Friday, February 28, 2014

NON-STOP (2014) - A Review
 
I suppose people go to the movies for all sorts of reasons. This weekend, my wife and I wanted to go to see a movie to celebrate living in a town with three different multi-screen theaters. The town we previously lived in will be closing their only theater this weekend, and we are so grateful to be in a place where we have cinema options.
 

And that is how we wound up on a plane with Liam Neeson today. Non-Stop was the only new movie in town that was of much interest to either of us, and so we were off to fly the not-so-friendly skies.
 
The set-up is pretty straightforward here: Neeson is flight marshal Bill Marks, onboard a transatlantic flight. Soon after the plane lifts off, he starts getting threatening text messages on the airline's closed network. The mystery texter promises that a passenger on the plane will die every 20 minutes until $150 million is wired to a bank account - an account that is in Marks' name. Complications - and a death every 20 minutes - ensue.

This is a popcorn movie in the best sense. Given that Marks doesn't know who is sending the texts, the film starts right in with introducing his fellow passengers in the most suspicious of ways. From the get-go, everyone seems at least potentially a little questionable, both to the audience and to Marks, and the filmmakers manage to keep both the plane and the mystery up in the air until the end. Neeson, a hulking man and a capable actor, is very good as the man-with-a-past Marks who is in even more of a jam than Keanu Reeves was in Speed (1994) - at least he wasn't 20,000 feet in the air.
 
Of the reviews I've read of this film, almost all have said that when the identity and motives of the texter is revealed it's unbelievable and somehow not up to snuff. I disagree. Without going into who it is, or why they're doing it, my wife and I found it to be all too plausible. In any case, the reveal comes very near the end, so even if you found it a buzz killer, well, the movie is almost over anyway. (The closest thing to this film is 2005's Red Eye, which in my opinion very much does fall apart in its last quarter. Thus, Non-Stop emerges the better movie-you'll-never-ever-ever-see-on-a-plane.)
 
I also appreciated that, from my perspective, most of this film was pretty plausible, and that there were no painful or embarrassing "make my day" lines in the script. (There are, however, a few maudlin moments to give us the emotional backstory for Bill Marks.) Another thing of note, especially for an American action film, is the real lack of gunplay here. Yes, Neeson's character has a gun, but being that most of the movie is spent in a pressurized airplane at 20,000 feet, there would be real consequences for being fast and loose with his handgun. By the time there is some gunfire, near the very end of the film, there are already other, bigger problems for everyone onboard to deal with.
 
Some might say that Neeson, Julianne Moore, and current Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o are slumming, but I see nothing wrong with a well done, satisfying and not insultingly stupid thriller. Good action films are a rare breed these days, and this is a good one. That's nothing to be ashamed of in my book.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."
Dean Vernon Wormer, Animal House
  
Dying is easy; comedy is hard. Harold Ramis did the hard part first.
 
R.I.P. Harold Ramis
1944 - 2014
 
 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

HUO SHAO SHAO LIN SI (1976) - A Review
 
AKA: THE BLAZING TEMPLE
 
One of the DVDs we picked up in San Francisco recently was this mid-70s Hong Kong martial arts period piece, The Blazing Temple. I'd never heard of it, but it was brand new, the cover art looked promising, and it was only a couple of bucks. So why not?
 

I'm glad we took a chance, because this movie is a lot of fun, has plenty of action, and features high production values throughout. Both my wife and I enjoyed it very much.
 
The plot is fairly standard: An Evil Emperor is out to destroy the Shaolin school of martial arts, because they're the only ones who might possibly be able to oppose his evil (of course) plans. He sends a huge battalion of soldiers with cannons to destroy the Shaolin Temple and the monks who live there. The temple burns, hence the title, and most of the monks are killed. The handful who survive want to rebuild their school - but first, they'll have to get some getback on the Emperor. Their efforts are made more difficult by a traitor in their midst, but, in the end, which is wonderfully abrupt, the (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) Evil Emperor finally gets his head lopped off. END!
 
This was one of four films that director Joseph Kuo turned out in 1976, and it seems to possibly have a tie-in to his The 18 Bronzemen (parts one and two), since the bronze men make an appearance here too. Given the somewhat fractured nature of the subtitles, I'm still not quite sure what exactly the bronzemen are - men in gold paint? Spirits? In any case, they are one of many nice visual touches here.
 
Though the actual blazing temple is clearly a model - a very good model, to be sure - all the other sets, locations and effects are top-notch. Several scenes feature hundreds of costumed extras, so it looks like some money was spent on this production. The acting is generally good, there are touches of humor at times, and good use is made of a number of outdoor locations. Several shots show meditating monks in the lotus position being calmly engulfed by flames as the temple burns, an image that's clearly meant to evoke the monks who had recently emolliated themselves to protest the Vietnam war. I don't know if the filmmakers were trying to draw any parallels between recent events and their story, but whatever the meaning, the images are pretty eerie.
 
But, of course, the action is what movies like this are really all about, and The Blazing Temple does not skimp on that commodity. It wouldn't be accurate to say this film has non-stop action, but it is spread liberally throughout the entire story. Things start with a young woman challenging and fighting the Emperor's personal guards, and ends (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) with the same woman suddenly reappearing and decapitating the Emperor. END!
 
In between, there are numerous well-staged martial arts scenes - both between individuals and with larger groups. There is kicking, there is sword fighting, there is all manner of jumping, spinning and acrobatics. There's a sword-proof vest, and a bracelet that shoots poison darts. The fight scenes are varied in style and content, and all uniformly well done. I can't imagine action fans wouldn't be pleased with this movie.
 
There are also some wonderfully garbled subtitles at times. After one battle, the character Fung is badly, badly beaten, obviously nearly dead. One of his comrades tells him, "Fung, cheer up." Needless to say, Fung is way past simply cheering up.
 

I'm not going to pretend to know how much of this story is based on any sort of historical facts, or to know a lot about the cast or crew of this film. I don't. All I do know is that I'm glad we gambled a couple of bucks on this DVD, because it turned out to be pretty great entertainment. Now I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more films directed by Kuo, and/or featuring Ling Chia (AKA Jia Ling) or Barry Chan (AKA too many names to list here).


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE BROOD (1979) - A Review
 

We've been on a little bit of a David Cronenberg kick lately, with the most recent entry being The Brood (1979), which we watched last night. It's one of my favorite Cronenberg films, for a variety of reasons.
 
