Crime Wave (1954)

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The opening gambit is wonderful. It’s marvelous. You can’t blame me if I get a little…Well, anyways if you thought that squeaky-clean Doris Day could never turn up in a film noir you were gravely mistaken.

In this particular case, a jovial gas station attendant has her blaring loud on the radio right before he gets whaled on. Crime Wave makes its intentions fairly clear right from the beginning. Here is yet another arbitrary noir title that tells you next to nothing. That’s what this first scene is for. It tells everything to us in visual language.

A trio of San Quentin convicts are pulling bank jobs dotted all the way up and down the coast of California and this is just one of them. But a cop has been killed and they ran off with the cash register’s contents.

I had to do a serious double take because my eyes must have passed over Charles Bronson’s name in the credits. Seeing him young and tough as ever is like seeing an old friend — even if he’s playing a thug.

He’s an ogling and ill-mannered brute as can only have a life in such a darkly cynical world. Meanwhile, Ted De Corsia is the ringleader who has been sitting on his scheme for years now. But they need someone to call on — a new home base for their operations after one of their men gets a bullet in the gut.

Just like that, reformed jailbird Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson), currently working as an airport mechanic and married to a nice respectable girl (Phyllis Kirk) hears his old life calling. It’s the old Out of the Past (1947) conundrum. You never truly escape the specter. So he gets netted once more by his old mates and slowly dragged back into the crime world he hoped to never look back on.

But even in his attempt to maintain his path on the straight and narrow and remain on the right side of the law, one momentary lapse in judgment is all that it takes. He tells his wife to keep a pact with him. A man came to their house and that was all. He doesn’t want to be implicated any further so he leaves out the shady doctor who took the cash on the dead convict’s person. It seems such an easy bit of information to divulge but then again, the world is twisted in knots of confusion. He’s paranoid and distrusting of everyone. Perhaps he has every right to be.

Two dueling philosophies seem to present themselves from the side of the law. Police Detective Sims (Sterling Hayden) holds fast to that old adage that “Once a crook, always a crook” while Lacey’s kindly veteran parole officer seems to think that “sick men get well again.” And as the film seesaws back and forth we are forced to consider both trains of thought. The cop with no heart for ex-cons or their wives, while the parole officer entertains more sympathy. But it’s hardly enough.

However, that plays precisely in its favor as a gritty picture rooted in realism while still overlaid with a cinematic crime story inspired by a Saturday Evening Post write up. The film presents a world where the cops are as cunning as the villains and in a sense, they have to be.

It has the imprint and the contours of an L.A. that existed at one time — though now eroded and reconstructed through the years — but this is a stylized vision of it all from Andre de Toth. The streets and names might be all too real from Glendale to San Diego but the events and accents are not — overrun with stray cats and dogs — not to mention the colorful mugs of pet doctor Jay Novello (some might remember his nervous-types on I Love Lucy) and the forever crazed-faced Timothy Carey.

It becomes a sort of neorealism with the Hollywood touch even in its ending which while not a complete sellout definitely caps the film with optimism. And in that moment, maybe Crime Wave gives us a hope for the real world. Maybe cops and robbers don’t look all that different. Maybe they both are prone to corruption and vice. But maybe justice can still be enacted.

If this film was all about morals it wouldn’t be worth much to many movie audiences. Thankfully it’s a gripping picture that places us right into the scenario like all the great caper films and it gives us a hero to empathize with. The visuals are presented as a stellar piece of added everyday reality. Search this one out if you’re a fan of small-time gems.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: Chinatown (1974)

chinatown1Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown

The more you watch movies like Chinatown, the more you realize how much you’re still learning. I saw it the first time and I naively thought I knew everything about it. After all, it seemed fairly cut and dry. But the beauty of this film is a labyrinth-like story that can still keep me engaged after multiple viewings. There are things that I missed, things that I have to piece together once more, and more often than not details I simply forgot. Robert Towne’s script has an intricacy to its constantly spiraling mystery plot that remains powerful and Roman Polanski — with cameo included — directs the film with a sure hand as well as a cynically bitter ending worthy of his work. At that point, he was returning to the same city where a few years prior his wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered and that certainly had to still be heavy on his mind.

