Tuesday, November 19, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: S.A. Cosby

My Five Favorite Rural Noir Movies

I’ve spoken ad nauseam about why I feel the definition of what is noir should not be confined to the mean streets of a rain swept metropolis so we are just going to skip right over that and get down to the gristle. Jed Ayres asked me for a list of my top five noir films and I decided to stay on brand and deliver a list of my favorite noir films that take place along dusty backroads and in the shadow of weeping willows and cornfields where both blood and moonshine are spilled across the rich dark soil.

5. Flesh and Bone...I don’t know if the term “hidden gem” accurately describes this nasty little slice of Texas gothic noir but when it pops up on a basic cable channel late at night I can’t look away. Filmed in 1993 Flesh and Bone stars erstwhile almost leading man Dennis Quaid (the less crazy of the Quaid Brothers) as Arlis, a lonely beverage truck driver who traverses dark and dusty backroads resupplying vending machines all across the Lonestar State. However once upon a time Arlis was the unwillingly accomplice to his father Roy (a bone chilling James Caan) a violent burglar. As a child Arlis would pretend to be lost and homeless. A kind hearted family would take him in then that night he would unlock a window or a backdoor to allow Roy easy access to the Good Samaritan’s home. After one of their jobs ends in a bloodbath that leaves only an infant baby girl alive Arlis abandons his father.

Flash forward twenty years and Arlis finds himself drawn into the life of Kay, played by Quaid’s real-life wife at the time, Meg Ryan. Kay seems to be as battered and bruised by life as Arlis and the two slowly find themselves drawn together. Soon the unwelcome reappearance of Roy with his teenage paramour Ginnie in tow (played by a pre-pretentious Gwyneth Paltrow) and some deep dark secrets threatens to reduce Arlis and Kay to a pile of flesh and bone. The movie isn’t high art and it was a bomb at the box office but there is something tragically operatic and emotionally resonant in this cruel little morality play set against the sand swept Texas flat lands.

4. Gator…. I know noir is not supposed to be funny but Gator has enough gallows humor and genuine pathos to be included in this list. Filmed in 1976 as the follow up to White Lightening Gator again cast Burt Reynolds as Gator McCluskey, a legendary moonshiner who finds himself forced to go undercover in a corrupt small town. Part Red Harvest part Dukes of Hazzard Gator is also a film that takes the trope of the corrupt small town and plops it right in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp. Reynolds has rarely been more charismatic as a sort of backwoods Parker and Jerry Reed is slimy perfection as local redneck crime boss Bama McCall. When I was a kid this was one of my grandfather’s favorite movies because even though Gator was a white man he had enough Dirty South street cred to make you believe he’d be on your side in a fight.

3. A Gathering of Old Men….. Not sure if this qualifies as noir but it’s my list so screw it. Originally airing on CBS in 1987 A Gathering of Old Men is less a murder mystery than a meditation on the deep scars racism can leave. Set sometime in the late 70’s the film tells the story of the murder of a racist farmer. Soon suspicion falls on Mathu, a revered elder of the black community in this small southern town. To help protect Mathu Candy Marshall, the white owner of the farm where Mathu works has a group of his friends come to his tarpaper shack and confess en masse to the murder. This gathering of old men then stands together with their shotguns at the ready to defend Mathu from a lynch mob on their way to the farm. The story takes numerous twist and turns and when the truth finally comes out it will leave you with a sense of despair and a spoonful of hope. Based on the masterful novel by the late Ernest J. Gaines A Gathering of Old Men manages to be suspenseful, moving and thought provoking all at the same time.

2. Winter’s Bone…. based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Woddrell Winter’s Bone is a stark unpretentious movie. The cinematography is as washed out as the lives of its characters.  Winter’s Bone tells the story of Ree Dolly a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in the Ozark mountains of Missouri where she cares for her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings. After her father disappears while out on bail Ree embarks on a journey into the local rural underworld of meth cookers, drug dealers and killers. Her uncle TearDrop tries at first to dissuade her from looking for her father then agrees to help her when they learn Jessup Dolly put up his home as collateral for his bail. Winter’s Bone is a masterful dissertation on the bonds of family and the generational curse of poverty. John Hawkes is at turns tender and terrifying as TearDrop a great twist on the benevolent sociopath trope in crime fiction. Jennifer Lawrence has never and I repeat never been better than she was in this film.

1. One False Move…I wrote a whole essay about this film in a previous issue of HBW but suffice it to say it is my favorite rural noir film because it’s one of the few that contrast the traditional noir setting of the beginning of the film with the pastoral prosaic settings of the finale. One False Move tells the tale of a trio of drug dealers who rob a stash house in LA and go on the run. They find themselves in the small hometown of the female member of their trio where secrets and violence collide like freight trains on the same track. Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach and the late great Bill Paxton are among the standouts in this incredible movie by Carl Franklin from a scrip by Thornton. Find it. Watch. Thank me later.