The story of The Brood is as follows: Frank (Art Hindle) and Nola Carveth (Samantha Egger) are a married couple who have been having major problems as a couple. Just short of splitting up, Nola has gone away to be under the personal care of controversial psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan has created his own approach to therapy: Psychoplasmics, which involves his patients literally manifesting their mental ills as physical realities (stigmata, tumors) in order to ultimately purge them from their lives. As Frank and Nola fight for control of their daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds), it turns out that Raglan has given Nola a decisive weapon in this struggle. (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) Taking psychoplasmics to a new level, Nola gives birth to partially formed children, all of whom resemble Candice, who are under her control and respond to her emotional state. When she is calm, the brood is too. But if Nola is angry with someone, they will track them down and express that anger in violent, murderous ways. The situation comes to a climax when the brood kidnap Candice and take her back to Nola at Raglan's institute.
 
I have to say that, in general, I find David Cronenberg to be a fascinating, brilliant writer and director. The recurrent theme that runs through so many of his films - the body turning against itself in one way or another - is unique among filmmakers. It's the cinema of cancer, and it made perfect sense to me when I found out that Cronenberg originally majored in biochemistry at the University of Toronto, before making the switch to English. His work shows a perfect union of those two worlds. Even when he has worked with material that isn't his own, such as in The Dead Zone (1983) or his version of The Fly (1986), this theme still holds true.
 
I also appreciate that Cronenberg applied his brilliance, at least initially, to genre films - horror and science fiction - that all too often suffered very much from a seeming lack of any intelligence. Yes, films like The Brood, They Came from Within (1975) and Videodrome (1983) are, in the simplest sense, bloody, gory horror shows. But they are much more than that as well. Cronenberg's films function on more than one level, and his body of work is filled with social and political commentary, as well as numerous instances of nearly psychic prognostication. Cronenberg is the Jules Verne or H.G. Wells of filmmakers. His films often feature medical, technological or other devices or ideas that seem fantastic at the time, but quickly turn up in the real world.
 
But, broader strokes aside, The Brood was, apparently, a very personal film for Cronenberg - who had just gone through a divorce and custody battle of his own. Though this film absolutely strikes that patented Cronenberg cinema as cancer tone, in other ways The Brood plays against expectations. For one thing, Nola Carveth is a mother, the archetype of life and regeneration - yet she produces murderous monsters. She is aided in this by her doctor, who, rather than healing, facilitates the horror that Nola produces. And this doctor is played by Oliver Reed, an actor and personality not necessarily known for his gentility - yet he plays Raglan as a soft-spoken, restrained man.
 

Further, a grade school classroom becomes the scene of one of the brood's deadly assaults. And, of course, those assaults are carried out by children. Nothing is quite as it should be in The Brood, either in the world Cronenberg has created or in the audience's expectations, and this disconnect, this otherness, serves the film well. Art Hindle does a good job as Frank, our guide at navigating this somewhat familiar but very dangerous territory.

With all this intentional dissonance and the effectively creepy use of the children of the brood, The Brood more than makes the grade as a superior horror thriller. As usual, Cronenberg has attracted some talented and interesting performers, and the acting here is very strong across the board. Some have carped about Egger being over the top, but I disagree. Her character is supposed to be, at best, on the bleeding edge of madness, and I don't think that Egger overplays her.
 
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Cronenberg was one of the key genre directors working and turning out classic films. This group included John Carpenter, George Romero and Wes Craven. (Of this group, Carpenter has commented that "Cronenberg is better than the rest of us combined.") In this era of cookie-cutter nostalgia and remake mania, all of these filmmakers have had some of their films remade - except for Cronenberg. Though he has made just as many iconic, name brand films - They Came from Within, Rabid (1977), The Brood, Scanners (1981), Videodrome - no one has actually come through with a Cronenberg remake. (A Scanners remake has been talked about for years, but...) I think this is because, when the rubber hits the road, it runs out that David Cronenberg has laid out a very weird, very involved road indeed - one that resists an easy or glossy redo. You can almost hear a modern producer saying something like, "Can't we make it a little, you know, less dark?"
 
In a word, no. David Cronenberg makes films that may light up the dark, but that light does not eliminate the dark. It just draws us in deeper. But as his films show us time and time again, getting in deeper usually means getting in over your head.
 
Or put another way, as pertains to The Brood...Soft-spoken or not, if you're in a movie and Oliver Reed is playing your doctor, you're in trouble.
 


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TOM YUM GOONG 2 (2013) - A Review
 
AKA: THE PROTECTOR 2
 

I'm a fan of the Thai action star Tony Jaa, and I was pretty blown away by Chocolate (2008), the debut film of up-and-coming Thai action actress Jija Yanin (AKA Jeeja Yanin). If you've seen Chocolate, or Jaa's work in the first Tom Yum Goong (2005) or Ong-Bak (2003), then you've seen some very high-level, crowd pleasing martial arts action cinema. (When we were in Bhutan last year, there was a TV channel out of India that seemed to show nothing but a constant rotation of the three Ong-Bak films.)
 
So I was very excited when I heard that these two would be appearing together in TYG2. On our recent trip to San Francisco, my wife spotted the DVD of TYG2 in Chinatown, and, as I'm sure she would attest, I was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. (The film will open in theaters in the U.S. in May of this year.)
 
Now that we're home, and I've had a chance to watch the film, I am sorry to report that it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Don't get me wrong: It's a pleasing enough, proficient enough action film. But it doesn't come close to the best work that either Jaa or Yanin have done in the past.
 
As in the original Tom Yum Goong, the plot here swings into action when villager Kham (Tony Jaa) has his beloved elephant stolen. His search takes him into the big, bad city, where he crosses paths with various thugs, assassins and an arms dealer named Mr. LC (played by American rapper RZA). He also runs into his old friend Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), a police detective, who had been in the first film as well. The plot is little more than an excuse to send Jaa into situation after situation that he'll have to fight his way out of - which is fine for an action film. Who really comes for the story, right? The problem here is that there's nothing that quite compares to some of the work Jaa did in the first film.
 

TYG2 was shot in 3D, and makes quite a lot of use of CGI in some of its big action scenes, especially a Jaa vs. motorcycles battle that takes place across various rooftops. Given Jaa's talents as a martial artist/performer, it's a little disappointing to see such "tricks" used.
 
Even more disappointing is the profound underuse of Yanin. In Chocolate, she made a big impression on me with both her acting and her martial arts and stunt work. She's clearly a very talented young woman. But she has little to do here, and almost no dialogue at all. Her presence in several scenes feels very much like something that was thrown together at the last minute, and it is not vitally important to either the plot or the film.
 
