Rare and riveting, ‘The Babadook’ holds its own among horror classics

The Babadook poster 2Prepare to be creeped out, chilled to the bone and genuinely scared. “The Babadook” is one of those rare films that relies on character and psychology, not blood and gore, to get under your skin. In the tradition of Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick, writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a mesmerizing world of loneliness and paranoia, frustration and doom.

In doing so, Kent laudably tackles a taboo topic: Motherhood gone awry. Essie Davis plays Amelia, a one-time writer who is mourning the death of her husband and struggling to raise her son, Sam (Noah Wiseman). After they read a children’s book about a menacing creature called the Babadook, Sam becomes convinced that the Babadook is real and that he is coming to get them.

Amelia is initially dismissive, writing off strange occurrences to Sam’s issues and overactive imagination. But as her own life slowly starts to spin out of control and the line between reality and fiction blurs, she must confront demons, on the page and in her past.

“The Babadook” is playing in theaters. Director William Friedkin, one of the film’s many fans, will introduce the film on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 11:45 p.m. at the Vista Theater, 4473 Sunset Drive, in Los Angeles.

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Skirball Cultural Center’s The Noir Effect exhibition explores the far-reaching influence of film noir

ROUSE & JONES, Dead End, 2009, courtesy of the artists.

ROUSE & JONES, Dead End, 2009, courtesy of the artists.

Pick up a glossy magazine and there’s a good chance you’ll see a fashion layout or an advertisement featuring a mysterious, glamorous woman, dressed to kill, shot in high-contrast black and white. She’s retro but cutting-edge contemporary as well.

Scroll through a Netflix menu and it won’t be long before you find a slew of crime movies with archetypal characters: the private eye, the corrupt cop, the vicious gangster and the woman who lures men to lust and doom.

Why does noir – a term that covers much more than movies – continue to intrigue and delight? My theory is that film noir’s strikingly elegant style, moral ambiguity and political awareness put the pictures way ahead of their time when they were made in the 1940s and ’50s. Not surprisingly then, they still resonate with audiences of today.

Page from You Have Killed Me. Illustrations by Joëlle Jones and story by Jamie S. Rich, 2009.

Page from You Have Killed Me. Illustrations by Joëlle Jones and story by Jamie S. Rich, 2009.

At the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles, running in conjunction with the Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 exhibition, The Noir Effect examines how the film noir genre gave rise to major contemporary trends in American popular culture, art and media.

The show, which runs Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 to March 1, 2015, highlights noir elements such as the city, the femme fatale, the anti-hero and moral codes.

As Skirball Cultural Center Assistant Curator Linde Lehtinen says: “Noir remains a powerful approach and style because its dark, urban sensibility and its perspective on identity, morality and the shifting nature of the modern city continue to be relevant and timely.”

Bill Armstrong, Untitled (Film Noir #1401), 2011.

Bill Armstrong, Untitled (Film Noir #1401), 2011.

In addition to clips from neo-noir films such as “Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski) and “Brick” (2005, Rian Johnson), the exhibition will feature contemporary art, literature, photography and fashion advertising as well as children’s books, games and comics, including Luke Cage Noir and Spider-Man Noir.

Featured artists include Bill Armstrong, Ronald Corbin, Helen K. Garber, David Lynch, Daido Moriyama, Karina Nimmerfall, Jane O’Neal, Alex Prager, Rouse & Jones, Ed Ruscha and Cindy Sherman.

The Noir Effect will allow visitors to reinvent noir for themselves. A costume wall and portrait station invite visitors to pose for their own noir-inspired “museum selfie,” while writing materials encourage on-the-spot noir narratives. The Skirball Cultural Center will also hold an online photo contest as a way to gather visitor snapshots of L.A. neighborhoods captured in classic noir style.

Ed Ruscha, 51% Angel / 49% Devil, 1984, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Graphic Arts Council Fund.

Ed Ruscha, 51% Angel / 49% Devil, 1984, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Graphic Arts Council Fund.

