled to fight off a double cross by Kroc?

In much of the movie, Dick is on phone with Mac listening to Dick’s side of the conversations.  Both Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are superb, but Lynch’s performance  is Oscar-worthy.  There’s a “handshake” scene where WE know and MAC knows that he is going to get screwed, and Lynch’s eyes in those few seconds are heartbreaking.

As far as I can tell, The Founder is very historically accurate.  Thanks to screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) and director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side),  we also meet some other historical characters – Harry Sonneborn, Fred Turner, June Martino and Joan Smith Kroc – and appreciate their contributions to the McDonald’s business.

The Founder’s Ray Kroc is shitty to his wife (Laura Dern), shitty to his partners and, basically, shitty to his core.   But we HAVE to keep watching him.  Do we root for him  because only HE can build this empire?  We Americans have a heritage of empire building.  And the idea of someone building something so big and so successful with only his smarts, persistence and opportunism is irresistible to us.

This is a good movie.  I’ll even watch The Founder again.  And I’ll have fries with that.

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Movies to See Right Now

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots in my DVD/Stream of the Week RANK & LOLA

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots in my DVD/Stream of the Week RANK & LOLA

I love the wholly original German comedy Toni Erdmann, and it opens this weekend in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area next weekend.  It’s a Must See.  I’m sure that you’ll also enjoy these three movies:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.

I also recommend Noir City, the world’s best festival of film noir, opening today in San Francisco and running through January 29. This year’s festival theme is the Heist Film, and they’ve got some bang up choices from classic film noir, international noir and neo-noir.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s gently funny portrait of a poet’s inner life.  Starring Adam Driver.
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.

My Stream of the Week is the TOTALLY OVERLOOKED neo-noir romance Frank & Lola. After a brief and tiny theatrical release in December which did not reach the Bay Area, Frank & Lola is now available to stream on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. After seeing it at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I put it on my Best Movies of 2016.

On January 21, Turner Classic Movies brings us Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, another film noir from the great Fritz Lang: seeking to discredit capital punishment, a reporter (Dana Andrews) gets himself charged with and CONVICTED of a murder – but then the evidence of his innocence suddenly disappears! Crackerjack (and deeply noir) surprise ending.

Then, on January 25, TCM presents Sam Peckinpah’s very underrated neo-noir crime drama The Getaway (1972) starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. McQueen and MacGraw are delightful to watch as they move between violent clashes and double- and triple-crosses. There’s a still-shocking but funny plot thread involving a sadistic villain (Al Lettieri – Sollozzo the Turk in The Godfather), a trashy bimbo (Sally Struthers) and her poor hubbie (Jack Dodson – Howard Sprague in The Andy Griffith Show). The wonderful cast is rounded out with Peckinpah regulars: Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Dub Taylor, Richard Bright and Bo Hopkins.

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in THE GETAWAY

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in THE GETAWAY

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TONI ERDMANN: father and daughter, laugh and marvel

TONI ERDMANN

Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek in TONI ERDMANN

Toni Erdmann is a MUST SEE. You might not expect an almost three-hour German comedy to break through, but I’ve seen it, and I think that it should win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture.  Writer-director Maren Ade gives us a woman’s perspective of a father-daughter relationship, creating a totally original and unforgettable father who takes prankstering into performance art.

Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a hard charging international management consultant.  She is somewhat estranged from her dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek), an under achieving music teacher.  You get the impression that Winfried wasn’t the most responsible parent. Regretting the state of their relationship and unable to relate to the workaholic that she’s become, he decides to impose himself on her life. He takes an extended vacation and shows up uninvited at her current corporate gig in Romania – and reinvents himself into a corporate alter ego who crashes her business meetings. It’s hilarious.

Winfried is a compulsive jokester of uncommon imagination, relentless and deviousness. The brilliance in Peter Simonischek’s performance is the devilish determination in his eyes (“Yes, I AM really going there”).  He gets the most out of a set of gag false teeth than any single prop in cinema history.

Ines must react to Winfried’s onslaught of ever more elaborate, outrageous and high stakes practical jokes by maintaining a straight face and carrying on without giving away her shock, embarrassment and desperation. She’s on the verge of abject mortification for the entire movie. Sandra Hüller is a master of the take and the slow burn. It’s a remarkable performance.

It’s almost worth watching the whole movie for a deadpan rendition of Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All“, all the funnier because it contains the lyric “they can’t take away my dignity”. There’s the funniest nude brunch you’ll ever witness. And the most random Romanian folk monster. Yet Toni Erdmann will still leave you choked up at the end.

Now the daughter is obsessively ambitious, and she has embraced cut throat global capitalism. And, if the father were related to you, you’d often want to kill him. If you hate these people, you’re not going to like the movie. But I think that Ade has made their human needs so universal, that you’ll become invested in them. I sure did.

I saw Toni Erdmann at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and I’ve been waiting months to share it with you. It’s #3 on my Best Movies of 2016. Toni Erdmann opens Friday, January 20 in San Francisco and wider throughout the Bay Area on January 27.

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NOIR CITY: the great San Francisco festival of film noir

Noir City 2017
I always look forward to the Noir City film fest, which gets underway in San Francisco this week. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD. And we get to watch them in a vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

The theme of this year’s festival is the Heist Movie, Noir City is presenting a wonderful array of heist movies from the classic American film noir period, foreign noirs and an especially healthy selection of neo-noirs. Being noir, you might not expect many of these heists to end well. And some are from noir’s Perfect Crime sub-genre – they’re going to get away with the elaborately planned big heist EXCEPT FOR ONE THING.

Noir City runs January 20-29. To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.

On Noir City’s first weekend:

  • The Asphalt Jungle: As long as things go according to plan… John Huston directed a marvelous cast (Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, John McIntire). And even Louis Calhern knows that Marilyn Monroe isn’t going to stick around as his moll.
  • Violent Saturday: a completely overlooked film from one of my favorite directors that I hadn’t seen until Eddie Muller programmed it for this festival. Filmed in the bright Arizona desert with CinemaScope and De Luxe color, the story is plenty noir.
  • Four Ways Out: Saturday night, Noir City goes goes Italian with the last script written by screenwriter Federico Fellini before he started directing. Four guys pull a heist, and it goes bad four different ways.
  • Big Deal on Madonna Street, the funniest film in the festival, with an Italian gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Watch for a 34-year-old pre-Fellini Marcello Mastroianni.
  • Rififi: This French classic is the top heist film ever and pioneering in its use of real time. After the team is assembled and the job is plotted, the actual crime unfolds in real-time – over thirty minutes of nerve wracking silence.
  • The Big Risk: It’s a highlight because it’s a French noir starring the bloodhound-visaged Lino Ventura that I have NOT seen, so I’ll be going to Noir City myself on Sunday.

And midweek, at Noir City:

  • The rarely-seen Once a Thief (Alain Delon, trying to keep Ann-Margret while being hunted by Van Heflin) and The Sicilian Clan (with the neo-noir trifecta of Delon, Ventura and Jean Gabin), both on Wednesday evening, January 25.

I’ll be writing about Noir City’s tremendous final weekend. Stay tuned.

VIOLENT SATURDAY

VIOLENT SATURDAY

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