The casting of RZA was also a problem, being that I didn't find him believable for a second, either as an arms dealer or as a martial artist. Less of him, and more of Yanin, would make this a better film, in my opinion.
 
But I understand why RZA is there. And why this was shot in 3D. It looks like this will be Tony Jaa's big chance in American movie theaters, so Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew (who also directed the first TYG) have pulled out all the stops to try and make a film that will have numerous marketable angles to audiences in the U.S. With that in mind, I think they've crafted a serviceable enough film. There are several impressive action sequences, Jaa can still bend, kick, jump and fight like a demon, and, if you're not familiar with the earlier work of the players, then you're likely to be impressed and satisfied.
 
On the other hand, I am familiar with the earlier work of both stars, so I found it underwhelming overall. But I wish Jaa (and Yanin) lots of luck with American audiences. Unlike more recent action transplants like Jackie Chan or Jet Li, Tony Jaa is (in my opinion) extremely handsome, almost pretty, and thus may have a sex appeal that goes beyond his multiple martial arts skills. If this film doesn't put him over in the U.S., then his role in the upcoming franchise sequel Fast & Furious 7 (due out in 2015) should. Jaa also has not one but two films in the pipeline in which he co-stars with Dolph Lundgren. (Not so sure about the wisdom of that Tony - no offense to Dolph.)
 

The question I have now is...If there's another Tom Yum Goong film, how are they going to explain Kham having his elephant stolen for a third time? 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ROBOCOP (2014) - A Review

To start with, I should state that I have a pretty firm anti-remake policy when it comes to films. Remakes generally have little behind them other than a naked profit motive - especially in modern Hollywood.

I also will go on record as saying that I think the original Robocop (1987), with Peter Weller as the title character, is a nearly perfect film, a great film, and, dare I say it, perhaps even kind of an important film. It was lightning in a bottle, one of those times where a story, script, director, cast and crew all came together to create something special.

Having said all that...I have no problem at all with the idea of doing a remake of Robocop. I've been thinking a lot lately about how films are really our modern folk tales. (How many of us have sat around an open fire telling stories lately?) With that in mind, it actually makes sense for certain cautionary tales to be retold, refashioned for an evolving society. Think about the continued relevance of the Frankenstein story in a world with skin grafts, limb transplants, artificial organs and other medical advances. Add a layer of robotics to the Frankenstein story and you've essentially got Robocop.


So I went into the screening tonight with an open mind. I knew the early reviews of this remake were very mixed. But I was prepared to like the film. I also knew that I could wind up leaving the theater angry and offended.

Well, I'm home, and I'm not angry. I'm not delighted, either, but I am glad to at least not be upset by a total travesty of a film. Do I need to see it again? No. Will I watch the original version again? You bet.

Fair or not, the two versions will be compared - and the new one will come out the loser pretty much every time, every way. Where the original (in the best sense of the word) Robocop managed to be at once both an intelligent and dark black comedy and an action film that would please action fans, the remake is much more like a standard-issue action film with a few bigger thoughts and ideas added for ornamentation. The edge of the original, while acknowledged, is dulled way, way down.

Some may say I'm crazy, but I think that Robocop (1987) is a black comedy that surpasses Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), and is still much more relevant as a story. It was a bold and bleak melding of comedy with tragedy - and it worked. Robocop (2014) doesn't even really try to compete in the black comedy department, though there are a few lines thrown in that are clearly intended to get laughs from the punters.

As for the action set pieces, the remake settles (a word chosen intentionally) for a by-the-numbers approach that I found to be the most disappointing thing about the film. The Robocop visor comes down, the gun comes out, and cue the generic hard rock on the soundtrack. How many films have we seen that in at this point? Indeed, with this approach being so generic now, what is the point?

The general outline of the story in the remake is pretty similar to the original: Honest Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is very nearly killed in the line of duty, and is brought back to cybernetic life through the profit-driven efforts of a multinational corporation (OmniCorp) that has partnered with the Detroit Police Department. Robocop is pitched as a supercop with a human heart and experience to the public, while being regarded as a prototype of future profits by the corporate bigwigs. When his mission/programing begins to conflict with what's left of Alex Murphy, problems arise.


I applaud the new film for actually trying out some new ideas, in addition to the expected technological upgrade. Some of the new ideas work, and some don't. But the one that I would call a crucial mistake was that, in the remake, Murphy's family not only know he's Robocop, it's his wife who signs his remains over to OmniCorp to "save" him. In the original, Murphy's sense of loss of his family - who are only seen in flashback - provides an ongoing and effective reminder of all that he's lost. So far as they know, he's dead. The best he can do is visit their empty house and remember. Weller made Robocop/Murphy's impotent rage at his loss clear and very affecting.

In the new film, with his wife and son still in the picture, that sense of loss is itself lost. In its place there are some cheap attempts at sentimentality, a few new plot twists, and a none-too-believable happy ending. The change very much lessened the emotional weight of the story for me (though, in fairness, my wife thought the change worked well enough). But having a very nearly destroyed Robocop/Murphy tell his wife at the end that things will be fine, just fine, totally lacks the impact of the scene in the original where a nearly destroyed Robocop/Murphy tells his badly injured partner not to worry, because "They'll fix you. They fix everything." It's a line that, as written, conveys some sort of hope. But as delivered by Weller, with an air of exhaustion and defeat, it comes across as more of a threat than a promise of better days.

I'd also say that the decision to have all of Murphy's face visible once he becomes Robocop was a misstep. Given that he's a hormonally controlled cyborg with limited emotional output, Joel Kinnaman (who plays Murphy) has to put on a sort of cartoonish frozen tough guy face for a number of scenes, and it just didn't work for me. It seemed ridiculous, frankly. In the original, pretty much all we see of Murphy once he becomes Robocop is a his mouth. Having his eyes literally, physically blocked from view was, in my opinion, a much more effective method of conveying the distance and remove of the hard-wired but struggling Murphy.

I also found the TV cop show style handheld camerawork to be a distraction. In action scenes it merely made things even more confusing; in quieter scenes, it just draws attention to the fact that you're watching someone being filmed. During quiet scenes, I found myself wondering if the actors find it harder to concentrate with the camera operator swaying from side to side in front of them. Needless to say, these are not thoughts that kept me deeply focused on the story unfolding in front of me.