S.A. Cosby is the Anthony award winning author of My Darkest Prayer and the upcoming Blacktop Wasteland. You should buy that shit and follow him on Twitter @BlackLionKing73.

Monday, November 18, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Jake Hinkson

Five Noirs You Might've Missed

A Life in the Balance (1950) - In this weird little thriller, Lee Marvin plays a religious fanatic who turns to serial killing in Mexico. Based on the Georges Simenon novel Sept petites croix dans un carnet, and co-directed by Harry Horner and Rafael Portillo, the film casts Ricardo Montalban as a man falsely accused of Marvin’s murders. José Pérez plays Paco, Montalban’s scrappy son, who sets out to clear his father’s name. As you’d expect, Marvin really sinks his teeth into the role of the fanatical killer. (I’m punishing people, he tells Paco. God punishes people, and I’m helping him.) Best of all, master cinematographer Manuel Gómez Urquiza, making the most of the location night shoots, paints the film in gorgeous shadows and light, making this one of the few films of the era that turns the streets of Mexico City into a noir landscape on par with New York or Los Angeles.

Strange Illusion (1945) - If you love Edgar G. Ulmer’s cheapo masterpiece Detour, then perhaps the next stop you should make on his filmography is his cheapo noir version of Hamlet. Well, it’s Hamlet by way of Cornell Woolrich. James Lydon plays a young man who has a disturbing dream that the man who murdered his father is trying to seduce his mother. He wakes up and discovers that his widowed mother is indeed seeing a new suitor, played by the slimy Warren William. Is this man his father’s murderer? Hey, was something rotten in Denmark? The plot isn’t the point, because this truly weird little movie is all about style and atmosphere, which it has in abundance.

Open Secret (1948) - Want to understand the roots of the Trump era? Watch this bleak little noir from director John Reinhardt about an ex-serviceman played by John Ireland who shows up in an unnamed town looking to visit an old Army buddy. When he discovers his pal is missing, Ireland starts poking around. Turns out the missing man had some pretty unsavory connections to a gang of white supremacists who operate out of a nearby dive bar called The 19th Hole, a dank, dimly lit box where a group of haggard-looking men sit around drinking and blaming the waste of their lives on “foreigners.” Beneath plumes of cigarette smoke they stare into shot glasses and grumble about their shrinking prospects, dreaming of ways to return America to its former glory.

Betrayed Women (1955) - This isn’t the best women-in-prison movie of the classic era (that’s 1950’s Caged), but it might be the most fun. The director is the talented hack Edward L. Cahn. Like a lot of low-budget directors, his specialty was shooting fast and cheap, but his movies rarely lack for personality. His secret weapon here is the B-movie goddess and noir icon Beverly Michaels. She plays Honey Blake, the girlfriend and running partner of two-bit gangster named Baby Face. After the cops gun him down, Honey is sent to the Bayou Reformatory for Women, a prison camp stuck deep in the middle of a swamp. But the prison ain’t been built can hold Beverly Michaels…

They Won’t Believe Me (1947) - The best film on this list is this excellent thriller from the vastly underrated director Irving Pichel. Robert Young (yes, that Robert Young) plays Larry Ballentine, a guy who might well be the biggest heel in film noir. This guy is some piece of work. He’s married to a rich, beautiful, doting woman. On the side, though, he’s cheating on her with a poor, beautiful, doting woman. Understand, that’s just the opening of the film. Ballentine’s just getting warmed up. They Won’t Believe Me is the kind of film that consistently inspires the same reaction in viewers: I can’t believe they got away with this. It’s a tale of adultery and betrayal that seems, by 1947 standards, remarkably frank and candid about its subject matter. What makes it so impressive though, is that it’s a tough piece of work even by today’s standards. There aren’t many mainstream American films, made in a major studio with big stars, that would have allowed the central character to be such a bastard.

Jake Hinkson is author Dry County and more dope ass shit you should go buy. You can keep up with him at his website.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Heather Buckley

I like character films on bad guys...
These are all more character studies then noirs that are plot driven...
If people knew the degree that I like noir...
All horror people should...
Horror is a lens...
Horror is not our natural world it is a nightmare world...
As is noir

Five Personal Noirs

Kiss of Death - Henry Hathaway

Get Carter - Mike Hodges

Miller’s Crossing - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

The Hit - Stephen Frears

Friends of Eddie Coyle - Peter Yates

Heather Buckley produces feature films (The Ranger, The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson) as well as behind the scenes docs and special features for Kino Lorber. Follow her on Twitter @_HeatherBuckley

Saturday, November 16, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Scout Tafoya

Scout Tafoya - Five Underrated Noirs

Pitfall -  André De Toth

Dark - Paul Schrader

Man Without a MapHiroshi Teshigahara

Trouble in Mind - Alan Rudolph

The International - Tom Tykwer

Scout Tafoya writes essays and film criticism for places like RogerEbert.comMubi and  more. His video essay series The Unloved pays respect to films whose due has yet to be given. Dude's film maker too and if Oscars were given for titles certainly the director of Damnesia and Tron Wayne Gacy would have a few on his shelves. You can check out Enjoy Your Trip to Hell streaming now on Prime and look for more on Vimeo. Follow him on Twitter @Honors_Zombie.