Additionally, the site-specific installation Café Vienne pays tribute to the important cultural role of the Viennese coffee house. In the early 20th century, female artists and writers embraced these coffee houses as places for debate, networking and inspiration.

Contemporary visual artist Isa Rosenberger (b. 1969) uses this historical setting to address the life and work of Austrian- American Jewish writer Gina Kaus (1893–1985), once known in literary circles as “Queen of the Café.” A best-selling novelist before she was driven from Europe by the Nazi regime, Kaus eventually emigrated to the U.S. where she became a Hollywood screenwriter.

We at FNB are very excited about this terrific programming and can’t wait for it to start. We’ve long been captivated by film noir and it’s gratifying to find so many others who share our passion.

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The late great Sharon Tate receives tribute at the Egyptian

SharonTate_jacket.inddGet your blonde on this Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Debra Tate will sign copies of her book “Sharon Tate: Recollection” ($30) and introduce a bombshell double bill of “Valley of the Dolls” (1967, Mark Robson) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967, Roman Polanski). Tate was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer in her role as a B-movie queen in “Valley of the Dolls.”

The event starts at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. The book features a foreword by Polanski and never-before-seen images of the ethereal beauty and talented actress, who was murdered in 1969 in her Benedict Canyon home by the Charlie Manson family. She was 26, married to Polanski and pregnant at the time of her death.

Tate was an icon of the ‘60s innate elegance and charm continue to draw admirers today. In the photo book, Sharon Tate’s story emerges through quotes and short essays by her sister, Debra Tate, as well as by those who knew and have been influenced by her, including:

A foreword by Sharon’s husband Polanski

Previously unseen childhood photos from the Tate family album

Original quotes and recollection essays written specially for this book by Jane Fonda, Kelly Osbourne, Bert Stern, Michelle Phillips, Patty Duke, Lee Grant, Elke Sommer, Joan Collins, Viva, Tony Scotti and Trina Turk.

Retrospective quotes by Truman Capote, Diana Vreeland, Richard Avedon, Dominick Dunne, Warren Beatty, Mia Farrow, Orson Welles, Barbara Parkins, George Harrison, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner and Kirk Douglas.

Rare and classic photographs by David Bailey, Milton Greene, Philippe Halsman, Shahrokh Hatami, Terry O’Neill, Peter Basch, John Engstead, Peter Brüchmann, Neal Barr and Jean Jacques Bugat.

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Enchanté: COLCOA film fest hits LA

coloca-logo5[1]The City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Film Festival, a fixture in Los Angeles for 18 years, shows new and classic French films at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles. The fest runs April 21-28.

This year’s fest offers another prime schedule of French motion pictures. “We Love You, You Bastard” (or Salaud, on t’aime, to be French about it), the latest film by Claude Lelouch, is the opening night film.

Lelouch, a New Wave writer-director (auteur), won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his 1966 “A Man and a Woman” (or Une Homme et un Femme). He conquered movie art-houses and has been active ever since. This new Lelouch movie stars two venerable French rock stars Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell in a story about sowing wild oats and dealing with the results.

What is showing to tempt noiristas? Well, 1960’s “Purple Noon,” one of the great film noirs, starring Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet. This gripping thriller was directed by Rene Clement, based on a novel by the American expatriate crime writer Patricia Highsmith and dazzlingly shot by Henri Decae. It screens at 1:45 p.m., on Tuesday, April 22.

our-heroes[1]le-dernier-diamant[1]Then, there’s the highly popular Film Noir Series on Friday, April 25. Can’t wait! At 5:30 p.m. is the North American premiere of “Our Heroes Died Tonight” (Nos héros sont morts ce soir). Set in early-1960s Paris, this minimalist noir, written and directed by David Perrault, plunges into the seedy world of semi-professional wrestling where backroom dives smell of Gauloise and sweat, and the fights are all rigged.