From script to direction to pacing to acting, the remake fails to approach the original, despite some nice touches and good performances. In short, the remake comes up short. Not embarrassingly so, but still. Then again, it's a remake of a film that got it right the first time, so that's a tough assignment. If nothing else, I thank the makers of Robocop (2014) for at least not embarrassing themselves, and for not sending me out into the evening angry. Faint praise, perhaps, but...It's the best I can do. It'll be interesting to see if the film is successful, or strikes a chord with the public.

In the meantime, go watch the original Robocop, and see how well it holds up. As satire, as social commentary, and as a straight-up action film, it's still a powerhouse.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Films of Noir City 2014 - Part V

The fifth night of Noir City was billed as a "Double Dose of Death," which, by the way, looked great on the Castro's marquee. First up that night was a Spanish film from 1955, Muerte de un Ciclista (AKA Death of a Cyclist), followed by a Norwegian film from 1949 called Doden er et Kjaertegn (AKA Death is a Caress). They proved to be two of the most interesting films we saw at the festival.


Cyclist tells a story that is deceptively simple: A couple, Maria (Lucia Bose) and Juan (Alberto Closas), out for a drive accidentally hit a bicyclist. Given that Maria is married, and not to Juan, they flee the scene of the accident, and the cyclist dies. Soon after, a bitter art critic, Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla), who is in their social circle starts to make hints to them about knowing about their "secrets." Juan wants to own up to what they did and go to the police; Maria wants to keep it all covered up. But as Rafa ramps up his taunting and threats of blackmail, Maria feels she has no choice but to settle things in a most final fashion.

I've tried to give you enough of the plot here to interest you, without giving it all away, in case you're able to see this great little film. The story was very much what you could call Hitchcockian, and it wouldn't have been any sort of stretch to see him pondering doing a remake of this if he had seen it. This film absolutely kept me absorbed, waiting to see what happened next. Enough of the motivations of the three main characters are kept hidden to keep you guessing - especially with Rafa. Does he know about the affair? Does he know about the accident? Or is he just being obnoxious and hoping to shake things up? Whatever his motivation, Casaravilla is excellent in the part. He looks like an evil Buster Keaton, and is extremely easy to dislike. No wonder he gets the couple so rattled.

This film struck a similar chord as several others (In the Palm of Your Hand, Too Late for Tears) in the festival - couples who somehow get involved with something illegal or immoral, and then experience conflict when the man wants to come clean. In Cyclist the difference in moral temperaments is symbolically made clear when Juan asks Maria, "Are you cold?" She answers "Yes." And not just cold room cold - she's cold soul cold. As with the femme fatales in the other films, this difference puts Juan at a severe disadvantage in his relationship with Maria.

At the end of the film, when there has been another accident, I was reminded of all things, of the movie The Ring (2002), with its plot of murder and moral, if not literal, contagion. Cyclist begins and ends with accidents, both of which put someone in the position of responding - either by helping or by fleeing. When Juan and Maria hit the cyclist, we know nothing about that person, and the couple come off badly for leaving the victim to die.


But when the final accident comes, we know much more about the person who is the victim of it, and, knowing that, the audience could well root for the person who witnesses it to do as Maria and Juan did, and simply leave. I thought it was a great way to loop the audience right back into the questions of morality and responsibility that run throughout the film one last time.

Cyclist was directed and co-written by Juan Antonio Bardem, and after seeing this, I would be very much interested in seeing some of the other films he made. (This one won the 1956 Cannes International Critics Award.) And yes, if that last name is familiar, he is the uncle of actor Javier Bardem.

The evening's second feature was also of great interest. To begin with, Death is a Caress was directed by a woman, Edith Carlmar, from a script written by her husband, Otto. Women weren't directing many feature films in the 1940s (and they still aren't even now in this country), so that made this film something of a rarity, foreign or not. Caress is widely considered to be the first film noir - from anywhere - directed by a woman.


Also, though many of the foreign films shown in the festival featured frank and open sexuality of a kind you would never have seen in an American film from that period, Caress took this openness further than the others we'd seen, and also included some near-nudity that was notable. (Check out the images on the poster above, which gives a good idea of the erotic tone of much of the film.) All of this was done in the service of a story about a woman with a very healthy sexual appetite indeed.

That woman is Sonja (Bjorg Riiser-Larsen), a wealthy, married and middle-aged woman who takes a fancy to handsome young auto mechanic named Erik (Claus Wiese). Though Erik has a girlfriend with whom he obviously enjoys a full sexual relationship, he quickly takes up with Sonja after she has her husband hire him as a driver. Given that Sonja is the one in the marriage with the money, she has no hesitations about dumping her husband to make room for Erik.

But, once they are married, Sonja seems to tire of Erik quickly - especially since he tries to act in a grown-up, responsible fashion. No longer "fun," Sonja starts casting her eye about for a new playmate, while also behaving in an increasingly angry and erratic way toward Erik. Eventually violence flares, and someone ends up dead on the bedroom floor, while the survivor relates the tale of their relationship in flashback from the police station and courtroom.


Both my wife and I came to the same conclusion about Riiser-Larsen: She's very much like a more hostile Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard (1950). She not only looks quite a bit like Gloria Swanson, but the two characters have some striking (literally!) similarities. In any case, Riiser-Larsen was great fun to watch.

On the other hand, I have to agree that Wiese comes across as a bit of a bore as Erik, Handsome, yes, but a kind of a stiff. Still, that was his job in the story, so I guess he did it well. And with its flashbacks and obsession leading to destruction theme, this was some very interesting Norwegian noir. I didn't find it quite as interesting or involving as Cyclist, but still enjoyed it very, very much.

Anyone who is interested in film noir, female directors, or films made by actors turned directors (Carlmar had been an actress prior to directing this, her first feature) should find much of interest here. As part two of the "Double Dose of Death," this went down well with me.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Films of Noir City 2014 - Part IV

After taking audiences (in one form or another) to Mexico and Japan in previous days, the fourth day of Noir City was a trip deep into the heart of darkness - post-World War II Germany. The trip began with the very first film made in Germany after the end of the war, the dour Die Morder Sind Unter Uns (AKA The Murderers Are Among Us) from 1946, which was written and directed by Wolfgang Staudte.


This is a film that would be of historical interest and significance no matter what. As stated, it was the first film made in Germany after the war, and as such, it had to be approved by at least one of the occupying powers (the U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union) before production could begin. Given the newness of peace and the freshness of the wounds of war, this was no easy task. Finally, the Soviet Union gave their approval, and filming commenced.

