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COEURS NOIRS Day 30: Gut (2012)

Gut (2012) film/Bluray thoughts… This choice for my COEURS NOIRS closer might be confusing to some, as it it always promoted as a horror film. The truth is Gut, directed by Elias is a psychological horror/neo-noir. One of my favorite indie films in years, Gut recently had it’s Bluray debut and I wanted to give it a once over again.

Tom is married with a young daughter but is “looking” for some else to make his life more fulfilling. The grass somehow is greener on the other side of the fence. His childhood friend, Dan, who he works with and is quite clingy, is upset they don’t spend time together anymore. Tom says he pretty much has moved on from “hanging out”, but Dan will not let it go. He tells Tom about a “film” he got off the internet and he has to view it, he has never seen anything like it. Since they used to like horror films together, Tom pretty much gives in. The “film” is a semi clothed woman strapped to a table who proceeds to have a scalpel cut methodically into her stomach area and is seemly killed. Tom can’t believe what he has just seen and tells Dan he is nuts. But sadly, Dan is a tad unstable and will not let his relationship with his old friend go.

Gut is dark and moody. While it’s a lower budgeted affair, all players and the director pull out all the stops to make this film extremely good. Jason Vail plays Tom as basically having a partial mid life crisis in his late 20s, becoming obsessed and trapped into the world of what is on the discs. Nicholas Wilder’s Dan reminds me of someone in my past, so I was able to relate to this character. I do also have to note the experimental music of Chvad SB, especially the end title theme, it sets the tone for this film completely. It’s bleak. Do order the Bluray of it if you can, the DVD is still available and of course GUT is on most VOD services.




COEURS NOIRS Day 28: Play Misty For Me (1971)

Play Misty For Me (1971) film thoughts… I am not the biggest Eastwood fan but I have always heard about this film, just never got around to it. He plays Dave Garver, a Jazz DJ in Carmel, California who ends up meeting one of his fans who always calls in and asks, “Play Misty For Me”. The fan is played by Jessica Walter, who has sex with Dave. He being the upright, alpha male type, thinks it’s just a one night stand. He is sadly mistaken when after he makes a couple of nice gestures, she becomes consumed with him. She is always there at his house, always demanding his attention. After he tries many times to brush her off, one incident pushes her over the edge and Dave’s life becomes a true nightmare.

The film is important for at least a couple of things: it’s Clint’s first film behind the camera and there really hasn’t been this “type” of film before. It’s now a common film trope to see an violent, obsessed person in a movie, but there really wasn’t anything like this previous. I do like Play Misty For Me but it does suffer from things that are just my preferences. It’s truly dated, from the look, the film style & the editing. They try really hard to make it look like there are stabbings but the editing is too quick and choppy. Today, they make this more direct. While I do like Walter’s performance as the crazy lady Dave wishes he never met, I found the acting a bit over the top at times. I know Clint is beloved as an actor but he is pretty one note as he is in most of the films I have seen him in.

All in all, Play Misty For Me is a solid neo-noir. You know right from the beginning nothing good is going to happen in this film.

COEURS NOIRS Day 23: The Ninth Gate (1999) Review by Kim McDonald!

I don’t usually watch film noir, but I was intrigued to see THE NINTH GATE included on a genre list. I love this film so I gave it another watch, and yes, it definitely qualifies. Then again, if film noir is about pessimism and fatalism, one could argue most of Polanski’s work qualifies. And what could be more fatalistic than trying to conjure the Devil?

The film is based on the book “El Club Dumas,” written by Arturo Perez-Reverte. It follows Dean Corso, played by Johnny Depp, a rare book dealer who is commissioned by collector Boris Balkan, (Frank Langella,) to authenticate his copy of an obscure occult book, “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows”. He managed to get it from another collector, Telfer, before his suicide. Now Balkan wants Corso to compare his copy with the only other two copies that exist. This book is supposed to conjure the Devil, but as Corso jests, He didn’t show up.

Corso immediately realizes this is no normal job and this is no normal book. As he travels to Portugal and France to hunt down the other two copies, he finds himself being pursued by Telfer’s “dishy”, but viscous, widow (Lena Olin,) who has a secret interest in retrieving her husband’s book. He also has The Girl, (Emmanuelle Seigner.) She is his tag along/protector, who seems to have a secret interest in helping him succeed. As he is able to compare all three copies, he stumbles upon a hidden code unknown to any of their owners and finds himself drawn into a mystery that leaves dead bodies everywhere he goes.

