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

Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgaard in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

My running list of Best Movies of 2016 – So Far is out. For movies in theaters right now:

  • Our Kind of Traitor is a robust espionage thriller with a funny yet powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgård.
  • Free State of Jones effectively combines the elements of political drama, romance and war movies into an absorbing Civil War drama, one which connects the dots between the 19th Century and the 20th and beyond. With a sizzling Matthew McConaughey.
  • NUTS! is the persistently hilarious (and finally poignant) documentary about the rise and fall of a medical and radio empire – all built on goat testicle “implantation” surgery in gullible humans.
  • Zero Days is a documentary on a jaw-dropping hacker mystery – who and how was able to get Iranian military computers to destroy the hardware for their own nuclear weapons program.
  • All the Way is a thrilling political docudrama with a stellar performance. It’s the story of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, warts and all, ending official racial segregation in America with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bryan Cranston brings LBJ alive as no actor has before. All the Way is still playing on HBO.
  • Finding Dory doesn’t have the breakthrough animation or the depth of story that we expect from Pixar, but it won’t be painful to watch a zillion times with your kids.

Here’s my early peek at next week’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

My DVD/Stream for the next two weeks is one of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far.  San Jose native Matt Sobel’s impressive directorial debut Take Me To the River is entirely fresh. Not one thing happens in Take Me to the River that you can predict, and it keeps the audience off-balance and completely engaged. You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.

On July 16 Turner Classic Movies presents the grievously underrated Don Siegel thriller  Charley Varrick.  Siegel was a master of crime movies (and was the primary filmmaking mentor to Clint Eastwood).  I particularly love Siegel’s San Francisco noir The Lineup, the guilty pleasure Two Mules for Sister Sara and John Wayne’s goodbye: The Shootist.  The 1973 neo-noir Charley Varrick is right up there with Siegel’s best.  Walter Matthau stars as the title character, an expert heist man who sets up a “perfect crime” bank robbery which, of course, goes awry.  Worst of all, it turns out that Varrick has stolen a secret Mob fortune being laundered by the bank, and now the underworld organization is after him.  Only his wits can save him.  I’ve rewatched Charley Varrick a couple times recently, and it still holds up for me.

Faithful readers know that I revere the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone spaghetti westerns.  On July 19, TCM brings us A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Walter Matthau in CHARLEY VARRICK
Walter Matthau in CHARLEY VARRICK