Friday, November 15, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Angel Luis Colón

Angel Luis Colón’s Favorite Underrated Noir Flicks

The Salton Sea: Sure, it’s an amalgam of a dozen movies that came before it, but the performances are solid, and the plot is engaging. Also, Vincent D’Onofrio playing a meth addict named Pooh Bear will never get old. The ending might fall flat for some, but it’s worth a stream if free.

Deep Cover: Pure 90’s bliss (and an amazing soundtrack to boot). You don’t get a chance to see Jeff Goldblum be a murderous scumbag that often and Fishburne plays his role perfectly. This movie’s shockingly nihilistic and stands as distinctly ambiguous about its protagonist’s morals. For an early 90’s flick, that’s a little surprising.

Ricochet: Still one of my favorite Denzel flicks. It’s pulpy noir at it’s melodramatic finest. You’ve got an over the top villain, a resolute hero, and some wildly insane situations. I think I watched this flick more times than I’d like to admit when I was younger. Makes me miss John Lithgow as the scenery chewing villain too.

City on Fire: I know John Woo is everybody’s jam, but if you’re ignorant of Ringo Lam, oh my precious darlings, does Hong Kong have some pure goodness for you. And speaking of Lam’s work, you can check out the so-bad-its-brilliant Full Contact. Just talking about these are giving me the itch to watch them all immediately.

Witness: Fucking Amish noir, you fuckers. You can laugh all you want, but the kind of cultural divide covered in Witness juxtaposed with your standard cop thriller really works for me. Doesn’t hurt to have Harrison Ford as the star (sure, this isn’t his definitive noir role, coughBladerunnercough, but it works).

Ladrones y Mentirosos: I’ll let folks translate that on their own. One of the very rare Puerto Rican neo noir films in existence. Low budget and entirely in Spanish, it’s not as accessible as most folks would probably like, but it is an interesting window into the drug trade that’s been rampant in PR for decades. Good luck finding it!

Hangin’ With the Homeboys: While it leans on coming of age more than noir, forgive me for playing fast and loose with this one. You’re still seeing a minority led, urban drama with a healthy dose of cynicism at its narrative core. It’s rare to find movies this bleak yet hopeful with a diverse cast, so I need to throw it in the mix.

Lady Vengeance: Oldboy gets all the deserved love, but Park Chan-wook’s final movie in his Vengeance Trilogy provides a fascinating dive into an intense moral quandary: what would you do if you were literally handed the opportunity to take revenge on your child’s killer? The knee jerk answer certainly makes sense, but is it worth the cost? Pitch black and lacking any of the bizarre comedy beats of Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance is like a brick to the head.

U Turn: People HATED this movie when it came out. I did not. It’s like comfort food. Oliver Stone. Crazy violence. A who’s who of great actors playing depraved psychos. This is the kind of grimy noir that leaves you feeling dirty in the soul after having watched it. Bonus: the soundtrack was laid down by Ennio Morricone!

Angel Luis Colón is the author of several books including the Blacky Jaguar titles, No Happy Endings and his latest, Hell Chose Me. He is the editor of the anthology ¡PA’QUE TU LO SEPAS!  and host of The Bastard Title podcast. Keep up with Angel at his website.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: Ryan Jackson

My five favorite 50’s noir films - Ryan Jackson

1. No Way Out (1950) – Joseph L. Mankiewicz 

When a white robber dies under the care of a black doctor only suffering from a gunshot wound to his leg, his racist brother/accomplice blames the doctor for the death. The doctor (Sidney Pointier) wants an autopsy performed to determine the cause of death to prove it was not his fault, but the racist brother won’t allow it. When word travels outside the hospital things spiral out of control and incites a race riot.

No Way Out is a noir film that’s centered around race and racism. The fact that this is a movie before the civil rights movement really began makes it all the more interesting. The film really gives you a glimpse of the racial politics of that era. This film is also Sidney Pointier’s big screen debut.

2. Ace In The Hole (1951) – Billy Wilder

Kirk Douglas plays disgraced journalist Chuck Tatum, who ends up working for a small Albuquerque newspaper after being fired at every other major newspaper he’d previously worked for. On his way to cover a rattlesnake convention he doesn’t even want to write about, Tatum comes across a man trapped in a cave in a small desert town. The unscrupulous journalist decides he can make this into a national story and stage a career comeback even if that means ensuring that the trapped man stays trapped longer.