Telfer’s widow calls Corso a “book detective,” and the film does remind me of the old Bogart movies. In one scene, we see Corso’s apartment with a desk against a window and the neon light from a street sign is shining through the blinds. The color scheme is subdued with earthy browns, blacks and greens. It’s like a mystery set in a labyrinthine library; one with Satanists waiting for you behind the stacks.

Polanski co-wrote the screenplay with John Brownjohn and Enrique Urbizu. The dialogue is
clipped and full of caustic wit, punctuated by a lot of smoking and drinking. It is especially fun watching Depp and Langella bouncing off of each other. The sets are wonderful; tucked away, unassuming places in the middle of beautiful locations. They add to the feeling of a very old menace that has been lurking in the dust, biding its time.

Corso is a typical hard boiled detective type who doesn’t buy into the Satanist agenda. Books are a commodity to be bought and sold; as he tells Balkan, “I believe in my percentage.” As the film progresses, he realizes he can’t walk away, even though The Girl encourages him to many times. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you believe in the Devil if She falls in love with you.


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COEURS NOIRS Day 22: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) Review by Jon Weidler

[117 minutes. R. Director: Sidney Lumet]

Hollywood loves “family” as an income generator, but hates it as a theme and institution.
And for good reason. It’s much more palatable to potential ticket buyers if the family is treated as an abstract concept with no basis in reality. The highs and lows of having parents and siblings is mandatory, but the fact remains: family is a thing of permanence, and few films deal with the nuts and bolts of love, guilt, responsibility, and madness that informs most (which is why we have the acceptably quirky dysfunction of the Griswolds and Fockers).

What could be “worse” than a piece of art that forces us to confront the fact that the family unit is often rooted in apprehension and fear?

This is why Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is so refreshing: it may be steeped in its own kind of pulp exaggeration, but the interlocking plot and performances present a reality that’s just convincing enough to be plausible. It’s a film where Albert Finney is a credible and convincing father to brothers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke; while they may not look related, their interactions, conflicts, and resentments convince the viewer otherwise.

Devil is a blue-collar crime flick grounded in the doldrums of working-class malaise. Not surprisingly, financial desperation is the name of the criminal game. Andy (Hoffman), who works in the payroll department of a real estate firm, wants to escape to Brazil with his wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei). Andy’s brother Hank (Hawke) works in the same office, but is in financial dire straits (he owes back child support), and carrying on a secret affair with Gina. Their father, Charles (Finney), owns the family jewelry store with wife Nanette (Rosemary Harris). Andy brings Hank in on a plot to solve their money problems – by robbing the store.

While cut and dry in synopsis, the robbery comprises only a small part of the film; director Sidney Lumet (who knows his way around great ensemble casts) is far more interested in the trickle-down effect of its moral fallout.

Kelly Masterson’s script is structured via multiple perspectives – Andy, Hank, and Charles – and where they intersect and overlap. It’s a gimmick that recalls Pulp Fiction and Memento, but isn’t simply style for style’s sake: Lumet uses it to tease out information and withhold plot or character beats until the absolute necessity of their reveal. While disorienting at first, this approach unravels a deceptively simple heist plot with unexpected depth.

The tricky brilliance of the writing and performances is that each character is working within the same tangled, incestuous web: Andy’s dubious bookkeeping as the IRS audits the firm; Hank’s relationship with Gina; Gina’s relationship with Andy and Hank; and Charles’s responsibility for his children when the details of the robbery come to light. Nobody is in an enviable position, and that conveys the soul-swallowing darkness that earns the film’s valid categorization as Noir.

Lumet’s aesthetic touches are wonderfully subtle: an antiseptic look in the cold exteriors of modern high-rises, with indoor colors desaturated just enough to amplify the slickness of transparent glass surfaces (while also accentuating shadowy corners); conversely, the image is periodically overexposed to heighten the drama (the quick-cut reaction shots of Hank as the robbery occurs). Early on, the rental car used to carry out the crime is glaring white on a highway clogged with darker-colored vehicles, unconsciously drawing attention to itself. And details like wardrobe and hairstyle (Hank’s disheveled, loose look; Andy’s fitted suits and slicked-back hair) accentuate the characters’ sense of control (or lack thereof).