At 7:30 p.m. Eric Barbier’s heist thriller “The Last Diamond,” makes its international premiere. Starring Bérénice Bejo and Yvan Attal, the film follows in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Cercle Rouge.” The carrot for the crooks is mighty pretty: the fabled Florentine, a 137-carat yellow diamond last seen in 1918, which has resurfaced and is up for sale in an exclusive Antwerp auction house.

amourcrime[1]

venus-in-fur[1]The Larriere Brothers’ crime drama “Love is a Perfect Crime” plays at 10:30 p.m. Adapted from “Incidences by Philippe Dijan, whose other novels inspired the films “Betty Blue and “Unforgivable,” this chilly thriller revolves around a University of Lausanne student who goes missing. The top suspect? Her professor and lover, natch. “Love is a Perfect Crime” stars Mathieu Almaric, Karin Viard, Maiwenn and Sara Forrestier. This is the film’s West Coast premiere.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

There are two other enticing events on Friday. The massively influential but too mortal (and gone too soon) French auteur François Truffaut will be remembered at a 1:30 p.m. screening of his very personal 1977 tale of a femme-chaser “The Man Who Loved Women,” starring Charles Denner as the Man, and Brigitte Fossey, Nathalie Baye and the supremely piquant Leslie Caron as some of the Women. There will be a talk on Truffaut after the movie.

At 8:30 p.m., that brilliant and elusive Polish-American-French cineaste, Roman Polanski will be represented by his latest film “Venus in Fur,” based on the masochistic novel by Leopold Sacher-Masoch and David Ives’ play from it. “Venus” stars Polanski’s muse-mate Emmanuelle Seigner as an extroverted actress who shows up after hours to read for a part.

la-belle-et-la-bete[1]the-murderer-lives[1]On Saturday, at 11 a.m., the one French film of this year’s glittering menu that you absolutely don’t want to miss: the 1946 fairytale treasure “Beauty and the Beast,” written and directed by Jean Cocteau. Josette Day stars as Belle and Jean Marais as Bete. The film was photographed (lustrously) by Henri Alekan, scored (hauntingly) by Georges Auric and technically advised by Rene Clement, who we suspect, had more to do with the film‘s impeccable, fantastic technique than just advice.

If fairytales aren’t your tray of gateaux, there’s a brutally real alternative: “Abuse of Weakness,” a fierce semi-autobiographical drama by auteur Catherine Breillat about her own fleecing by a famous conman. “Abuse” screens at 7:45 p.m.

“We Love You, You Bastard” rescreens at 1:15 p.m.

Sunday brings the closing session of the competition, but there are two more major French classics on Monday, April 28. At 2 p.m., you can see the great director Patrice Chereau’s 1994 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ breathless historical novel “Queen Margot” (La Reine Margot). Chereau’s film stars Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil.

And at 3:30 p.m. there’s another film noir, a black-and-white ‘40s classic: “The Murderer Lives at No. 21” by Henri-Georges Clouzot. French stage and screen actor Louis Jouvet stars as the relentless detective Wens.

The COLCOA screenings are at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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The Film Noir File: Polanski goes to Towne in ‘Chinatown’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

“Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski). Friday, Dec. 13. 1 a.m. (10 p.m.)

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in "Chinatown."

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in “Chinatown.”

A nervous femme fatale with a slight stutter. A stocky PI with a hot temper and a bandage plastered on his face.

Perhaps not the most promising characters at first glance; in fact they are among noir’s finest. Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson deliver knockout performances in 1974’s “Chinatown,” a neo-noir that ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. Certainly, it’s among the top 10 movies of the 1970s.

With an Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and produced by Robert Evans, “Chinatown” clearly has roots in classic noir, but also reinvents and subverts the tradition. The movie’s intelligence, artistry and uniquely dark vision elevate it beyond a simple homage.

Read the rest of FNB’s review here or read Michael Wilmington’s review here.

Cary Grant cracks us up in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Cary Grant cracks us up in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Sunday, Dec. 15

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944, Frank Capra). Two sweet little old spinsters who run a Brooklyn boarding house (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) also help elderly bachelors into another, better world with their specialty: poisoned elderberry wine. Their frantic theater- critic nephew Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant, in his wildest performance ever), who’s just discovered their secret (on Halloween), tries desperately to keep them out of jail. Meanwhile two murderous professional criminals on the lam (Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre) show up to further envenom the brew.