I won’t delve into anymore plot details beyond that. It’s a Billy Wilder film. That should sell anyone on it. Also Kurt Douglas uses the carriage return on a manual typewriter to strike matches so he can light his cigarettes. That’s noir as fuck folks.

3. Plunder Road (1957) – Hubert Cornfield

After five men rob a US Mint train they split the gold they’ve stolen into three trucks and make their way from Utah to Los Angeles. A long the way shit goes bad.

This movie opens with a train heist of gold from the US mint that’s 14 minutes long and nothing short of masterful. Which makes how they set about making their escape all the more tragic. An alternate title for this film could be Blunder Road in this respect.

4. Split Second (1953) – Dick Powell

Two escaped cons take hostages and hide out in the one place they know no one will come looking: a mining ghost town in the desert where an atom bomb is scheduled to be tested the next morning.

This movie has such a great 50’s era concept. The atom bomb testing element is so of the time and really raises the stakes for the characters in this film. Everyone in this movie is waiting for a bomb to drop at any moment both literally and figuratively.

5. The Narrow Margin (1952) – Richard Fleischer

A cop is tasked with protecting the wife of a dead mobster from hitmen as they travel by train from Chicago to Los Angeles where she will testify against the mafia.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on The Narrow Margin in four words they’d be: This shit goes hard. There’s no fat on this movie. It’s a very straight forward bare-bones plot. The setting of the film is fitting because it moves like a fucking bullet train.

Ryan Jackson is a screenwriter who’s wrote many things for money that have not seen the light of day. He wrote the recently announced movie The Inside Game with actor Tyrese Gibson. Ryan plans on directing his next script because he’s a control freak. Ryan also writes fiction (as if the movie industry isn’t torture enough). You can follow him @RyanJackson on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

30 Days Has Noirvember: William Boyle

William Boyle - Five Underrated Noirs

Crime Wave - (1985, John Paizs)

Not André De Toth’s Crime Wave from ’53 (which I also love) and not the Sam Raimi/Coen Brothers collaboration from the same year (which I remember liking but haven’t seen in forever). This is a small Canadian indie that should be known as a classic. Economical, strange, funny. Paizs went on to direct some Kids in the Hall sketches, which makes perfect sense. Currently streaming on Prime.   

The Kill-Off (1989, Maggie Greenwald)

An underrated Jim Thompson adaptation. Shot on the cheap with no familiar faces. Maggie Greenwald—in her debut feature—does a lot with the little she’s got. Feels very true to the tone of the source material. It’s gritty, raw, and weird as hell. Some shades of Blood Simple. A shame Greenwald didn’t direct more crime movies. It was available on YouTube for a while, but it appears to be gone. Deserves a good restoration, and I’d sure love to see the longer cut that apparently exists.

The Rapture (1991, Michael Tolkin)

Despite my love for Robert Altman’s The Player, with a script by Michael Tolkin based on his novel, I’d somehow never seen Tolkin’s debut as director, The Rapture, until recently. Even more surprising given my love for Mimi Rogers. The film appeared in Angelica Jade Bastién’s epic guide to neo-noir films earlier this year, and I immediately tracked it down. (It’s not streaming anywhere and not on Blu-ray, but I found the DVD for cheap.) As someone who’s obsessed with the place where noir and religion come together, this really hit the sweet spot for me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. 

Road to Nowhere (2010, Monte Hellman)

Monte Hellman directed four films that I truly love: Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter, Ride in the Whirlwind, and The Shooting. (I’m also pretty fond of China 9, Liberty 37). Road to Nowhere was his first feature in over 20 years (following Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, a gig he took in desperate times). I put off watching Road to Nowhere after hearing pretty bad things about it but finally gave it a shot last month, after noticing it was available on Prime. And I was pretty blown away. It’ll probably be slow for some, but it wasn’t for me since Hellman—like David Lynch—is so good at making everything feel weighted with significance. The cast is solid (with some good honest B grade performances), and the Tom Russell soundtrack is killer.

Sun Don’t Shine (2012, Amy Seimetz)

Hasn’t left my mind since I first saw it, in large part because I think Kate Lyn Sheil is one of the most haunting actors of her generation. On Letterboxd, Matt Lynch says it’s “like if Morvern Callar was based on a Jim Thompson novel or something.” Can’t say it much better than that. It was Seimetz’s feature debut and remains the only picture she’s directed, which is a shame. This is a claustrophobic, anxiety-inducing Florida noir, and I wish someone would give Seimetz bags of money to adapt Vicki Hendricks’s Miami Purity. Currently on Prime

William Boyle is the author of the novels Gravesend, The Lonely Witness, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, and the forthcoming City of Margins.