Tag Archives: mystery

Essential Cinema: Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past

If ever there was a genre that drew the blueprint on what would become the flawed antihero doomed to swim in the mire of his own mistakes, surrounded by sharks posing as men or women in need, Film Noir would be it. It seems every director with a pulse had a try in the genre from the moment crime and shady people became what the public wanted to see during the 40s and 50s. Jacques Tourneur, fresh out of directing https://recyclesmartma.org/physician/cialis-benicia/91/ help my homework buy generic viagra cialis viagra and girls follow site graduate thesis sample help with homework online chat thesis on immigration reform source site research paper graph cialis viagra and dissertation length see best school essay writing service write my philosophy paper https://www.cochise.edu/academic/homework-helpers-long-valley/32/ higher history german unification essay herbal alternative viagra actual prescription cost of viagra https://heystamford.com/writing/baton-rouge-homework-help/8/ classics essay competition discounts buy research paper http://v-nep.org/classroom/site-for-essays-in-english/04/ cheap paper editing for hire for college foucauldian discourse analysis thesis viagra shipped to australia no prescriptions here enter levitra geneva paypal store clomid mysore university ba old question papers here I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People, was brought in to direct what was then considered an A-picture by RKO, and to be honest, I don’t think the movie would be half as good without Tourneur alongside cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca at the helm. While the plotting is multilayered (and you thought you couldn’t follow half of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep; try this one for a change), it is the look of it that matters.

So much of this movie depends on its mood and lighting. The opening sequence shows an idyllic, sleepy town that will be the place where weary-eyed Robert Mitchum will get approached by a shady figure from his past with an offer Mitchum won’t be able to refuse. But before we get there, through a flashback sequence Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey reveals to his saccarine sweet girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston in one of her many “good girl” roles) that his real name is Jeff Markham, and that he was hired by Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to retrieve Sterling’s girlfriend Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer, who could have used an Oscar boot to acknowledge her icy, lethal turn) who has disappeared with something of his. That something happens to be 40,000 dollars (about 400,000 in today’s money). Sterling isn’t up for losing that amount of money, but perhaps its his pride at having been done one good by a female that has him on the pursuit.

So far the movie is rather straight forward, even sunny. It’s when the story moves to a Mexican resort that we get a hint of what’s to come. As Jeff downs a drink in a bar, in walks Kathie, a vision in white momentarily blurred by a pool of shadows. Had Jeff been paying close attention and be a little less deluded by Kathie’s beauty (Ann, while safe, can’t hold a candle against Kathie), he would have walked away and fast and claimed he missed her. However, Jeff falls for her without knowing it. They both initiate a verbal dance that has to be heard to be appreciated in its complete form. It’s not what they are saying on the surface, but what they are really meaning that again, mirrors Bogie and Bacall riffing off each other in To Have and Have Not and of course, The Big Sleep.

To go into more detail would be to spoil it (and while I do know that Out of the Past has been out for nearly 75 years, it packs a wallop of plotting). Suffice it to say, the movie gets darker and moodier by the minute, which mirrors Jeff’s morality sinking into a deep, black hole. In the center of that black hole is Kathie, playing not just Jeff but half the men in the cast, coldly amused. Her villainous turn might only be eclipsed by Barbara Stanwyck’s in Double Indemnity. It is, without a doubt, fascinating to watch her, baby-faced, with those large, expressive eyes and fragile body language, completely dominate not just Mitchum but a lion such as Douglas. While Douglas, back in the present, briefly gets the upper hand, you realize its only time before she makes one last, brutal move.

The reason Out of the Past is essential viewing is because this is quite simply, one of the greatest is not the greatest noir movie there ever was. How Tourneur was able to convey so much mood, so much energy, negative lighting, characters constantly framed by darkness or turned into silhouettes against some background lighting, is incredible. No other noir has this kind of effect. Any movie that can have two acting powerhouses like Mitchum and Douglas sizing each other up constantly, reflecting so much anticipation of barely concealed violence brought upon a need to out-man the other is a sight to see. Interestingly enough, their characters are completely blind to the machinations of Kathie, and Greer plays her as though she had been born to do so.