Throughout, Chinatown has elegant visuals of a desert dry Los Angeles circa 1930s, and it is aided by a smooth Jerry Goldsmith score made for such a period crime film as this. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), is the smooth-talking, smart-aleck P.I. with a penchant for trouble, but that goes with the business. In the tradition of all his heirs like Spade and Marlowe, the whole story is told from his point of view and we get the details at the same pace as him. That means a lot of the time we are just as confused as him, trying to pick up all the pieces.

Aside from Nicholson, Faye Dunaway’s performance is an interesting reworking of the archetypal femme fatale, because she has a different side to her. Also, John Huston’s performance is wonderfully nefarious, because he plays Noah Cross with a top layer of geniality that is ultimately undermined by his base nature. It’s wonderfully wicked.

In the story’s first few moments of being in his office, we begin to learn a little about the means Gittes uses to appease his clients. Then, his newest client walks through the door, a Mrs. Mulwray, who wishes for him to tail her husband. And so he does, just like that, and he’s pretty good at it too. Hollis Mulwray (an anagram for Mullholland) happens to be an integral part of the L.A. Department of Water and Power as the chief engineer. From what Gittes sees, the bespectacled Mulwray seems to have his scruples, but he also has a secret girl, who the P.I. is able to snap some incriminating photos of.

chinatown2Back at the office, another woman shows up, a Mrs. Mulwray, but this time the real one. She wants to slam J.J. with a lawsuit, but he realizes he got framed, and in the end, she quickly drops her case. Pretty soon Gittes former colleague Lt. Escobar digs up Mulwray’s body and the cause of death is the height of irony. He drowned during a drought, a cruel demise, and his body is joined by that of a drunk, who also was wandering around the local reservoir. It’s time for our nosy P.I. to do a little more snooping, but he is scared off by two security guards from Water and Power who give him a deadly nose job.

None worse for wear aside from a small cast, J.J. knows the department is diverting water. It’s more than a little runoff like they contend. He gets lunch with Noah Cross (The great John Huston), who is the father of Mrs. Mulwray and the former business partner of the deceased. Like J.J., he’s curious about finding the mysterious girl, and he sweetens the pot for the P.I.

A bit of detective work takes Gittes to the hall of records and then a vast acreage of orange groves where he is mistaken for a member of the Department of Water and Power. They aren’t too happy to see him, but Mrs. Mulwray is able to bail him out. They check up on an assisted living home and tie it into the whole conspiracy. Someone is buying up land under the names of the unknowing residents.

chinatown3But as it turns out, Mrs. Mulwray is hiding a major secret of her own that she’s been keeping. Another girl is murdered and since he’s found at the crime scene, Gittes is in a tight spot with a police and so he wants to get thing straightened out. But he doesn’t quite understand what he’s gotten himself caught up in. At the last minute, he decides to take the heroes path, but it’s to no avail. The good is snuffed out, the bad walk away free, and corruption still runs the streets of L.A. There’s not much the cops can do about it either.

chinatown4So many people remember the films final words which epitomize this place of confusion, corruption, and helplessness. The final words of Jake are just as illuminating, however, because he repeats the words he spoke to Mrs. Mulwray earlier when she asked what he did when he worked a beat in Chinatown, “As little as possible.” It’s so pessimistic and yet it’s the truth that everybody knows. He must resign himself to doing nothing because there is no way he can win, no way to overcome the forces that be. It’s a haunting conclusion, but ultimately the most powerful one we could hope for.