This mad farce is not the kind of movie Frank Capra usually makes but the pace and energy (as well as the Coen Brothers-ish dark humor) never flag. The movie also has Priscilla Lane as the Ginger Rogers-ish love interest, and those three yeoman comic supporting players Jack Carson, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton. Of the loony sub-genre comedy noir, this is a prime example: the least sentimental, least Capra-corny and maybe the craziest-funniest of all Capra’s films. Adapted by brothers Julius and Philip Epstein (“Casablanca”), from Joseph Kesselring’s hit Broadway play.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment/ Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles in "After the Thin Man" (1936)

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles star in “After the Thin Man” (1936).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W.S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). With Lon Chaney, Harry Earles and Victor McLaglen. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Pickpocket” (1959, Robert Bresson). An ascetic looking, light-fingered young man who looks like, and is, a starving artist (played by the thin, visually impeccable Martin Lasalle), lives out a Parisian Dostoyevsky tale, when he begins picking pockets at racetracks and metros. Together with Diary of a Country Priest and A Man Escaped, this is one of the untouchable black-and-white masterpieces of a true master, France’s austere film genius Robert Bresson. (In French, with subtitles.)

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “Crime and Punishment, U.S.A.” (1959, Denis Sanders). Like “Pickpocket,“ this is another ’50s film modernization of Dostoyevsky’s themes of guilt, spirituality and redemption. And we can only thank God that the movie’s young star, George Hamilton wasn’t, after this, typecast as a Dostoyevskian anti-hero.

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in Robert Wise’s “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Tuesday, Dec. 17

ELEANOR PARKER TRIBUTE

Eleanor Parker, the notable auburn-haired Hollywood star of the ’40s and ’50s, passed away Monday at the age of 91. TCM will pay tribute to legendary leading lady on Tuesday, Dec. 17, with a 14-hour marathon, featuring seven of her films.

Parker earned Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performances in “Interrupted Melody” (1955) and John Cromwell’s classic prison picture “Caged” (1950) in which she co-stars with Agnes Moorehead and Hope Emerson. She was especially admired by film noir fans for her leading role in “Caged” as a brutalized prisoner. “Caged” plays at 11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.). Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

Check the TCM web site for the full list of titles and times.

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‘Chinatown’ screens to mark aqueduct’s 100th anniversary

Chinatown posterThe Natural History Museum in downtown Los Angeles will mark the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct by hosting a screening of the neo-noir masterpiece ”Chinatown,” directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27; the screening starts at 7 p.m.

David Ulin, book critic of the Los Angeles Times, will moderate a brief panel discussion with history professor William Deverell, cultural commentator Sandra Tsing Loh and Christine Mulholland. They will discuss the facts and fiction in Polanski and Towne’s iconic look at greed, power, lust and the rise of modern Los Angeles. This event is free, but space is limited. RSVP HERE. Use the Exposition entrance. You can bring a picnic or buy dinner from on-site food trucks.

We love this film so much we reviewed it twice: FNB’s review and Mike Wilmington’s review.

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The Noir File: Five greats include ‘M,’ ‘Repulsion,’ ‘D.O.A.’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

In one of the best film noir weeks ever, TCM offers five noir greats: “M,” “Diabolique,” “D. O. A.,” “The Big Heat” and “Repulsion.”

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK

Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski). Wednesday, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. (8 a.m.)

In Roman Polanski’s shiveringly erotic horror-suspense film “Repulsion,” the 22-year-old Catherine Deneuve plays Carol: a blonde French beauty, with a disarmingly lost-looking, childlike face – a girl who begins to go frighteningly mad when her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) leaves her alone a week or so. Soon, the beautiful, naïve and sexually skittish young Carol, the object of mostly unwanted desire from nearly every man in the neighborhood, starts sinking into alienation and insanity. When the outside world begins to intrude, Carol, repulsed, strikes back savagely, with a soon-bloody knife.

