Five Word Review: Ted [MacFarlane, 2012]

Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in a comedy about male fantasy and not growing up.

Ted (voiced by director Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in a comedy about male fantasy and not growing up.

Ted [2012]

Plot – A slacker in his mid-30s whose best friend is his magical, foul-mouthed, washed-up celebrity teddy bear must re-evaluate his life as his girlfriend becomes increasingly impatient with his unwillingness to grow up.

In five words – Crude.  Unsubtle.  Funny moments.  Laziness.

See this if you like… Family Guy (1999-), Knocked Up (2009) or Harvey (1950).

Rating – 3 out of 5

Top Ten Film Noirs

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10. Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)

One of the quintessential film noirs – directed by Billy Wilder, written by Raymond Chandler from a James M. Cain novella and starring Barbara Stanwyck as the memorable femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson. Told through voiceover and series of extended flashbacks/memories, this is an undoubted benchmark of the genre.

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9. Night and the City (Dassin, 1950)

Rotten and pessimistic to the core, Night and the City was Dassin’s first film following his exile from America for his alleged Communist tendencies and tells of the demise of a petty criminal (Richard Widmark) as he becomes involved in the world of a pro wrestling promoter and underworld boss. Set in London, the film has few, if any, likeable or relatable characters and is ripe with existentialism at its most despairing.

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8. Le Samouraï  (Melville, 1967)

The only purely non-American film on list, although Melville was fascinated with both the country and the noir genre. Arguably the great French director’s purest noir – indeed it’s largely a retelling of the Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starring This Gun For Hire (Tuttle, 1942). Melville regular Alain Delon takes Ladd’s role of a solitary hitman double-crossed by his bosses. This marked the beginning of an even more gritty and bleak turn for Melville’s later films.

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7. Klute (Pakula, 1971)

The first of Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’ (along with The Parallax View and All the President’s Men), whilst not a typical film noir in the strictest sense, does have many of the elements. Private eye Klute (Donald Sutherland) is hired to investigate the disappearance of a business executive, which leads him to freelance call girl Bree (Oscar-winning performance from Jane Fonda). What follows is an evocative psychological thriller laced with twists and paranoia.

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6. Memento (Nolan, 2000)

The film that brought Nolan to a lot of people’s attention. This intriguing and twisting tale is told backwards whilst being intercut with a series of chronologically shown flashbacks. Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby suffers with a form of amnesia that renders him unable to store new memories. As he searches for the truth behind the rape and murder of his wife he tattoos his body with clues and snaps polaroids, all the while sourcing help from shady undercover cop Teddy and manipulative bartender Natalie. A truly mind-bending neo-noir.

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5. Brick (Johnson, 2005)

The setting of Brick may say high-school rom-com but the plot, dialogue and action are straight from the pages of hardboiled film noir. Boasting a breakthrough performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, Johnson’s debut film tells of Brendan’s search for the truth after he discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend. Every inch the archetypal gumshoe, Brendan encounters shady gangsters, corrupt authorities and a foxy femme fatale, as he coolly takes a beating or two along the way, in true Bogart style. Excellent, period Hammett-esque dialogue and brilliant performances.

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4. Gilda (Vidor, 1946)

Rita Hayworth is as alluring and unforgettable as any femme fatale before or since in the title role of Charles Vidor’s classic noir. Noir regular Glenn Ford plays small-time gambler Johnny Farrell whose love-hate relationship with Gilda sizzles and crackles throughout the film. Admittedly the film has an ending perhaps more at home in melodrama than noir, but nevertheless, with snappy dialogue, twist after twist and genuinely unforgettable scenes, Gilda remains a classic.

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3. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946)

Bogart. Bacall. Hawks. Chandler. The Big Sleep is one of the most engaging and twisting film noirs ever brought to screen. Bogart and Bacall have chemistry galore in their second outing on screen together, as the former’s smooth, quick witted Phillip Marlowe meets his match in the latter’s Vivian Rutledge. Perhaps the best film noir from the classic period.

