Friday, November 10, 2017

Thirty Days Has Noirvember (4-10)

November 4 - Vengeance is MineShôhei Imamura - In the age of fresh mass murders every few weeks in this country it's a little bit of a challenge to get worked up about a serial killer whose grand total number of victims was five, but this is a picture from the seventies inspired by a real killer (Akira Nishiguchi) from the sixties and an unsettling portrait of a-morality and escalating anti-social behavior that transcends body count. Ken Ogata plays Iwao Enokizu a disaffected social outsider who graduates from petty larceny to more elaborate confidence scams and finally to murder in his criminal career.

November 5 - Brave Men's Blood - Olaf de Fleur - Yeah, this one's about cops, but less a procedural than a gangster picture and earns its noir chops by corrupting the hero and showing no mercy to the innocent. Don't let the terrible title fool you, it's way worthwhile.

November 6 - The Big Heat - Fritz Lang - Perfectly hardboiled fare and certainly a must for sons of Lee Marvin whose turn as sadist Vince Stone is probably the standout for the whole picture.

November 7 - Badlands - Terrence Malick - Not the first, certainly not the last, but one of the most distinctive takes on the young lovers/killers on the run genre. This one introduced Malick's style which had yet to completely develop into the singular signature it is today, but which was clearly in process and present - lots of voice over, shots of nature, and themes of innocence lost - it's beautiful even if the romance is hollow and the consequences horrible all around.

November 8 - Killing of a Chinese Bookie - John Cassavetes - Hypnotic and engrossing couple of days in the life of dreamer, schemer, schmoozer and loser Ben Gazzara a skin club owner who likes to think of his leisure spot as classy because he writes absurd musical acts with feints at wit and humor of which he is outsizedly proud - demonstrably in his rambling introduction to each vignette. His outsized estimation of his own charms and talents get him in a bad situation when, as soon as he's made good on a gambling debt, he celebrates by visiting a mob-run casino and runs up a large new sum whilst trying to impress the gangsters who've flattered him by visiting his club. To pay his debt he's given the impossible task referenced in the title - an assassination mission he doesn't know he's not expected to succeed and survive. This is just one of my favorite noirs period. Sad people with illusions and delusions that drive them ever-downward, but who're presented with enough recognizable humanity to invest in and empathize with... Mister Sophistication indeed.

November 9 - Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson - Pastiche, okay. Homage, sure. Bad thing? Hell no. This hazy, paranoid, groovy conspiracy thriller gets sharper while remaining opaque with subsequent viewings. Sustination and manipulation of mood are the film's chief aim and it succeeds without a break for the run time, making the experience akin to the altered states our hero exists between. Josh Brolin still deserves an Oscar for his work in this one and the scenes of Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix trying to out-whisper each other are gold - doesn't matter what they say, only that they keep the rhythm and the tone and good golly do they. Also noteworthy performances from Katherine Waterston, Hong Chau and Martin Short make it an ever-rewarding revisit.
November 10 - Point Blank - John Boorman - Lee Marvin was front and center in two of my favorite neo-noirs, this one and Don Siegel's The Killers, where the slightly psychedelic sensibilities of the sixties infuse the otherwise familiar hardboiled tropes they execute with conviction while subtly playing with if not outright subverting. Both a time-capsule and a still vital piece of celluloid pulp.

And in A Noirvember to Remember - Happy birthday to Scott Phillips, author of eight volumes of dirty deaths died dirt cheap. Go get your eyeballs on The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway, The Adjustment or maybe some short stories collected in Rum, Sodomy & False Eyelashes.

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