On the technological side, it wasn't much easier, as their were few if any filmmaking resources or equipment left intact in Germany. As the film would so clearly show once it was finished, much of the country was in ruins, just so many piles of rubble.


As for the script, it was started by Staudte before the war had ended, with an eye on what the German people would have to deal with, personally, internally and internationally, once they had lost the war. With this being the focus of his story, had the Nazis found Staudte's script prior to their defeat, he would almost certainly have been executed. Given that Staudte had not left Germany as so many artists and filmmakers did, and given that he had continued to make films in Germany during the war, he was in a good position to personally understand the themes of collaboration and guilt that run throughout Die Morder.

Then, as if all that wasn't enough, the film premiered just two weeks after the end of the Nuremberg Trials. Clearly some Germans hoped that the Nuremberg Trials would allow the German people to start to move on from the atrocities of the war; and clearly some feared that this film would, at best, reopen healing wounds.

With all that weight of history accompanying it, I'm not sure I'm qualified to judge this film fairly or fully. This is a case of a film being far more than the sum of its parts, and the moral issues associated with it will probably always greatly outweigh any artistic assessment.

Before seeing this, I told a friend of mine who is a Germanophile and who had seen the film, that it would be part of the festival. Her view was that it's a slow and depressing film - to which I responded that those were not necessarily negatives from a film noir perspective. Now, having seen it, I can say that I disagree with her opinion to some extent.

Is it slow? No, not really. And at 91 minutes, it's too short to seem to drag. But it is a thoughtful film, and one that deliberately takes its time setting the story in motion. Centering on a woman (Hildegard Knef) who has just returned from a concentration camp, and finds her old apartment both devastated and occupied, by a drunken and guilt-wracked doctor (Wilhelm Borchert) who had been in the German military, yet was horrified by the barbarous acts he witnessed. As these two start a tentative romance, Borchert crosses paths with his former commanding officer (Arno Paulsen), who has easily and happily resumed his civilian life among the ruins. Knef wants to start anew, and possibly build a life with Borchert; but he is weighted with guilt and obsessed with justice being served on Paulsen, who he had personally witnessed ordering the slaughter of civilians.

So I would not say that the film is more depressing than you might think, though the subject matter is, of course, nothing cheery. I can think of few films that the weight of an entire nation's history rested on in such a solemn fashion. But I thought the theme of renewal versus revenge to be more thought-provoking than depressing. And being that an unbelievable - and to me, very disappointing - happy ending was forced onto Staudte, it's difficult for me to file this one away as too grim for recommendation.

Don't get me wrong, though: It is a grim film. How could it not be? The first shot shows children running through rubble. Amidst this setting, Borchert delivers some lines that probably sum up the pain and cynicism of many at the time: "Rats everywhere. The city is alive again." Though much of the attention the acting in this film has received has focused on Knef, who had a brief flirtation with Hollywood, I thought that the emotional center of the film was clearly Borchert, who did a commendable job. As a man struggling to deal with how he could simply continue on as an individual having been part of the German war machine, he made a powerful symbol for an entire nation that undoubtedly felt ugly, ashamed and worried about their standing in the community of nations.

As a quiet but compelling counterpoint to that, Paulsen is eerily effective as the seemingly morality-free ex-military man who doesn't feel any shame for the acts he committed. War is a game, and Germany lost - now let's eat, shall we? Though not flashy or physically menacing, Paulsen is a perfect villain, the embodiment of "the banality of evil" that Hannah Arendt later wrote about.

Being that this film had the previously mentioned happy ending forced upon it, it's hard to classify this as film noir in many ways, despite the overall heaviness of the proceedings. But it's not at all difficult to recommend this for any number of reasons, both as art and/or history, and I'm certainly glad the programmers included it in the festival.

Following Die Morder was the first U.S. film shot in Germany following World War II, Berlin Express (1948). (Apparently Billy Wilder was ready to shoot his 1948 feature A Foreign Affair there at the same time, but, even by 1948, there just were only enough motion picture cameras in Germany to allow for one film at a time to be shot.)


Berlin Express certainly can boast some enticing credits - story by Curt Siodmak, screenplay by Harold Medford, direction by Jacques Tourneur, and featuring film noir favorite Robert Ryan in a leading role, with Charles McGraw in a supporting part. And, as with the previous film, the setting and location shooting are certainly interesting. I also like the fact that the film has at least one leading character to represent each of the occupying countries in Germany in the post-war years. Though it might strike some as gimmicky, it's based on the historical facts of life in Germany at the time.

But overall, this is just a so-so film. For one thing, it relies far too much on narration (by actor Paul Stewart) to set the film up and to keep things moving along. In my opinion, if you've got to rely on regular narration to keep the audience informed about what's going on, you've already partly lost them. That's certainly the case with me. With the reliance on the gimmick and the narration, a somewhat muddled plot involving intrigue and assassination got a little lost.

I also found the motivations of the villains, once they are revealed, to be a little hard to understand. (Germany just lost a war, the country is in ruins, the economy is devastated, but they want to keep fighting?) And, while Merle Oberon may be many things, she is not very convincing here as a French citizen, suffering as she does from the dreaded "intermittent accent" syndrome.

All of which is not to say that there aren't things to like and enjoy here - there are. But in the end, for me, this is one of those films that I want to like more than I actually do like, even with the presence of Robert Ryan, who is one of my favorite actors. Though you could do worse for a film, all of those involved here did much better in other films.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

R.I.P. Christopher Jones (AKA Max Frost)



Christopher Jones had a limited acting career, before he essentially walked away from it all, but he did manage to play one great role in one classic (if underrated) film, 1968's Wild in the Streets, in which he played rock star turned President of the U.S., Max Frost. As a film, as a warning for our youth and media-obsessed culture, Wild in the Streets gets more relevant with each passing day. It's got a great, eclectic cast (Shelley Winters, Richard Pryor, Hal Holbrook), and a pretty good soundtrack, too. If you've never seen it, check it out.
 

The clip above shows Jones (as Max Frost) performing the hit song The Shape of Things to Come in the film. The song hit #22 on the Billboard singles charts, and was later covered by many, many performers, including the Ramones (on their Acid Eaters album).

Christopher Jones died on January 31st at the age of 72. R.I.P. Christopher Jones. Long live Max Frost!