Reviews: Disappearance at Clifton Hill, CROOKED HOUSE, and After Midnight

Working out childhood trauma is always a good topic for a character who has narrowly escaped some uncertain fate as a child. It essentially tills the soil for the adult version to tackle later this event with better, if imperfect, tools and perhaps solve the lingering puzzle that’s been haunting in the background ever since. Albert Shin is a director unknown to me, but his hand on the genre is pretty atmospheric in presenting a horrific event that marks the childhood of a young girl who later, as an adult (played by Tuppence Middleton), buzzes around a mystery like a buzzard seeking a dead body whose disappearance went cold. Instead of letting it go, she clings on to the idea that she can somehow come to terms with the boy’s disappearance and dives further into the murky waters of the seedy town where the incident took place, only to find her own sanity begin to unravel. Shin doesn’t quite have a full grasp of the entire genre per se, bringing an extended circus sequence that doesn’t quite fit in with the tone of the picture. Some of the acting is also a bit hammy, if at all to drive the point home that yes, this is a bad place with bad people. However, Disappearance at Clifton Hill manages to emerge mostly unscathed; as a thriller it holds itself well, has some nifty twists and turns, and maintains that frosty, cold atmosphere that has now become a staple of the genre in which shadows loom long and mistrust is everywhere, like a ghost.

The murder mystery has experienced a renaissance as of late with one successful adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel leading to a second. On the heels of that we were served with Knives Out, a murder mystery with social undertones that managed to make it onto several critics’ “best of 2019 lists and almost made mine had I not seen a few that won by a narrow margin. Crooked House came out in 2017 right on the heels of Murder on the Orient Express, but its release on internet platforms muddled its performance, and to be frank, seeing it nearly two and a half years later, it feels mostly inert. That is not a surprise; there have been several disappointing Agatha Christie adaptations done over the years, so another one is just a casualty of a project not quite working. The story is quite similar to that of Knives Out for those who have a sharp eye at narration, but Knives Out manages to use the concept and go to other directions with it and keep the story fresh, exciting, and above all, interesting. You won’t find that here despite the large ensemble cast headed by Glenn Close. Crooked House is basically dead on arrival. It’s as if the stance chosen by the director was to make an already flimsy story even weaker by inert direction, cardboard performances, and questionable events that seemed to have lifted in order to force the viewers into gasp mode once the killer was revealed.

It really pains me when I see as movie made for pennies within the indie community that I can’t recommend. That movie is someone’s project, someone’s idea of a story, and here I come, the Big Bad Reviewer, watch the entire thing (twice, may I add), cringe with every scene being offered, and give it a bad review. However, not everyone in the indie scene is made to make a good product and After Midnight, a film by Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella, is the result. The story concerns Hank and Abby (Gardner and Brea Grant), a couple living the life in the backwoods of America. They are, apparently, happy, Except that by the end of the extended scene in which both express their love, she has left the house, leaving a cryptic note, and left Hank in stasis, unable to move on. So unable to move on that the entire movie features a flashback sequence to when he and Abby were happy and in love every five minutes. Once is okay, but when your story has to venture into horror and we are still in washed out colors and puppy dog stares I started to wonder when the mess would start.

Spoiler alert.

Reader, it does start, but not in the way you would believe and I can’t believe I had to write a second paragraph to explain why. Any kind of horror involves a mood. We know that something bad has to happen, or at least, that there is a sense that something is not quite alright from the onset and is about to get slightly worse as proceedings follow. That never happens in After Midnight. Hank has a business; we never see him in that business. Hank goes to a bar to down some beer and the scene falls flat on its face when he meets a buddy (Henry Zebrowski) who is munching on peanuts. For some reason the camera decides to cut in, twice, on Zebrowski as he chews peanuts and almost chokes on a mouthful. Does this advance the story? No. Neither does a stop at a sheriff’s friend (played by Justin Benson, one half of the other directing duo who brought The Endless, another example of terrible horror). Finally, the horror arrives: someone (or something) is stalking Hank at night, leaving him terrified and shaken. While that should amp up the horror level, Gardner and Stella never change the tone and leave it as bland as an extended flashback into present scene when the much missed Abby decides to come back. And while I don’t want to reveal to the audience how this entire fiasco gets resolved, let’s just say, I might never listen to Lisa Loeb’s Stay (I Missed You).