The family dynamics of Devil are spot on. Charles is presented as a cold patriarch, Hank is emasculated by everyone around him (repeatedly called “the baby” by his dad, and “faggot” by his brother and peers; hell, his own daughter even calls him a loser when he doesn’t come through on the funds for a pricey field trip), and Andy is left to shoulder the burden once the robbery goes South. The film is most interested in its male characters, with Nanette dispatched in the opening minutes, and sister Katherine (Arija Bareikis) left in the margins. Tomei imbues Gina with her own emotional and financial conflicts, but remains outside the most severe consequences of Andy and Hank’s actions.
Perhaps Lumet and Masterson are suggesting that, when left to their own devices, men will royally fuck things up.

See also: Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, and just about any crime thriller to come out of the 1990s.

8 out of 10 stars

COEURS NOIRS Day 21: City On Fire (1987)

City On Fire (1987) film thoughts… Unbelievably, I have never seen City On Fire even though I have seen hundreds of Hong Kong films in my life. It is one of my favorite countries to see films from and his one came from one of the best era in their cinema history. Chow Yun Fat (of The Killer & A Better Tomorrow fame) plays Ko, currently an undercover cop who is slowly infiltrating a small crime syndicate who specializes in jewelry store robberies. During this time, he truly becomes close to one of the main mob guys and is a bit torn of his job. Meanwhile, he has to keep trying to make his girlfriend happy, who doesn’t know he is undercover. It’s a modern classic crime story that only the people from Hong Kong tell well.

Again, I’m really surprised that I never saw it. Ringo Lam has directed countless classics and this is one of his best. You can see the noir influence all over it, as many Hong Kong films of the era had. Ko doesn’t want to even finish the job, but his superior keeps him in. Super violence, male bonding and great pacing keep City on Fire on top. My only gripe is my own fault. I have the American Dimension DVD and its only audio option was English dubbed. You really cannot watch a non English film dubbed, doesn’t work, especially when all the voice actors were American. I need to find a proper version of the film and see it the way it was intended.

COEURS NOIRS Day 20: Niagara (1953) Review by Michael E. Wilson

NIAGARA  (1953)

The theatrical trailer for this film is almost as good as the film itself. Shot in Black & White (the film is presented in color), the trailer opens with a breathtaking shot of Niagara Falls. Then these words appear on screen:

“A raging torrent of emotion that even nature can’t control! NIAGARA! And…….MARILYN MONROE!

The trailer continues with scenes from the film. It concludes with another look at the Falls. This time, Miss Monroe’s face is superimposed over the Falls and these words appear:

“NIAGARA and MARILYN MONROE…..the two most electrifying sights in the world!!

NIAGARA and MARILYN MONROE……the high water mark in suspense!!”

With a buildup like that, you can expect a pretty good movie experience. And this movie doesn’t disappoint. Released by 20th Century-Fox and directed by Henry Hathaway, this drama is filled with Noir imagery and sensibilities. But its primary reason for being made was for Fox to promote Monroe, then the fastest rising actress, or more accurately, sensation, in Hollywood. Monroe had broken into films in the late 1940s with only minor success. Her luck changed when she appeared in a small role in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE for director John Huston at MGM in 1950. The same year she did another small role in ALL ABOUT EVE, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz at Fox. The studio gave her a contract and promoted her vigorously. While she was mostly cast in comedies, she also got her chance at serious drama in Fritz Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT and Roy Baker’s DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK. In NIAGARA, Monroe was given her first and only “evil” character to play, a woman who plots to kill her husband so she can run off with another man. After this, Fox never let their gorgeous star play the bad girl again. A real shame, because her character in NIAGARA is perfectly suited to her hyper-sexual image.