Monday, February 3, 2014

The Films of Noir City 2014 - Part III

Or part two of day two, which saw the public debut of the newly restored Too Late for Tears (1949). I'd seen what was available of this film before - a washed out print on DVD that I was well aware was missing about ten minutes from its original running time - so I was really looking forward to this chance to see the full, restored film. Given that Tears stars true film noir royalty, in the larcenous forms of Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott, it's a real shame that the film was allowed to degenerate to the point of nearly being lost.

In any case, after hearing some of the back story involving the restoration process - which included a near-miss with a potentially pristine print that had been squirreled away by a projectionist in Baltimore, who then up and died the day before signing a deal to release it to the Film Noir Foundation - the lights went down, and a movie that hadn't been seen in over half a century came to life again.


Tears starts with married couple Scott and Arthur Kennedy out for an evening drive in the hills. By accident, they give a signal with their lights that causes another car to race past and toss a satchel into their car - with said satchel containing $60,000 bucks in cash. Needless to say, this turn of events is most unexpected, though, in the case of Scott, it's not an unwelcome development.

Back in their apartment, they bicker over what to do with the cash, with Kennedy wanting to turn it in to the police pronto. But Scott wears him down, and they agree to put it away for a time, untouched, to give themselves time to decide what to do. (In one of the choice moments of dialogue, Kennedy expresses his wish that the money won't change who they are. Scott replies that it hasn't changed her - meaning she's always been avaricious - but Kennedy, seeing her in the best light, misses the point of what she's just told him.) Not surprisingly, by the next day, Scott, counting on keeping the cash, is spending down the couple's savings on clothes and furs.

That's when Duryea, the rightful recipient of the ill-gotten gains, shows up, initially pretending to be a police detective, but quickly moving on to reveal his true nature as a crook and a thug. Scott sweet talks; Duryea slaps. And thus we are off to the noir races, with a full feature of murder, lies, cross and double-cross ahead.

Duryea, who just wants to get his money back (though he's open to a little interest earned from Scott if it works out), soon realizes that he's totally outclassed by Scott in terms of pure, venal criminality. As he gets drawn deeper and deeper into her deceptions, he starts hitting the bottle, which only puts him at a further disadvantage. By the time (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) Scott shoots and kills Kennedy, Duryea is in well over his head - but he won't back out while there's still a chance to get his money back. When Scott enlists him to help dispose of Kennedy's body, and to pose as Kennedy briefly, Duryea dryly responds, "You're quite a gal!" It was one of several lines given to Duryea that caused the audience to erupt with appreciative laughter.

Surprisingly, second-billed, Don DeFore doesn't show up until after the halfway point, explaining that he and Kennedy served in the military together. No one quite believes this story, and his character is sort of folded into the already involved plot. Helping DeFore in his efforts to find out what happened to Kennedy, and what's going on in general, is Kennedy's sister, played by the appealing Kristine Miller.

Eventually, after several false starts and double-crosses from Scott, poor Duryea (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) winds up dead, Scott winds up in Mexico, and DeFore's true (and somewhat unbelievable) identity is revealed. Crime does not pay, and THE END.


And so, now having seen Too Late for Tears as it was intended to be seen, I have to say that it is a good, but not great, second-tier noir. Ironically, for a film that was only seen for decades with ten minutes missing, it could probably have used some judicious and intentional trimming to tighten it up. The plot is involved, and features a lot of back and forth between the two leads, and by the time it all wraps up, it seemed to me to have just overstayed its welcome.

But this is a fairly minor quibble, and there is much to recommend this film that far outweighs a little length. I mean, anything with both Duryea and Scott in it is worth watching, given that they're both compelling and unique performers. The script by Roy Huggins gives them both plenty of chances to shine their dark stars, and toss out some classic lines. Aside from the previously mentioned line, Duryea also tells Scott: "Don't ever change, Tiger. I wouldn't like you with a heart." It's the kind of dialogue that fits these two perfectly.

Arthur Kennedy, who pretty much made a career out of playing decent guys, is believable as Scott's decent husband. As mentioned, Miller, an actress from Buenos Aires, is very good as Kennedy's sister. (This is probably the best part she ever had in a film.) And dependable Don DeFore, who was an actor with a limited range, is actually used to very good effect here. DeFore generally played the genial, easy going nice guy - and he does that here, too. But given the plot that's underway by the time he shows up, and given that no one really believes he is who he says he is, his nice guy demeanor kind of comes across as false, creepy, and possibly covering up something sinister. By the time his true identity is (disappointingly) revealed, the movie is mere minutes away from being over, so the implausibility of who he is doesn't have time to damage things too much.

(And I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the unbilled appearance of former Dead End Kid Billy Halop in two scenes. Hey, Billy!)

I hope and trust that now that Too Late for Tears has been restored, that a new DVD will be available, and that the film itself will make the rounds of film festivals, revival houses, etc. If you're a fan of any of the actors here, and/or of film noir in general, you'll want to seek it out. As a film it may not be perfect, but at least now it has been made whole. Kudos to the Film Noir Foundation for that, and for their other restoration efforts. Seeing this on the big screen made for a great night out.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Films of Noir City 2014 - Part II

Day two was the Mexican caravan, with four of the five films shown being from and/or set in Mexico. This post will focus on the two films from Mexico, both of which were from 1951. First up was En la Palma de tu Mano (AKA In the Palm of Your Hand), followed by Victimas del Pecado (AKA Victims of Sin). Palma I would say is very much a film noir, while Pecado, though very worthwhile for all sorts of reasons, is not.


Palma stars Arturo de Cordova - who you may recognize from any number of American films as diverse as For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Duffy's Tavern (1945) - as Professor Jaime Karin, a handsome fake fortuneteller and con man who preys on wealthy women. His wife, Clara (Carmen Montejo) works in a beauty parlor that caters to said women, where she picks up useful information to feed back to Karin. When he crosses paths with the recently widowed Ada (Leticia Palma), he gets involved with her romantically, and is drawn ever-deeper into her plot to make sure that she is the sole beneficiary of her late husband's will. This plot hinges on getting rid of her husband's nephew, Leon (Ramon Gay), with whom she is also romantically involved, and who is also named in the will.