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2. Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)

Boasts one of the best casts in noir history featuring the likes of Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich and the incomparable writer and director Orson Welles. As technically brilliant as any film on this list, the opening three minute plus tracking shot is cinema at its best. Welles is on top form as the despicable corrupt cop Hank Quinlan who draws the attention of straight-laced Government official Ramon Miguel Vargas (Heston). Widely considered the final film noir of the classic period, and certainly one of the best.

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1. Chinatown (Huston, 1974)

The finest example from the genre’s second coming during the New Hollywood era of the 60s and 70s. The weather may be different – sun-soaked, sandy deserts replace the typical rain-drenched alleyways – but the events and inhabitants are no less noir. Jack Nicholson is excellent as smart-mouthed private detective Jake Gittes and director, Huston, is terrifying as the appalling and monstrous Noah Cross. Gittes is hired to investigate a government engineer by his wife, who suspects him of having an affair. When the man turns up murdered after Gittes believes he’s caught him in the act, he realises he’s been set –up and so becomes embroiled in a story of scandal, corruption and the dark secret of a powerful and dangerous man. An incredible film, permeated with evil and corruption and a flawed and tragic hero. Film noir at its best.

Honourable mentions: Laura (Preminger, 1944); The Killers (Siodmak, 1946); The Big Heat (Lang, 1953); The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973) and Sin City (Miller & Rodriguez, 2005).

What goes around, comes around

Last night, I sat myself down to finally watch the director’s cut of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void [2009]. At 160 minutes, it’s a tough viewing experience – but then, having seen the director’s harrowing and hypnotic Irreversible [2002] (a partner-piece in style and tone to Enter the Void), and with the addition into the mix of hallucinatory drugs, this was always going to be more magic mushroom phantasm than Magic Roundabout.

The opening scenes are shot in claustrophobic p.o.v. from the perspective of protagonist-of-sorts, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young American drug dealer and escalating junkie. We see only through his glazed and unfocused eyes, right up until the moment he is gunned down by police while frantically scrabbling to flush his stash in a filthy Tokyo nightclub cubicle. Post-mortem, he continues to be our peephole as his soul vacates his defunct body and floats above and through the grimy, garish streets and bars of the seedy Tokyo underworld.

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Noé’s swirling camera never stops moving, and his pounding, pulsating soundtrack mash-up never stops playing, marrying wonderfully with the myriad of cyclical imagery that was also so prevalent in Irreversible. Indeed, the unexpected commercial and critical success of this previous film finally enabled Void, a long time passion project for the Argentinean born director, to come to fluorescent fruition. The camera finds, quite literally, every hole and orifice that it can to enter, as Oscar’s floating spirit attempts to keep a watchful eye over those he’s left behind.

Despite being a psychedelic, nightmarish vision of somewhere between purgatory and hell (a kind of counterpoint to Terrence Malick’s heavenly The Tree of Life [2011]), there is only one real scene of explicit violence, and instead it is the copious amounts of lucid sex, including one now notorious “internal” shot of a vagina (I did say literally every orifice), that caused the most controversy upon the film’s release.

The fallout from Oscar’s death is inter-cut with blurred flashbacks, hallucinatory fantasies and surreal nightmares – all of which Oscar views with an almost passive detachment (arguably befitting of a spirit), but also one, it is later revealed, that he has seemingly displayed throughout his natural life.

In contrast to the quiet Oscar is his damaged and vulnerable sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who yells, screams, sobs and moans her way through proceedings in an incredibly committed performance from de la Huerta. Never more vividly and viscerally is this juxtaposition shown than in a repeated and gut-wrenching scene in which the young siblings witness their parents’ mutilation and death in a car crash. As a muted Oscar watches helplessly on, his terrified, blood soaked sister screams uncontrollably at the horror before her scarred eyes – it’s a shriek that stays with you long after the film’s end.