The story, by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard Breen, has married couple Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters and Casey Adams) arriving at Niagara Falls for a belated honeymoon. They get involved in the lives of another couple, Rose and George Loomis (Miss Monroe and Joseph Cotten). George seems unstable and very jealous of his beautiful young wife. Rose tells the Cutlers that George has recently been in a military mental hospital and she’s concerned about his violent, erratic behavior. When the Cutlers are taking a tour of the Falls, Polly sees Rose kissing another, much younger man, Patrick (Richard Allan). We learn that Rose and her lover plan to kill George, making it look like suicide. Patrick attempts to throw George down into the Falls, but George kills him instead. Rose tells the police her husband is missing and Patrick’s body is found, but is assumed to be George’s body. When Rose goes to the morgue to identify her husband and sees Patrick’s body instead, she collapses and is taken to a hospital. George goes to Polly and tells her of Rose’s deception and asks Polly to let everyone thing he’s really dead. Rose, fearing for her life, tries to leave Niagara Falls. George confronts her and strangles her. He attempts to escape the police by stealing a boat that Polly inadvertently is in. The boat runs out of gas and is headed toward the Falls. George manages to get Polly to safety before he and the boat go over the Falls. George is killed.

Once Miss Monroe has left the film, it becomes necessary to quickly tie up the loose ends and finish the story. Admittedly, the watery climax is exciting, but although Jean Peters is a likable and attractive actress, she is unable to rouse the same level of emotional involvement as Monroe. The movie is, of course, also somewhat of a travelogue because of the amazing scenery. It also serves as a kind of historical record of what this beautiful location looked like in 1953. Undoubtedly it is a completely different place in this day and age. NIAGARA, as a rather typical, big budget Hollywood studio product, delivers the goods on all levels. Most definitely worth seeing, and worthy of study for its Noirish quality.

For anyone whose only experience of Marilyn Monroe is the succession of “dumb blondes” she played to perfection in films like GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, her other two releases of 1953, or THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), seeing her play a genuine femme fatale in a dramatic story may be a little shocking. In my opinion, she gives one of her very best performances as Rose Loomis. It’s possible that even 20th Century-Fox didn’t expect her to be so good playing bad, and that’s why they never gave her another chance at it! Veteran actor Joseph Cotten, by this time looking a little haggard in middle age, does an excellent job as a man who just wants to possess the beautiful creature who happens to be his wife. He personifies the traditional Noir male who is driven to destruction by a duplicitous female.Most of his scenes take place in the darkness of the honeymoon cabin he shares with Rose. He is rarely seen outside in the light, and when he is, he seems not to belong there. While George Loomis ends up as a killer we still see him as a sympathetic character, especially at the end when he saves Polly’s life.

Rose, although evil, also manages to get the audience’s sympathy. If she had been played by any other actress, that may not have been the case. But when Rose is pursued by George and killed, we care about her. Maybe its because the viewer sees Rose as such an amazingly sexual creature that deserves all the ecstasy she can possibly get. And if she has to bump off her troubled husband and take up with a young stud to do it, well, why not? Of course it isn’t that simple or carnal, but remember: this was 1953, when the post-war public was completely dazzled and fascinated with the image of Marilyn Monroe that she, and Fox, were serving up on the big screen. the public was on Marilyn’s side, and therefore was also on Rose’s side. The complexity of Rose was completely bound to the reality, or what the public assumed was the reality, of Marilyn the actress.

Early in the film, we are presented with Miss Monroe in a pink dress that, as George describes it, is cut so low you can see her kneecaps. During this extended scene, the camera forgets all about Niagara Falls for a while and takes us on a tour of the Monroe image. Real? Manufactured? A makeup miracle? Does it matter? It exists. And the young woman who lived in that image seemingly takes immense pleasure in letting us look. Much has been said over the years about Marilyn’s mysterious relationship with the camera. Many people said she was rather ordinary and unexceptional until the light of the camera enfolded her. Then she somehow transformed herself into the glimmering star she wanted herself to be. Marilyn Monroe, not Norma Jean, the troubled girl from a broken home who was shy and unsure of herself. In this sequence in NIAGARA, with Rose showing off in the pink dress, we can actually see this transformation happen. For a moment, she is in partly in shadow, but suddenly the light flickers across her face. Her lips are parted, and she seems to kiss the light as it caresses her. And so Norma Jean receives the light that transforms her into Marilyn Monroe. A raging torrent of emotion that even Norma Jean couldn’t control.