Earlier I alluded to the fact that every time I watch this film I pick on things that I missed before. For instance, within Robert Towne’s script are some interesting instances of foreshadowing. The first comes in the form of a pun uttered by the Chinese gardener who is constantly muttering, “It’s bad for the glass/grass.” Then, while they are in the car Mrs. Mulwray dejectedly drops her head on the steering wheel and it lets out a short honk. This acts as an important portent to the end of the film along with the blemish in her left eye. If you have not seen the film yet, this might sound very cryptic, but if you keep your eyes open these little details are rewarding. Chinatown is a fascinating place to return to again and again after all.

5/5 Stars

Kiss me Deadly (1955)

kissmedeadly1Set in L.A., the film stars Ralph Meeker as the callous and often corrupt P.I. Mike Hammer, adapted from the Mickey Spillane novels. One night while driving, Hammer picks up a frightened woman who begs him to remember her. They are forced off the road by thugs and the girl is eventually killed. Hammer wakes up in the hospital to his secretary girlfriend Velda (Maxime Cooper). He makes it his priority to find out what the mysterious woman was talking about. He meets up with opposition and a femme fatale, but Hammer keeps on going using strong-armed tactics. He finally tracks down a mysterious whats-it but then discovers that Velda was kidnapped. In the final confrontation, he finally learns who he was looking for and he finds out the consequences of the Pandora’s box in the hands of a deadly female.

Out of most of the prominent works in the canon, Kiss Me Deadly is probably the pulpiest of L.A. Noir. The images are rather like a historical time capsule of 1950’s Los Angeles with locations on Wilshire Blvd., Sunset Blvd, and even near Angels Flight. It has crisp black and white cinematography with many noticeably low angles underlying the sleekness, but also the paranoia wrapped up in this story. It arguably has the queerest cold open and ending of any noir, which I cannot help but remember.

kissmedeadly2Ralph Meeker plays’s Mickey Spillane’s P.I. Mike Hammer to a tee. His husky voice perfectly fits the bravado of Hammer, a misogynistic brute prone to coercive action. Out of all the private gumshoes we’ve met, Hammer is probably the lowest — he’s a real scuzzball.

 Hammer throws women around like playthings and even his girl Velda has a double purpose. Yes, she is a lover, but she also makes a keen asset for business. As a P.I. specializing in divorce cases and marital problems, he’s not below giving business a little help. Velda willingly works on the husbands for him and he’s not above playing around with their wives. It’s a cozy little set-up.

kissmedeadly8That’s Hammer’s level and so when he gets caught up in the story of the mysterious girl Christina (Cloris Leachman), he has no idea what he gotten himself into. It’s a lot bigger than him and when the authorities throw around words like the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, and Trinity he finally understands what its all about, but not really. In essence, Kiss Me Deadly is the quintessential film of paranoia in the Cold War nuclear age. We have a MacGuffin in the form of the mysterious Whats-it, but aside from that, we get few answers. Only a few deaths and some mighty kissmedeadly4destruction.

Kiss Me Deadly has some great characters aside from Hammer and Velma. The thugs are played by the perpetually cross-eyed Jack Elam and the glowering Jack Lambert which turns out to be great casting. Also, the lively Greek-American Nick (Nick Dennis) is a great deal of fun with his enthusiasm and a lot of “Vavavoom!”

It’s an interesting dilemma because I have never loved Kiss Me Deadly, but director Robert Aldrich developed a film that is so persistently interesting. It was a film that was supposed to ruin young viewers for its moral depravity, sensuality and who knows what else. This film literally screams “Remember Me” and honestly I will not be forgetting about it anytime soon.

3.5/5 Stars

Christina: You have only one real lasting love.

Hammer: Now who could that be?

Christina: You. You’re one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard. 