As I've explained before, my personal definition of film noir is a story in which a character (or characters) are obsessed with something, be it revenge, money, or another person, to the point of self-destruction. A subset of that would be the character who is simply obsessed with more in some way. That description fits de Cordova's character perfectly. Karin clearly wants more out of life than his cheap cons and fake crystal ball, but it's never clear exactly what he wants. He's open to conning his way into more money. He's open to leaving his wife to make that happen. And one step follows another until Ada has led him down the path from lies to murder to grave robbing. Karin's lack of focus puts him at a severe disadvantage when he gets involved with the extremely focused Ada. He may not know exactly what he'll do, or how far he'll go in this scheme; but it's clear from the start that Ada knows just how far she'll be able to push him - and she takes him right to the edge.


This film had a number of great, unexpected and audacious moments that will stick with me. (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) One occurs after Karin has just murdered Leon in a remote cabin, and hears someone at the door. Thinking it's Ada, he blurts out that he's just killed Leon - only to discover it's not Ada at all. It's a lost American tourist, a Shriner, who is looking for directions. Fortunately for Karin, the tourist's Spanish is obviously not so good.


Later, when Karin and Ada (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) have had to dig up Leon's body, and are driving with it in the trunk of the car, a tire blows out. As they're fixing it, a motorcycle policeman pulls up to help. Wanting to get the replacement tire ready, he goes to open the trunk. Ada, desperate to distract him, does the only thing she can think of: She tips his motorcycle over on her leg! It's a funny and tense moment, and the audience roared with approval at this scene. (And now my wife and I have a new shorthand catchphrase to use for trying to distract someone: Tip the motorcycle.)

This is a film full of rich characterizations, beautiful photography, and driven by a classic noir plot. For me, it only ran out of steam in the very last few minutes, with a "twist" ending that I saw coming, but that was still satisfying. This may well have been my favorite out of all the films we saw at the festival.

(Technical note: There were no English subtitled prints of this film available, so the festival organizers arranged for "live" subtitles to be digitally projected along with the movie. It was a smart and well-done workaround.)

Moving on to Victimas...All I can say is WOW! I wouldn't call this a noir, but it is muy loco, and extremely entertaining. Right from the first few minutes, you're seeing things that you'd never have seen in an American film from the same time period: A pimp is getting dressed for the evening, and heads out to the bar where some of his girls also dance. And when they dance, they show a lot of flesh, panties and passion - all forbidden in such quantities in American films from the time.


Our heroine in this film is Violeta, played by Nino Sevilla, and she's an actress/dancer/singer/whirling dervish. The plot revolves around her rescuing a baby that was abandoned - in a trash can! - by a fellow dancer/prostitute, and her efforts to rescue the baby boy, and perhaps herself, from the grim life on the streets.

If you can imagine Lucille Ball at her most antic, crossed with Carmen Miranda, you might be getting close to Sevilla's performance here. I don't necessarily know if it was "good" acting or not, but she sure was compelling to watch. She gave 150% in every scene, whether dancing, crying or just holding the baby. (She shakes it so much I thought the kid was at risk of shaken baby syndrome.)

Victimas is a fairly pure strain of melodrama liberally dosed with music and dancing. And what dancing! It's sexual and highly energetic in ways that would have been strictly forbidden in the U.S. at that time - especially given the sometimes different skin tones of the people dancing together. It's also notable that the male villain of this film is a pimp - and the male hero is...a slightly nicer pimp. Again, you'd never have seen this in an American film in the 50s.


Like Palma, this film also had a number of unique and memorable moments, such as the pimp who wanders the streets followed by his own Mariachi band. But the most incredible scene comes late in the film, when Violeta (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) comes bursting through a window and shoots the evil pimp dead. The scene just comes out of the blue, and there's no reason given for why Violeta comes through a window rather than the door - but it sure was memorable. Like the tipping motorcycle scene, this one had the audience roaring with approval.

So, to sum up, for pure manic energy and a unique cinematic experience, I can highly recommend this film should it ever come your way.

However, it seems unlikely that the print we saw will be coming your way. Apparently it used to be Sevilla's personal print of the film, and it sounds like a great deal of work went into arranging for it to be in San Francisco for the festival. I'm glad they made the effort because, even though it's not film noir - it doesn't have a happy ending, but it is hopeful - it's a great film that deserves to be seen.

More to come on other films later...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Films of Noir City 2014

Let me begin by saying that I will not be attempting to write something about every film at the festival, or even every film my wife and I saw. I have already touched on the first film, 1943's Journey Into Fear, which is a slight, enjoyable film, but not one I'd classify as film noir. If it is film noir, well then, it seems like every espionage movie from the 40s must be film noir as well - and I doubt even the most ardent noir hound would go there. It seems obvious that the festival programmer(s) wanted an Orson Welles double feature, so they stretched the definition so that this could play with...

 
The Third Man (1949), about which so much has already been written, I will not waste your time here. It's a classic. Harry Lime. Climatic chase through the sewers. If you have never seen it before, please do so.
 
 
Day two kicked off with the rock solid drama Border Incident (1949), which is a film that fires on all cylinders. First, you've got a script by John Higgins, who also scripted such classics as my favorite noir, Raw Deal (1948), the highly influential He Walked By Night (also 1948), and wrote the original story for 1943's The Adventures of Tartu (AKA Sabotage Agent), which is a great British World War II film.
 
Directing, you've got the legendary Anthony Mann, who had just directed the previously mentioned Raw Deal, and would follow this up with more classics such as Side Street (1949), The Tall Target (1951) and The Naked Spur (1953), which was the best of his collaborations with actor James Stewart.
 
Rounding out the technical side, Border Incident features the truly beautiful cinematography of the Academy Award-winning John Alton. He too had worked on Raw Deal and He Walked By Night, and would go on to work on films as diverse as Father of the Bride (1950), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) and Elmer Gantry (1960). Alton's cinematography has always stood out to me, and his work is well served by being seen on the big screen. He often would set a small spot to reflect in an actor's eyes in close ups, creating a little star of light that would be visibly reflected in their pupil and that, to me at least, serves as his personal trademark. In any case, his work is almost always striking and memorable.
 
Meanwhile, in front of the camera, you've got certified noir heavyweights like Charles McGraw (especially nasty here), Howard da Silva (soon to be blacklisted after the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, at which he was smeared by fellow actor Robert Taylor), Jack Lambert (a heavy, per usual), as well as the unexpected appearance of Sig Ruman, who is probably best known for his appearances in several Marx Brothers movies. And as leading man and hero, Ricardo Montalban, playing the one thing he always said the studios never let him play - a Mexican. Here, he is a Mexican police officer who goes undercover to expose a criminal gang that smuggles Mexican workers across the border into the U.S. to work as agricultural laborers. George Murphy is second-billed as Montalban's American counterpart, who also goes undercover as a criminal seeking to sell stolen visas for farm workers, in an attempt to put the squeeze on the gang from both sides of the border.
 

