Noir City fest gets a passport, Anthony Mann films at UCLA, Alex Prager photography at M + B Gallery

The darkness, dahlings, just doesn’t stop. And who’s complaining? Not us! There is much for noiristas to relish, starting today:

Too Late for Tears posterNOIR CITY’s flagship festival in San Francisco returns to its home at the historic Castro Theatre Jan. 24-Feb. 2, 2014. The 12th edition of the popular film noir festival is going international and the lineup is downright sumptuous. Films include: “The Third Man,” a restoration of “Too Late for Tears” (with Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea), “Drunken Angel,” “It Always Rains on Sunday,” “Brighton Rock,” “The Wages of Fear,” “Rififi” and “Pépé le Moko,” just to name a few.

We can’t wait until the fest hits Los Angeles in April!

ANTHONY MANN is being celebrated by the UCLA Film & Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. The series Dark City, Open Country: The Films of Anthony Mann runs Jan. 31 to March 30.

Says UCLA: Director Anthony Mann’s reputation is now grounded in his 1940s crime melodramas, many of them film noirs, and his 1950s Westerns (eight with Jimmy Stewart at Universal). … The conflicted heroes of Mann’s Westerns are cut from the same cloth as his noirish crime dramas, often attempting to outrun a past that weighs heavily on their actions, morally ambivalent, as they vacillate between individual desire and communal responsibility. …

"Side Street," starring Farley Granger, plays March 15 at UCLA.

“Side Street,” starring Farley Granger, plays March 15 at UCLA.

Mann often dismissed his early career in Hollywood’s poverty row, cranking out low-budget crime features for Republic, PRC and Eagle-Lion, but a number of critics have begun to re-evaluate his early work. Indeed, this series was inspired in part by the publication of The Crime Films of Anthony Mann (2013) by Max Alvarez, who will also appear as a guest on Wednesday, March 12.

ALEX PRAGER, a Los Angeles-based photographer who draws from vintage Hollywood and neo-noir imagery, has a show opening Saturday, Jan. 25, at M+B Gallery, 612 North Almont Drive in LA. Face in the Crowd features new large-scale color photographs of elaborately staged crowd scenes and a film by the same name. This body of work was created for Prager’s first major museum exhibition in the United States at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which opened in November 2013. Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd will run at M+B Jan. 25 to March 8, 2014, with an opening reception on Saturday, Jan. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Also of note: Director David Cronenberg wrote the intro to a new translation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis:” http://lat.ms/1c9cU60. And a report on Paris haute couture: Butterflies and Dita Von Teese at Gaultier: http://lat.ms/1aO0csu.

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Carax’s noir dream carries us into the maddest of reveries

Holy Motors/2012/Indomina Releasing/116 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Behind “Holy Motors” – the strange, perverse and entertaining neo-noir film by Léos Carax – lies a near century of movie surrealism: of deliberately fantastic, illogical and sometimes pathological filmmaking in which the cineaste (whether it’s Luis Bunuel or Jean Cocteau or Maya Deren or Carax) tries to dream on screen and carry us into the maddest of reveries.

Here the reveries are mad indeed. A man and a dog wake up in a strange room with a door that opens into a theater showing a silent film. (Something by a Cocteau or a Bunuel?) The day is just beginning. For the rest of the film, we will follow the (apparently) workday rounds of a traveling player named M. Oscar played by the defiantly sullen and unsmiling anti-star and Carax regular Denis Lavant.

M. Oscar is driven around in a silver limousine by a chauffeur named Celine, played by Edith Scob, the actress who played the faceless girl in Georges Franju’s 1960 horror-fantasy classic “Eyes Without a Face.” As Celine takes him all around Paris (at the behest of a mysterious agency represented at one point by Bunuel favorite Michel Piccoli), M. Oscar appears at various places and plays various roles.

M. Oscar impersonates a financier, an old beggar-woman, a motion-capture lover/dancer in a black unitard, a wild sewer-dwelling hooligan named M. Merde, a tense father of a teenage daughter, a hired killer and his victim, a dying old man, and the old lover of a heart-breaking chanteuse played and sung (to the hilt) by Kylie Minogue. At the end of the day, night has fallen, the actor returns home (to an exceedingly weird household) and the limo joins other cars housed in a garage.