The Crimson Kimono: An Analysis of Noir Realism and Race (2015)

crimsonk1What makes Film-Noir intriguing is not simply the crime aspect but the fact that they are films with worldviews that are often weighed down by cynicism. Film-Noir depicts the harsh realities of human nature that few other films would ever dare to acknowledge onscreen. People are broken at their core; continually led to their own devices whether it’s greed or their own personal insecurities. These films give us a fascinating microscope by which to examine all the pain and prejudices that abound within the human condition.  Samuel Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono (1959) shares some of these qualities, acting as a realistic procedural that employs cinematography and setting to say something about the world we live in. Furthermore, it has a remarkable stance on race relations, specifically for Japanese-Americans, that was ahead of its time and has hardly ever been matched.

Through an analysis of The Crimson Kimono it becomes obvious that it is a striking film in the noir tradition, blessed with an urban realism that brings 1950s Los Angeles to life for us. As Samuel Fuller himself points out, “The thing that is most noir about Crimson Kimono…is how [he] shot it.” He was “in Little Tokyo and lots of other actual locations downtown, with cameras hiding in trucks, shooting at night with fast film because [he] could not put out lights” and as a result, the film has “a hard, gritty realistic look” (Film Noir Reader 3). When the action heads to the streets and hooker Sugar Torch is fleeing from an unseen assailant, it definitely has the gritty, atmospheric realism that Fuller was alluding to. This is a real place where we could be. These will be the same streets that Joe and Charlie will soon be hitting on their beat. Ironically, when Fuller shot the scene live he noted that he didn’t really “get much dramatic reaction.” Despite the fact that “An almost naked, six-foot-tall blonde is running for her life down the street,” nobody seemed to care and nobody looked (Film Noir Reader 3). That is the world of Los Angeles, full of indifferent masses that could care less whether something looks real or is real. It makes no difference to them because it fails to affect their existence. It is a dismal worldview, very representative of noir, but the odd thing is that Charlie and Joe are not like this at first. They are heroic, honest individuals with the duty of weighing through this noir world as part of their vocation. Thus, they oblige out of necessity and only then does it get to them. Even so, there is an argument that it is not the world, but their personal hang-ups that tear them apart.

Their investigation leads them to “Little Tokyo,” which becomes an integral locale within the context of the film and Fuller uses it effectively. For instance, in one scene Joe walks the streets with a Mr. Yoshinaga after meeting him at a cemetery. It’s a highly mundane moment and yet Fuller still manages to make it interesting. It is also less austere than the earlier scene of Sugar’s murder since banners are flying and locals are milling about the storefronts. That’s why it becomes an interesting setting for a chase sequence, taking the everyday environment and turning it into a point of drama. It reinforces the fact that Fuller seems to be more interested in the realism of common incidences compared to high drama. It’s almost as if he’s a journalist again trying to get a juicy feature story. It’s ordinary, real and it meets people where they are at.

One of the most significant moments occurs later on during the kendo match where Joe and Charlie are supposed to face off as part of the Nisei Week Festival. It’s a big deal and flyers are plastered all over the town so people will turn out for the event. Within the context of the film, it matters on several levels. The fact that Charlie is Joe’s equal suggests that martial arts are not just stereotypically Asian, but they can be universal. Perhaps most importantly their bout reveals the descent of Joe into utter resentment because he disregards all the traditions of Kendo and begins to go after his friend with a vengeance. It’s the turning point that Charlie cannot forgive Joe for and for good reason. The sequence plays out as quick cuts between masked faces, swords, dancing feet, and exuberant onlookers. Practically before we know what has happened Joe begins beating Charlie over the head and lays him out. It is such a rapid about-face that is underlined by Joe’s own insecurities, which we will get to delve into later.