In addition to the abundant cyclical imagery, it soon becomes clear, in fact from the opening suggestive scene, that Linda is also the primary object of his transferred oedipal eye. We see flashbacks including explicit and more subtle mother-son Freudian imagery, and an adult Oscar also has an affair with his best friend’s mother (an act that inadvertently leads to his death). However, it is arguably Linda who remains the foremost object of his confused gaze.

It’s difficult to say that you enjoy a film such as Enter the Void but it’s undoubtedly an interesting and inflammatory effort, that has the magic touch of keeping you glued to the screen when perhaps you most want to look away. Rich with imagery and metaphor, it heightens Noé’s position as one of the best and most provocative auteurs around. So, if a tangled fibre-optic web of oedipal obsession played out against a kaleidoscopic trip of neon tubes in the seedy Tokyo underworld takes your fancy, then look no further, and enter the void.

Crime trilogy review

I shall begin with Killer Joe [Friedkin, 2012] because, well, it demands it. The theatrical poster described the film as ‘A totally twisted, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story’ and that’s pretty much bang on.

Adapted from her own play by Tracy Letts, this is one of the most surreal, horrifically funny yet disgustingly demented films I’ve ever seen. Some of the acting, particularly in the opening scenes, is a bit ropey and Thomas Haden Church who plays the role of slow, clueless and emotionally vacant father Ansel delivers most of his lines with such a staggering lack of conviction that it’s difficult to tell whether he’s really bad or really good.

On the flipside of this grimy coin of a movie is Matthew McConaughey, who plays the eponymous policeman-come-hitman. I’ve never been a fan but here, he stalks the screen like a reptilian angel of death clad in Western bad-guy black and never ceases to menace, ratcheting up the tension with every flick of his lighter or carefully articulated word.

The violence is grotesque to the point of absurdity, but the mood and tone is pure film noir, albeit, mutated to a new level of moribundity, depravity and vile amorality. It is safe to say that southern-fried chicken will never look the same again.

On a not too dissimilar vein of violence and morality is Cell 211 [Monzón, 2009], in which a fresh-faced and seemingly naive young prison guard becomes inadvertently embroiled in a prison riot and finds that the best way to survive is to pretend he’s a fellow inmate and cosy up to the brilliantly named head-honcho, Malamadre (the excellent Luis Tosar).

The pace is steady as we flit between the lawless prison and the ‘outside world’, where prison guards and officials are inhibited by protocols, political pressure and an inability to decide the best course of action. Monzón steadily builds the tension as the plot twists and turns and prison guard Juan’s (Alberto Ammann) position becomes increasingly fragile due to mistrust on both sides of the cell door.  A good taut thriller that certainly pulls no punches and is all the better for it.

Lastly, French crime auteur Olivier Marchal’s most recent effort A Gang Story [2011] tells a tale of deep-seated loyalty between a group of aging gangsters known as Les Lyonnais. Gypsy, Momon Vidal (Gérard Lanvin), is nearing 60 and is looking to put his notorious bank-robbing and murderous past firmly behind him. Yet, as is always the case with such types, it’s easier said than done. The re-arrival of Momon’s former right-hand man Serge (Tchéky Karyo) throws this quiet life into turmoil and Momon finds himself getting increasingly drawn back into a world he thought he’d left behind.

Admittedly, the premise is nothing new and A Gang Story certainly won’t go down as a classic but nobody quite does the gangster/crime genre as well as the French and at the moment, Marchal, is just behind Jacques Audiard at the head of the queue (just check out O.M’s ongoing TV series Braquo for a top quality twisted taste of crime, loyalty, morality and brotherhood). A certainly watchable but as easily forgettable film that doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards of Audiard’s The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009) or TV offerings Braquo and Engrenages.

Killer Joe – 3.5 out of 5

Cell 211 – 4 out of 5

A Gang Story – 2.5 out 5