“Holy Motors,” beautifully shot by Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape, is a crazy poem about art and actors and their relation to the world. It would make an interesting double feature with David Cronenberg’s somewhat poetic limo movie, “Cosmopolis,” to which Carax’s film’s is slightly superior. Narrative-bound moviegoers will no doubt be incensed at the sheer oddness of “Holy Motors.” Art-lovers (and lovers of French cinema, from the reveries of Georges Méliès and Louis Feuillade on) may be entranced.

Carax is somewhat different than most of the other cinematic mad dreamers. He manages to get producers to give him larger budgets. Not that often, it’s true. “Holy Motors” is his first feature since “Pola X” (1999), and that was his first since “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991).

When he shows up, though, he’s usually admired. (In French, with subtitles.)

“Holy Motors,” opens today in LA at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre.

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‘Holy Motors’ picks up three awards at Chicago film fest

By Michael Wilmington

“Holy Motors,” Leos Carax’s surreal French fantasy-drama-thriller-romance (and then some) about a chameleonic actor and his weird limousine journey through nearly a dozen alternate lives, was the big winner at last week’s award ceremony of the 48th annual Chicago International Film Festival. The festival closed tonight.

Carax’s film, his first since “Pola X” in 1999, won the fest’s top prize, the Gold Hugo for Best Film, from the festival jury. “Holy Motors” also took Silver Hugos for Best Actor – Carax regular Denis Lavant – and Best Cinematography, awarded to Yves Capes and Caroline Champetier for their poetic and eerie view of Paris.

Ulla Skoog of Sweden was named Best Actress for her moving role as Puste, the tragic wife of the uncompromising anti-Nazi Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt in writer-director Jan Troell’s superb biographical drama, “The Last Sentence.”

The other awards in the international competition went to Michel Franco’s Mexican-French entry, “After Lucia,” a wounding indictment of high-school bullying that took the Special Jury Prize, and to Merzak Allouache’s “The Repentant” (Algeria/France), which won a Silver Hugo Special Mention.

The New Directors Competition Gold Hugo went to Peter Bergendy’s “The Exam,” a thriller about the dangers of police state surveillance set in ’50s Hungary. The runner-up Silver Hugo was awarded to Zdenek Jiraski’s “Flowerbirds,” a dark look at contemporary family life in the Czech Republic.

The winner of the After Dark Competition, devoted to horror movies, was a familiar name. Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, took the Gold Hugo for “Antiviral” (Canada/USA), his dystopian futuristic shocker about an industry devoted to celebrity disease. The runner-up was Jaume Balaguero’s “Sleep Tight” (Spain), a psychological thriller about a Barcelona doorman with too many apartment keys.

The Career Achievement Award was given to one-time Chicago-based movie actress Joan Allen.

This year’s festival, an excellent one, offered 175 films from more than 50 countries. The CIFF award ceremony was held in festive surroundings at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, and featured presentations by ebullient CIFF founder/artistic director Michael Kutza and others. The main feature jury included directors Patrice Chereau of France and Joe Maggio of the U.S., actress Alice Krige of the UK and South Africa, actor/producer Amir Waked of Egypt, and Daniele Cauchard of Canada, general director of the Montreal World Film Festival. As usual, it was a great time.

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Holiday movie magic: A brand-new black and white, the blonde bombshell, a bad cop, Cronenberg and Scorsese

It’s that time again … Oscar season is here. Starting Wednesday, Nov. 23., there is much to see at the movies; these films surely will appeal to noir fans. (Check your local listings for details.) Enjoy!

‘The Artist’

Bérénice Bejo

“The Artist,” set in 1927 Hollywood, is writer/director Michel Hazanavicius’ visually resplendent ode to the vivacious beauty of silent cinema. Debonair heartthrob and household name George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) coasts from movie to movie and lives in high style – posh home, trophy wife (Penelope Ann Miller), loyal valet (James Cromwell) and faithful companion, a Jack Russell terrier.

Ambitious actress and dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) has talent, looks and perfect timing – the introduction of sound is reshaping the way films are made. She’s drawn to George but, at first, he doesn’t pay her much attention beyond an admiring glance. George’s idyllic world starts to collapse when he sees that his style does not work with the latest and greatest technical advance, talkies. Can he find a way to keep up with the times and salvage his career?