Bad, bad film-making, terrible storyline, an incredibly cheesy guy in a monster suit, and flat acting: this is what in essence you will get if you sit back and watch all 75 minutes of the interminable After Midnight.

You were warned.

WIND RIVER

WIND RIVER

USA
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Midway through Wind River, a character roughly says, “This murder is practically solving itself,” and that, my dear friends, is a problem. Taylor Sheridan once again dives into the underbelly of society, but where his incursions redefined the Western in Hell or High Water and danced with horror in Sicario, both films which yielded memorable performances from its shady as heck characters (and a sympathetic one from Emily Blunt, a female FBI agent tossed in the middle of an increasing set of odds in Sicario), Wind River, while correct and serviceable as a crime thriller, never truly manages to find that dark tone that would have made it the standout sleeper of the late summer. It’s a shame because with an action taking place in the desolate mountains of Wyoming in the Indian Reservation of Wind River, there was plenty of material to convey an atmospheric sense of a larger corruption at hand, something truly unsettling.

The best scene is, as a matter of fact, its most disturbing. The film opens to a young woman dashing barefoot through the snow, escaping an unknown danger before she collapses to the elements and passes out of the story, in body. Enter Jeremy Renner, a game tracker separated from his Indian wife, who finds the dead woman’s body and has to team up with the nearest FBI agent sent all the way from Vegas to survey the crime scene, and with her report, justify the need to send out more agents or close the case. When she appears it’s under the form of Elizabeth Olsen, and at first, as it always is in these movies, her presence is, for the locals, meant to be merely perfunctory, a blip in a series of nothings in a place where nothing really happens. However, a correct assessment of the way rhe woman — Natalie — died doesn’t match up despite the coroner’s report. However, the coroner can’t justify homicide. Olsen can’t call for more agents, so it’s up to her and Renner to take matters into their own hands.

I’m going to say that perhaps this is what happens when someone who’s barely directed takes a film as ambitious as this into his own hands in the hopes of delivering a strong product and coming up just a shade short. Wind River is what you’d call a serviceable, above average procedural that takes you from start to end without delving too much in the horror of it all — even the necessary flashback scene that sets the plot in motion feels flat and done without style or any sense of suspense or even terror — but somehow it just didn’t quite go that extra mile to stay in my memory and thus, remains as just another good movie with solid performances by Renner, Olsen, Gil Birmingham, and Jon Bernthal in a small but pivotal role.






ROAD GAMES

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Ever since B-movies like Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitchhicker directors have been trying to up the ante while telling essentially the same story over and over. In this case, we open to an unseen figure dragging a body covered in what looks to be tarp across a backroad. We have no idea who this person might be, but the sharpening of knives and a quick glimpse of a dead face shows it’s clear what’s just happened and what’s to come. We cut then to a young British hitchhiker (Andrew Simpson, last seen in Notes on a Scandal as the kid Cate Blanchett’s teacher seduced) who witnesses a car veer to a screeching stop in front of him as an argument between a young French man and a woman (Josephine de la Baume) balloons out of control. The man, Jack, essentially rescues the woman, Veronique, from what could have been an impossibly violent situation. After the would-be-assailant takes off, Jack and Veronique continue, making small, tentative talk, each unsure if to open up to the other.

Soon after a car approaches them and a couple offers a ride. Anyone who would see the driver would probably give that man a “hell, no” from the get-go — Frederik Pierrot just oozes a kind of cheery menace I personally wouldn’t want to venture even near to. And the wife (Barbara Crampton as nervously stiff as ever), while quiet, makes allegations of a serial killer on the loose in the French countryside and later on as they arrive at the couple’s isolated mansion for a stopover, all but becomes unhinged at the seams. What could be going on with this older couple? Director Abner Pastoll keeps his cards tightly against his chest throughout the entire nocturnal sequence as the foursome have what amounts to a nearly terrifying dinner and the wife continues to warn Jack to keep his door locked at all times.

I won’t say more about what happens in Road Games because while it’s little more than cardboard horror, badly acted, it has a clever third-act that I didn’t quite see coming. Safe to say it’s an above average late night fright fest without too much gore or blood but a pretty dark center that points at the possibility, if French cinema was like its American counterpart, into sequels.