Though the subject of the film isn't really dated so much as more evolved, this is still a pretty hard-hitting movie. It makes it clear that, much as it still is, Americans are absolutely dependent on illegal labor to put food on their tables. With that being the case, it also makes it crystal clear - without ever stating it directly - that the typical American's diet is pretty well fortified with crime and human suffering. Not exactly a path to feel-good commercial success (see my previous musings on last year's The Counselor), but it makes for compelling viewing.
 
Sure, some of the gee whiz heroic angles of this are dated, but this film still goes to darker places than most from this period - and from MGM at this time, too. The bad guys here con Mexican workers into paying to be smuggled into the U.S.; then, when they're coming back across the border with the money they've earned, the hoods rob them, kill them, and dump the bodies into a pit of quicksand. Without saying anything specific, I'll also mention that, surprisingly, one of the main characters meets a particularly grisly end.
 
Montalban is good in his role, and given the racial and studio politics of the time, it's a pleasant surprise to see him top-billed. George Murphy is adequate in his role, though not ever entirely convincing (as a character) or that compelling (as an actor). But any inadequacies he may have are more than compensated for by the strong supporting cast, and the forward momentum of the story.
 
I had seen this film before, but never on the big screen, and size does matter. For one thing, as stated above, Alton's cinematography is stunning. Sure, there are some bad matches between beautifully captured location shooting and some fairly obvious studio sets, but overall, this is a real visual treat. Also, the scene where - SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! - Murphy's character is menaced by a giant field tiller is one that is much more effective on the big screen.
 
As a crime drama, this is pretty top notch stuff, and as a political drama, it's noteworthy as well. And those two categories are how I would file this, much more than film noir. But it does fit into that category as well, in my opinion, but it would be a secondary way of classifying it. Still, call it what you like, this is an extremely well done and gripping film. How much did I like it? Enough to sit through it in a theater after having already seen it. And enough that we picked up a used copy of it on DVD a couple of days after watching it in said theater.
 

Note: Border Incident was the first film of five on the first Saturday of the Noir City Festival. The last film that day was The Hitch-Hiker (1953). Both featured actor Jose Torvay in supporting parts. It gave the day a nice bookended effect.


Report from Noir City 2014 - Part V

Alright then...Though the Noir City Festival isn't quite over yet, my wife and I are back home. We couldn't stay for the entire week and a half of the festival, so we found two nice ladies to pass our passes off to, and we hopped back on Amtrak to head home. Though I'm sorry to not to be seeing some of the films in the days we'll miss, it's good to be home.

The festival itself was unique and enjoyable overall, and I'm certainly glad we went. I will give detailed reviews of some of the films in later posts, to try and give you an idea of what the festival had to offer.


As stated in earlier posts, my disappointments with the experience as a whole had little to do with the films chosen, and everything to do with the way things were run. I've already talked about how the too-lengthy introductions often were filled with filler, and did nothing but stretch time to the breaking point. Our last night there, we skipped the second film of the evening (which we had already seen, but not on the big screen), because we knew, after a week's worth of experience, that between the intros and the slightly longer running times of the two movies that night, it would have meant that we'd have missed our last bus home if we'd stayed.

So, please, noir folks, rein in your urge to talk and talk and talk. Less really, really is more - as in, more time for the actual films. Also, showing commercials for some Australian noir comedy web series might have seemed like a good or amusing idea, but as a paying customer, I'm here to tell you it added nothing positive to the experience. We bought full passes to see movies, not commercials.

On the plus side, I do appreciate the purist approach in terms of showing the films on film whenever possible. Film is different from video, and film is better than video. Out of over two dozen films in the festival, apparently only two were scheduled to be shown on video - and only then because there was no other way to show them. Having once had my own film series, and having dealt with the many and varied problems that can come up with securing prints of American-made films, I have a great appreciation for the efforts that went into finding and shipping prints of the many older foreign films shown this year.


And speaking of older foreign films...Perhaps I'm na├»ve, but I have an image of the audience for such films. Given their age, and their non-domestic provenance, I envision the audience for them as being more intelligent, more refined, more cultured, than the average American movie audience. But that image was most surely tested during this festival, when day after day we witnessed these supposedly refined and cultured people trashing the historic theater we were all inhabiting. Judging from the great mountains of popcorn that often littered the floor, many members of the audience had great difficulty getting their popcorn from the bag to their mouth without major spillage. And given that almost everyone just walked out of the theater without taking their popcorn bags (or cups or wrappers) with them, it seems like an awful lot of people in San Francisco are very used to having "someone else" clean up after them. (Did anyone else other than my wife and I notice the nice Latina lady cleaning up the theater after, say, Border Incident? Somehow I don't think so.)

Though I was never a Boy Scout, I have always followed their rule for camping - leave the site better than you found it - when it comes to going to the movies. If you packed it in, people, then pack it out. To do any less is shameful and rude.

But it's entirely possible the audience was simply reflecting current San Francisco norms and mores. The city is clearly awash in money, with lots of construction and gentrification occurring at a rapid pace. Downtown and Market Street are taller than ever before. The private (and controversial) Google Buses were a regular sight. And where there used to be coffee shops and record stores everywhere, they have now been greatly pushed out by expensive bars and even more expensive day spas and salons. So yeah, it's entirely believable that a lot of people attending Noir City 2014 were well-to-do and used to letting-someone-else-do-it. If so, how nice for them. But still, despite the obvious and unmistakable influx of tech money into San Francisco, never before has the entire city smelled so much of urine to me. I mean everywhere. It doesn't make for a particularly film noir experience, but it sure does smell bleak.


Anyway, despite the current flush of big tech money into town, it was barely on display at the festival itself. The crowd was very much an older crowd (present company included), with those who looked under, say, thirty being a very small minority. I can count the number of actual kids I saw there on the fingers of one hand.

So, in terms of longevity, I don't know that the prognosis for Noir City is very good. Without efforts to engage newer, younger audience members, I don't know if there will be a Noir City in ten years. Can San Francisco still be the Noir City once it's all lit up with bright cash and splash? And can old movies on a big screen attract a younger audience that's used to watching whatever's new, new, new on a screen the size of a postage stamp?

I don't pretend to know the answer to these questions. But as someone who was born in San Francisco, and has always viewed it as a cinema-centric place, I will be interested to see how things play out.