The story, though a bit of a stretch, is delightful. The era is fastidiously recreated and Hazanavicius draws fine work from his cast. Dujardin neatly balances pomposity with humility and Bejo dazzles as Peppy. Her high energy nearly sparks off the screen and it’s a joy to watch her marvelously expressive face. And John Goodman is spot on as blustery producer Al Zimmer. The film has won several awards from festivals, including best actor for Dujardin at Cannes.

“The Artist” is a tender-hearted, near-perfect pastiche of a classic art form.

‘My Week with Marilyn’

Kenneth Branagh

Manipulative, desperate, vulnerable. Funny, gifted, magical. Never dumb. In “My Week with Marilyn,” Simon Curtis’ portrait of ’50s screen icon Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), we see her multiple sides and many problems through the prism of chaste voyeurism and our jaded, tell-all modernity.

“They like to keep her doped up, she’s easier to control. They’re terrified their cash cow will slip away,” says one observer, during the shoot, in England, of 1957’s “The Prince and the Show Girl.” Her co-star and director Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) takes issue with her erratic behavior, but he also envies her raw, intuitive talent.

Adrian Hodges wrote the screenplay, based on “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me,” a memoir by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). Clark was an assistant director on the film and the son of art historian Sir Kenneth Clark (of “Civilisation” fame). Dame Judi Dench plays actress Dame Sybil Thorndike; Dougray Scott plays Arthur Miller.

Curtis creates a beguiling visual confection with tour-de-force Oscar-caliber performances.

‘Rampart’
In “Rampart,” directed by Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt cop in early 1990s Los Angeles. Moverman wrote the screenplay with James Ellroy. Also stars Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Brie Larson, Anne Heche and Ice Cube.
Note: “Rampart” is out for one week only in Los Angeles and New York; wider release hits in January 2012. We at FNB are looking forward to seeing it!

‘A Dangerous Method’

David Cronenberg speaks at a press conference last week.

David Cronenberg brings his consummate eye to a remarkable historical drama in “A Dangerous Method.” Flawlessly photographed, the story is rendered with intelligence, austerity and precision. Though the chilly, almost clinical, tone undermines the film’s emotional buildup, it’s nevertheless a gripping saga.

Under Cronenberg’s lens is the groundbreaking work of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) in the pioneering days of psychoanalysis when ethical boundaries had yet to be drawn. Jung’s intent on helping a young woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who enters his clinic flailing, wild and barely able to speak.

Beaten by her father as a child, Sabina is emotionally shattered as an adult. She makes rapid progress with Jung and the two begin an illicit, intimate relationship. Eventually Sabine decides to become an analyst and in the course of her study challenges some of Freud’s work.

Vincent Cassel plays psychiatrist Otto Gross; Canadian newcomer Sarah Gadon plays Jung’s wife. Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay from his play “The Talking Cure,” which was based on the book “A Most Dangerous Method” by John Kerr.

“We’ve all been influenced by Freud whether we know it or not,” said Cronenberg at a press conference last week in Beverly Hills. Cronenberg added that though Freud fell out of favor, his professional stature has recovered lost ground in the last 15 years. “Some of his theories have been absolutely confirmed.”

He pointed out that despite his stern and uptight reputation, Freud was in fact “handsome, charming, witty and funny.” That called for “slightly oblique, non-traditional casting” so Cronenberg said he talked Mortensen into the part. This is their third collaboration, following “History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises.”

Of Knightley’s portrayal of Sabine, Cronenberg said, “I’ve always thought she was an underrated actress. … It’s a really beautiful performance.”

‘Hugo’

From a champion of film noir and master neo-noir director Martin Scorsese comes “Hugo,” an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” It is one of Scorsese’s most accomplished productions ever (stunning 3D color cinematography; gorgeous production design by Dante Ferretti) and one of the year’s very best films.

Georges Méliès

In 1930s Paris, a boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a railway station and keeps all the clocks running. He clashes with an over-zealous station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), flirts with a pretty young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and meets her family, including the great but forgotten filmmaker, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).

The movie is Scorsese’s Valentine to the cinema, and few more sumptuous love-notes have been made. Filled with clips from silent classics, including Méliès’ 1902 masterpiece “A Trip to the Moon,” this is a jewel no genuine movie lover should pass by.

“Hugo” review by Michael Wilmington

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Dark dramas shine at Chicago International Film Festival

Dark domestic dramas led the fine slate of high-style movies at the 47th Chicago International Film Festival, which boasted a lineup of nearly 200 titles.