Catherine Deneuve’s nightmare becomes our own in “Repulsion” from 1965.

“Repulsion,” Polanski’s first English language movie and the first of his many collaborations with the reclusive, brilliant French screenwriter Gerard Brach (“Cul-de-Sac”), is one of the great ’60s black-and-white film noirs. It’s also one of the more frightening films ever made. Ultimately, “Repulsion” scares the hell out of us, because Polanski makes Carol’s nightmare so indelibly real, and so inescapably our own.

M” (1931, Fritz Lang) Sunday, Oct. 28, 2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.)

Fritz Lang’s great, hair-raising 1931 German crime thriller “M” is the masterpiece of his career, a landmark achievement of German cinema and a film that marks Lang as one of the most important cinematic fathers of film noir. “M” is a work of genius on every level.

Written by Lang’s then-wife Thea von Harbou (who also scripted “Metropolis”), and directed by Lang, “M” stars the amazing young Peter Lorre as the compulsive child-murderer Hans Beckert aka “M.” Beckert is a chubby little deviate who throws Berlin into turmoil with his string of slayings – a sweet-faced serial killer modeled on the real-life Dusseldorf Strangler. It is a role and a performance that plunges into the darkest nights of a lost soul.

Young Peter Lorre is unforgettable in Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece.

Lang shows us both the murders and the social chaos triggered by the killer’s rampage. When M’s string of murders causes the police to clamp down on organized crime too, the outlaws strike back. Led by suave gentleman-thief Schranker (Gustaf Grundgens), they pursue the murderer relentlessly through the shadowy, mazelike world of Berlin at night. Just as relentlessly, the cops, with cynical detective Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) in charge, pursue him by day.

“M,” in its own way, is as much a creative movie milestone as Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” It’s one of the main progenitors of film noir and remains an all-time classic of suspense. (In German, with English subtitles.)

Saturday, Oct. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) “Diabolique” (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Games” (1967, Curtis Harrington). An American semi-remake of Clouzot’s “Diabolique,” with Simone Signoret starring again here, as an enigmatic interloper who moves in on New York married couple James Caan and Katharine Ross, unleashing a string of increasingly deadly games.

Sunday, Oct. 28

6: 30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949, Robert Hamer). From Ealing Studio with love: One of the best of the high-style British dark comedies of manners and murder. Silken schemer Dennis Price is the vengeful climber trying to kill his way to the Dukedom of D’Ascoyne. Alec Guinness plays all eight of his aristocratic victims or victims-to-be. Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood are the fetching ladies whom the would-be Duke is torn between. The peerless cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe.

Tuesday, Oct. 30

In 1932′s “Freaks,” by Tod Browning, Olga Baclanova plays a trapeze artist.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). Tod (“Dracula”) Browning’s macabre classic features a troupe of real-life circus freaks, all of them unforgettable camera subjects, in the bizarre story of a heartless trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who seduces a lovelorn midget (Harry Earle), marries him, and has to face the consequences.

Wednesday, Oct. 31

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Body Snatcher” (1945, Robert Wise). Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Henry Daniell fight over corpses and medical experiments in this gripping adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

Thursday, Nov. 1

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.); “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). One of the more stylish cop-movie thrillers. With Steve McQueen at his coolest, Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest, Robert Vaughn at his slimiest – plus the car chase to end all car chases.

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Racket” (1951, John Cromwell, plus Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer and Tay Garnett, the last three uncredited). A battle of two Bobs, both film noir giants: good cop Robert Mitchum vs. gangster Robert Ryan, with Lizabeth Scott watching. From Howard Hughes’ RKO studio-head tenure, “The Racket” is a remake of Lewis Milestone’s 1928 mobster movie, based on Bartlett Cormack’s play, and also produced by Hughes.

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Seeking ‘recline’ inspiration from film noir’s injured characters

I recently experienced a little setback: I fractured my toe (one in from the pinkie on the right foot). I didn’t teeter as I tried on Loubou’s or tumble on a treacherous chunk of pavement. Nor was I hang-gliding or training for a 5k run. Please. Have we met? No, in typical femme fatale fashion, à la Mae West, I tripped over a pile of men.

