Tag Archives: Film Noir

The Man Who Wasn’t There

In this black-and-white film noir by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit, No Country for Old Men), Billy Bob Thornton stars as Ed Crane, an aimless barber who’s dissatisfied with his life in a small northern California town in the summer of 1949. His wife’s (Frances McDormand) infidelity presents Crane with an opportunity for blackmail that he thinks will turn his life around … but his scheme lays bare even darker secrets that eventually lead to murder. James Gandolfini co-stars.

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Coen Brothers float from genre to genre the way that David Bowie floats from music style to music style. They decide on a script, make the film, and tell a great story. There really is no weak part to their filmmaking. They weave a great tale, always get first rate performances from the actors, and have a keen visual eye for interesting camera angles and visual trickery to illicit an emotional response.I think when all is said and done; they are in the top 5 of American filmmakers ever.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” is their take on film noir and they do a terrific job. It’s not perfect; “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” were perfect. But for film noir, it’s great. A lot has to be said for the film’s editing. This is a film that relies a lot on silence. The main character (played note perfect by Billy Bob Thornton) is a man of few words but deep thought. His narration accompanies the film wonderfully and fills in the blank spaces. Much of the dialogue is one way. A character talks to Billy Bob and he just nods. His quiet demeanor leaves an aura of unpredictability to his character that keeps the film moving. You never know what’s bubbling underneath the surface. Is it rage? Anger? Fear? Sadness? Happiness? We don’t always know and it leaves a lot to our imagination.There’s also first rate work here by the entire cast. James Gandolfini, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, and particularly Tony Shalhoub as the eccentric and fast-talking lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider are awesome all around.

The problem with the film is the few loopholes in the story that made little sense to me. If Billy Bob’s character was trying to move on from his wife and create his own life, why did he pay through the nose for a top flight lawyer? It seemed closed and shut that he eliminated two problems at the same time: his wife and her adulterous lover. Also, for a guy who seems to think out every deal, he couldn’t see that the man starting the dry cleaning business was a scam? The last reel of the film is a disappointment because the setup was so good. But all in all, I highly recommend it, particularly if you love old black and white film noir.

Winter’s Bone

In this noir drama set deep in Ozark territory, resilient teenager Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) goes on the trail of her missing drug-dealing father when his absence jeopardizes the safety of their family. The deadbeat dad has a critical court date pending, and Ree is determined that he make it — despite the objections of the insular Dolly clan. Director Debra Granik’s unflinching drama won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

Rating: 8 out of 10

I used to work in Glens Falls, NY, so I wasn’t too surprised by some of the utter redneck, white trash lifestyles so accurately portrayed in this film. However, if you haven’t spent time in the poverty-stricken rural areas of America, this film has some powerful imagery and situations that may surprise some or may remind you of people you’ve met and places you’ve been.

We follow Ree Dolly, a 17 year old taking care of her younger brother and sister, along with her mentally ill mother, through some disturbing scenes of drug dealers and criminals associated with her father. It’s a simple premise — a girl looking for her missing father because if he misses a court date, the family loses their home.

The film moves patiently, wrapped around an outstanding performance from Lawrence. We see the old tires and broken tractors with weeds growing around them, dirty, worn toys lingering in the yard and a tone of speaking heard only in these parts. There is not looking down the nose at these people. It is an honest portrayal of some of the uglier parts of our country we don’t often see or speak of, which is why I found it so engaging.  Don’t be surprised if this gets a best picture Oscar nomination.

Vic’s Classics – “Cat People”

Famed RKO Radio Pictures producer Val Lewton managed to single-handedly redefine the horror genre in the 1940s, cranking out low-budget, high-volume box office hits that rarely disappointed audiences — or studio execs. This double feature of Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944) — Lewton’s first film and its subsequent sequel starring Simone Simon — is the first installment of a five-DVD collection of Lewton’s work available on Netflix.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Jacques Tourneur directed this atmospheric 1942 psychological thriller for RKO Pictures under the supervision of producer Lewton, who was renowned in many circles as a film maker who could produce them fast and produce them good. He did have an uncanny ability to use mood, shadow and that most alluring of cinematic manipulations, the subtext, to tell a good story. And boy is “Cat People” a story that oozes with dark, fairytale melodrama.

With the great writing by DeWitt Bodeen and the eerie, suggestive cinematography, Lewton and Tourneur most likely started the genre of what will one day become the psychological, thinking-person’s film. Shadows, lines and what we do not see in the darkness makes “Cat People” a sublime and ethereal classic.

Simone Simon, a slender, attractive and very stoic actress, plays Irena, a Serbian fashion artist. She harbors deep desires and secrets that Lewton and Tournuer bring forth with lean visual passion. Oh and she turns into a mean bitch of a Panther when aroused or jealous. The film gets bogged down in some melodrama which almost emulates soap operatic tendencies and at times has a cheap, staged atmosphere. Butthe film rises above these shortcomings and dissects the core material – the female psyche and sexuality – by using the Black Panther/Irena as a great metaphor to explore this provocative theme.

Cat People is chock full of noir style and may not be for everyone. Especially if you like your suspense films fast and furious. Many actually favor the sequel “Curse of the Cat People” to the first film. Lewton’s original classic does succeed in bending light and shadow while facing deep, dark themes of sexuality and animal tendencies.

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