In “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (UK) by Lynne Ramsay, neo noir meets New Age parenting in a haunting thriller. We witness, in jagged pieces that jump back and forth in time, the unthinkably brutal rupture of a dysfunctional but not entirely unhappy family.

Creating buzz at many fests, Tilda Swinton will doubtless continue to earn acclaim for her wrenching portrait of a mother struggling to love her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) who comes into the world seething with anger. Chicago-born John C. Reilly plays her denial-prone husband. Rich with visual metaphor and captivating performances (though the script is not fully there), this is destined to be a neo-noir classic. (“We Need to Talk About Kevin” does not release in the US until February.)

Samuli Niittymaki

I doubt Finnish director Zaida Bergroth had “Mildred Pierce” in mind when she made “The Good Son,” which won the top prize in the new directors competition. But I kept thinking of Michael Curtiz’s 1945 classic starring Joan Crawford as a flawed single mother of two daughters, the elder of whom is a bit of a snake, as I watched Elina Knihtila portray Leila, a flawed single mother of two sons, the elder of whom (Samuli Niittymaki as Illmari), is a bit of a psycho.

Eero Aho plays Leila’s new love interest, a kindly writer named Aimo. Anna Paavilainen is excellent as Illmari’s girlfriend as is Eetu Julin as Unto, the younger brother. Arresting images, subtle acting, nicely paced.

Arguably, “A Dangerous Method” (Germany/Canada) by David Cronenberg could be classified as a domestic drama, dealing as it does with the long-term adulterous relationship between renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and a patient-turned-student-of-psychoanalysis Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud; Sarah Gadon is Jung’s wife. This finely crafted film is already generating Oscar buzz.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” (US) is the kind of film that leaves you reeling, then lodges in your mind for days. Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Ashley and Mary Kate) stars as a young woman who escapes from an evil cult and struggles to reconnect with her estranged sister (Sarah Paulson) and her new brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). Writer/director Sean Durkin’s fragmented narrative swerves from past to present; the tension mounts masterfully to a claustrophobic level. Thoroughly mesmerizing, but as much as I admired Olsen’s presence and vulnerability (she may be an Oscar contender), I felt no sympathy for her character. John Hawkes (of “Winter’s Bone”) is unforgettable as the warped cult leader.

English actor Dexter Fletcher makes an impressive directorial debut with “Wild Bill.” Though the story is essentially rooted in cliché, the fresh writing and powerful acting inject vitality into this tale of an ex-con (Charlie Creed-Miles) reconnecting with his young sons (Will Poulter and Sammy Williams) in London’s East End.

A desire for a father-daughter reunion drives the ex-con (Mark Pellegrino) in “Joint Body” by Brian Jun. But he gets sidetracked when he meets a stripper (Alicia Witt) in a seedy residential motel in downstate Illinois and the two end up on the run. (The term joint body refers to a convict who works out and walks the walk with confidence.)

Too melodramatic to be a real thriller, Thierry Klifa’s “His Mother’s Eyes/Les Yeux de Sa Mère,” (France) about a writer’s plan to ingratiate himself into a fractured family, is still intelligent, engrossing and features an easy-on-the-eyes cast, which includes ever-lovely Catherine Deneuve, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Géraldine Pailhas and Jean-Baptiste Lafarge.

And though definitely not a noir, the festival’s grand-prize winner, “Le Havre” (Finland/France) by Aki Kaurismaki, recounts the forming of a temporary, makeshift family. A working class French man (André Wilms) befriends and protects an African boy (Blondin Miguel) who lands illegally in Le Havre on the way to reuniting with his mother in London. Lit and composed like an Old Master painting, Kaurismaki’s film brims with humanity and humor.

Tomorrow: More about movies at the festival

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Sun, screenings, superb restaurants at Chicago Film Fest

I’m hoping the glorious weather lasts here in Chicago.

Of the film fest’s plethora of titles, I’ve seen “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lynne Ramsay, “A Dangerous Method” by David Cronenberg,“Rabies” by Aharon Keshales,“Patang” by Prashat Bhargava,“My Week with Marilyn” by Simon Curtis and “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Looking forward to tonight’s “Nobody Else But You,” a mystery by Gérald Hustache-Mathieu.

And of course I’m finding time to eat well in a city jam-packed with passionate chefs. More later …

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