Sporting hideous footwear.

Of course I don’t mind being ordered by doctors to rest and relax. In fact, I relish the opportunity. And if ever there were a time to be waited on hand and foot, bark out orders and be completely catered to, honey this is it! I’m also grateful that the toe (underrated little body part that it is) wasn’t broken or more severely damaged – it should heal nicely as long as I’m patient.

But the thing I really miss is going to yoga. Feeling a little blue and kicking myself (pun intended) for not being more careful, I called my friend Anne who pointed out that what’s bad in life is good on the page. She suggested that as I recuperate I commiserate with noir characters – like nostril-impaired Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in “Chinatown” – who sustain and recover from injuries. (You can always trust a Gemini to come up with a creative approach.)

As I lounge on my sofa, I also find myself pondering existential questions, such as: Can I now fulfill my long-held fantasy of going to yoga and resting in child’s pose for the entire class? Will wine and ice cream provide the same benefits as shavasana? What about cupcakes? Does Susie Cakes deliver? Is it possible to dance while using crutches? How long can a girl go without shaving her legs?

Aah, more than my peabrain can process right now. So, with many thanks to Anne, here are my favorite mending moments of film noir.

Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe is temporarily blinded in “Murder, My Sweet.”

 

Phony, schmony. The dude still hobbled around on crutches: Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity.”

 

Decoy”’s Frank Armstrong recovers from the ultimate “accident.” Cold-hearted Jean Gillie sees a way to get her hands on a wad of cash by bringing her criminal boyfriend back to life following his visit to the gas chamber. Absurd? Absolutely. Still, it’s all in a day’s work for film noir’s toughest femme fatale.

 

“Dark Passage”: Unjustly sentenced prison escapee Humphrey Bogart undergoes plastic surgery to alter his looks. He co-stars with real-life wife Lauren Bacall.

 

Burt Lancaster sustains major injuries after a heist gets fouled up in “Criss Cross.” (In “The Killers” Lancaster plays a boxer whose career folded after hurting his hand.)

 

The Big Heat” contains one of film noir’s most famous violent scenes. Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee at Gloria Grahame and disfigures her face. She gets even in the end.

 

Jimmy Stewart is a photojournalist who watches his neighbors to pass the time (with gorgeous Grace Kelly for company) while his leg heals in “Rear Window.”

 

Jack Nicholson wears his bandage for most of “Chinatown.” Director Roman Polanski plays the menacing punk who cuts Nicholson’s nose.

 

“Misery”’s Kathy Bates is the nurse-from-hell to wounded writer James Caan.

 

Viggo Mortensen gets stabbed in his foot after fending off two thugs in “A History of Violence.”

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‘The Woman in the Fifth’ is a mystery thriller in disguise

The Woman in the Fifth/2011/ATO Pictures/83 min.

A hypnotic story set in Paris. A creeping sense of dread, hints of dark memories and damaging secrets about to unfold. Dream imagery and sleight-of-hand shots. Shadowy criminal types and a formidable, cryptic seductress. Excellent acting. “The Woman in the Fifth” has the ingredients for a first-rate psychological thriller, in the tradition of Roman Polanski or David Lynch.

Ethan Hawke plays Tom, an American writer trying to repair his relationship with his ex-wife (Delphine Chuillot) and daughter (Julie Papillon) in Paris. His wife wants nothing to do with him though, as per the restraining order against him.

Broke, frustrated and forlorn, he takes a job at a warehouse and finds solace from a distinguished, domineering translator who lives in the 5th arrondissement (Kristin Scott Thomas) and a young Polish barmaid (Joanna Kulig). But, when a fellow resident at Tom’s grim hostel is murdered, he struggles to retain his tenuous grip on reality.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (his last work was 2004’s “My Summer of Love”) describes “Woman,” based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, as a mystery thriller in disguise and more precisely as a nightmare about “a man who fails to pay attention to the outside world, who lives in his own head and is totally incapable of understanding his true motives.”

