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

Movies to See Right Now

Imogen Poots in GREEN ROOM
Imogen Poots in GREEN ROOM

My recommended movies in theaters this week:

  • The bloody thriller Green Room is a fresh and satisfying, well, bloody thriller. Very intense and very violent. Director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) proves again that he’s the rising master of the genre movie.
  • If you like dystopian sci-fi, then the satire High-Rise is for you. Otherwise, not a Must See.
  • Thriller meets thinker in Eye in the Sky, a parable from modern drone warfare starring Helen Mirren and with a wonderful final performance from the late Alan Rickman. This movie has been out since March and has shown remarkable staying power.

The mismatched buddy movie Dough is light, fluffy and empty – just like a Twinkie.

My Stream of the Week is a remarkable filmmaking achievement – the entire movie Victoria the was filmed in a SINGLE SHOT (and it is a successful thriller, not just a gimmick). Make sure that you watch it in one uninterrupted sitting. Victoria is available to stream from Amazon Video, iTunes, YouTube and Google Play.

On May 21, Turner Classic Movies features one of my Overlooked Noir, Pitfall (1948), a noir thriller without either a conventional sap or femme fatale.

Then, on May 23 TCM airs the 1997 political biopic George Wallace with Gary Sinise as the the segregationist Alabama governor and Presidential candidate. Made for TV by master director John Frankenheimer, George Wallace won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG awards. Sinise is brilliant, and his supporting cast includes Joe Don Baker, William Sanderson, Mare Winningham, Clarence Williams III and Angelina Jolie as sexy second wife Cornelia.

Gary Sinise in WALLACE

Stream of the Week: VICTORIA – a thrill ride filmed in one shot


Victoria is worth watching as a thriller, but it has become notorious for a pretty important aspect of its filmmaking – the entire movie was filmed in a SINGLE SHOT.  Its tagline is One girl. One city. One night. One take. (Actually, the successful take was on the third try.)  Rope and Birdman are famously filmed to LOOK like they are one shot. But all of Victoria really IS just one shot.

That would be noteworthy enough if Victoria were a drawing-room story like Rope, but it is amazing for a story that zips between interior and exterior locations, runs from nighttime through daybreak and includes chase scenes through the streets of Berlin.  It’s a stunning achievement for director Sebastian Shipper.

After a career disappointment, young Spanish woman (Laia Costa) has moved to Germany – where she knows no one – and has taken a service job while she licks her wounds.  Out for a beer after work, she meets a bunch of drunk German guys.  Partying with them leads to an entanglement with one of those low-level criminal enterprises that just isn’t going to turn out well.  Things get life-or-death serious, and the characters are soon on the run for their lives.

The German characters don’t speak Spanish and the Spanish girl doesn’t speak German, so they speak to each other in broken English; the only English subtitles are when the German guys are talking to each other in German about the girl in her presence.

Costa is on-screen for the entire movie, and she’s very, very good.  She nails the character, somebody who is basically good but who can impulsively make the wrong choice, too.  Anyone who sees her as a mere adornment underestimates her at his own risk.  She is full of moxie and is damn practical.

Frederick Lau is especially good as the guy who connects most personally with the girl. Franz Rogoski is also outstanding as the guy whose troubled past catches up to him and devours his friends, too.

Anyone who has watched a film noir will find Victoria’s ending is disappointingly predictable.  Otherwise, this would have been one of the top ten films of 2015.

But Victoria is still a gripping 138-minute thrill ride.  Director and co-writer Shipper acted in Run, Lola, Run which had previously set the standard for movie freneticism.  Make sure that you watch it in one uninterrupted sitting.  Victoria is available to stream from Amazon Video, iTunes, YouTube and Google Play.

2015 at the Movies: I hadn’t seen this before


I love original approaches to cinema, and here are some from 2015 that work especially well:

Tangerine:  This raucous and raunchy high energy comedy was shot on an iPhone. This is not a gimmick. The intimacy and urgency of this character-driven movie is a good fit with the iPhone. There really isn’t any call for helicopter shots or the like. The richness of the colors has been enhanced in post-production, so the iPhone cinematography isn’t any distraction at all. (See the shot above.)

Unfriended: This low-budget, high quality horror flick is about teenagers convening over social media.  The ENTIRE MOVIE is comprised of their web cam screen shots.  It works.

The Tribe: Although the The Tribe comes from Ukraine, we’re not going to hear any Ukrainian. Nor will we see any English subtitles. It’s set in a residential high school for the deaf, and the entire movie is in sign language. It’s novel for the hearing to experience an entire movie in which we hear only the sound of ambient noises – footsteps, creaking doors and the like – and we know that these sounds are NOT heard by the movie characters.

Wild Tales: This Argentine dark, dark comedy is one of my favorite movies of 2015.  One key to its success is that it is an anthology. In a very wise move, writer-director Damián Szifron resisted any impulse to stretch one of the stories into a feature-length movie. Each of the stories is just the right length to extract every laugh and pack a punch.

Creed: Director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti have combined for the most impressive boxing scene since Raging Bull. The three-minute rounds are photographed as uninterrupted action (no cuts are apparent) from WITHIN the ring. We feel like we’re in the ring with the fighters – right at shoulder-level.

Victoria: The German indie thriller is filmed in one shot. One 138 minute shot. And this is reputedly a barn-burner of a thriller, not My Dinner With Andre. Victoria was in theaters for about a minute this year, and I haven’t seen it yet, which really annoys me. It’s available to stream on Amazon and iTunes, so I’ve downloaded it and hope to catch up to it over the Holidays.