But the film is at its best and most interesting before the anything-goes twist; once that’s revealed, the tension seeps out and we’re left deflated as the story sputters to the end.

“The Woman in the Fifth” opens today in select cities and on June 22 in LA.

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Masterpiece of neo-noir ‘Chinatown’ is an unmatchable blend of wised-up savvy and yearning romanticism

Chinatown/1974/Paramount/130 min.

“Chinatown” will screen at 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Writer Robert Towne and producer Robert Evans will be at the event. This is the site’s second review of the movie; you can read FNB’s piece here.

By Michael Wilmington

Noah Cross (John Huston) tells J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) what’s what.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Those are the last words, chilling, evocative, cynical, of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown – that great dark tale of politics, murder and family secrets in ’30s Los Angeles. No matter what you think of Polanski and his arrest and extradition problems, the director’s 1974 private-eye classic “Chinatown” is still a masterpiece of neo-noir. The movie, one of the big commercial-critical hits of its era, was a career peak for director Polanski, the matchless screenwriter Towne and the superb star team of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.

It’s a picture that seems close to perfect of its kind and one of the ’70s films I love best. Gorgeous and terrifying and sometimes funny as hell, “Chinatown” tells a romantic/tragic/murder mystery tale of official crimes and personal depravity raging around the real-life Los Angeles water scandal, with private sin and public swindles steadily stripped bare by J. J. Gittes (one of Nicholson’s signature roles), a cynical, natty, smart-ass shamus, with a nose for corruption and a hot-trigger temper.

Gittes is an anti-Philip Marlowe detective. He’s proud of taking divorce cases (Marlowe disdained them), and he’s not too queasy about selling out. He’s also much less sexually reticent than Raymond Chandler’s knight of the mean streets, though he cracks just as wise. Fundamentally, Gittes is a survivor.

He likes his nose, he likes breathing through it. But he finds it increasingly hard to keep it unbloodied and out of rich L. A. people’s business as he keeps digging deeper into what starts as a simple infidelity investigation and then broadens to include a vast conspiracy, intertwined with the deadly history of immaculately evil nabob Noah Cross (played by the devilishly genial Huston) and his desperate, wounded daughter Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway). It’s a nasty web that includes Polanski himself as the cocky little fedora-topped thug (with a Polish accent) who calls Gittes “Kitty-Kat” and slices up his proboscis for a memento mori.

“Chinatown”– with splendid Richard Sylbert production design, gleaming John Alonso cinematography and a haunting Jerry Goldsmith score – wafts us back to LA’s downtown and Silverlake in the ’30s: the era of the Depression. It was also the heyday, of course, of the hard-boiled, high-style thrillers of Dashiell Hammett and Chandler, fiction that Towne, at his absolute best, pastiches to a fine turn and that Polanski, at his best makes shatteringly alive.

Gittes puts in some extra time with client Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).

The movie has great dialogue, great acting, great direction and an unmatchable blend of wised-up savvy and yearning romanticism. The bleak ending (Polanski’s idea) cuts you to the heart. Temper-tantrum virtuoso Nicholson has some of his best blowups.

And the supporting cast members – Polanski, Burt Young, Diane Ladd, Perry Lopez, Dick Bakalyan, Roy Jenson, James Hong, Bruce Glover, Joe Mantell and John Hillerman (at his smarmiest) – are wonderful too.

In fact, this is a movie that – not counting Gittes’ slit nose – has no perceptible flaws: a classic you can’t and won’t forget. “Chinatown” reminds you of how Nicholson almost single-handedly, shifted the ground of the movies, and changed our conception of what a movie star was. It reminds you of how vulnerable Dunaway could be, of what a sly old movie fox Huston was.

It reminds you how great films can be when they have really wonderful, beautifully crafted, verbally agile scripts (like Towne’s here). And it reminds you that Polanski is a filmmaker who’s maybe faced such terror, darkness and despair in his own life – from the Holocaust to personal tragedy – that he can, brilliantly and memorably, turn fear into art.

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