The culmination of the film occurs during the festivities, with music, dancing, banners, lanterns, and girls in kimonos. It seems fitting that Fuller’s entire story leads us to this point at such a public place full of your usual bystanders. It’s theatrical while still maintaining a sense of the real world. Here again, we have a third chase scene except this time Fuller does something especially interesting with the music. During the pursuit there is a symphony of conflicting tunes going on between the bands: “One plays classic music, one plays Japanese music, one plays hot music, and so on. Whenever [Fuller] cut from the killer to the pursuer, the music changed. That gave [him] the discordant and chaotic note” that was desired (The Director’s Event). It seems like such a simple detail and yet it truly is clever in conception, because it adds another layer of realism to the scene while simultaneously utilizing diegetic sound for dramatic effect. It could be implied that the music also reflects Joe and Charlie’s own feelings of confusion and friction, which injured their friendship and Charlie’s ego. It’s ultimately Joe who has to parse through all the noise and commotion ultimately finding the truth. It’s no small coincidence that once again we find ourselves on the urban streets at night just like when Sugar Torch was gunned down. Fuller parallels that earlier scene and yet so much has changed. This time around there is a hint of hope, but a sour taste is still left in the mouth. It suggests that you cannot fully escape the darkness and anxieties that seem to engulf us because this world can never truly have a perfect ending.

Fuller’s film crimsonk2has murder attempts, gunshots, fist fights, etc. However, he knows how to simplify scenes getting only the necessary elements out of them. When Sugar Torch crumples to the ground we hear the shot and that’s all we need. When an attempt is taken on Chris’s life we see the gun pointed ominously and again we hear the shot but that’s all. There’s a cut to a new scene and Fuller gives us all the details we need to know.  In a sense, it’s about an economy of images that allow this film to be short, at only 78 minutes, and still, pack a punch. It definitely was out of necessity that Fuller did many of these things which would have saved time and money, but it also undoubtedly caused him to come up with creative solutions. The Crimson Kimono like many of Fuller’s films is hardly sleek or polished and that is part of the allure. It is the opposite of typical Hollywood and it fits film-noir so beautifully. It has the same harshness as one of Fuller’s other works Pickup on South Street (1953). What it lacks in a femme fatale or Cold War sentiment, The Crimson Kimono makes up for in how it tackles romance and the job of a policeman with a subtle touch. For this reason, it may be less of a film-noir than Pickup and perhaps a lesser film, but there is still power in its story and the racial lines that it willfully challenged. It also seems necessary to acknowledge a bit of Samuel Fuller’s background, because it further influenced his filmmaking. He came from a Jewish family in New York and dropped out of school to write for a newspaper along with penning pulp fiction novels. He served during WWII and when he came back he began a storied career as a writer and director of frequently subversive “B pictures.” His versatility is especially remarkable, cycling through all types of films from westerns, to crime films to war dramas, elevating them above “B” quality. Part of the reason is that he never gave into conventions and his genuine depictions of race in films like The Steel Helmet (1951), Run the Arrow (1957) and The Crimson Kimono were ahead of their time.

crimsonk3The Crimson Kimono is an extraordinary film historically because it depicts something that we very rarely see, especially for 1959. The late, great actor James Shigeta portrayed the straight-laced policeman and former Korean War hero named Joe Kojaku. He’s a sympathetic figure and hardly a caricature. His best friend is the Caucasian Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett), who is on the LAPD with Joe and a war buddy. They are inseparable and they share a flat. Above all, the most amazing thing is that Joe gets the girl over his friend! That might be a small victory, but I have seen a lot of films to know that the Asian guy never gets the girl, especially if she is Caucasian. Sam Fuller subverts the norm and it is a major statement on interracial romance in an age when many would have scoffed at it. However, Fuller also takes immense care to look at both sides of the equation, and he allows both men the benefit of the doubt. Joe must figure out his own identity even acknowledging, “I was born here. I’m American but what am I? Japanese, Japanese American, Nisei? What label do I live under?” The question is not an easy one and it is one that he struggles with over the course of the entire film, navigating his feelings towards Charlie and then the beautiful artist Chris (Victoria Shaw).

The-crimson-kimono-1959_posterRegrettably, posters for this film were highly shallow and sensational reflecting the age with taglines like “Yes, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy!” or “What was his strange appeal for American girls?” It places this character in the typical category of an exotic lover. He’s not a real man, only an enticing mysterious foreigner with strange appeal. Likewise, the title Crimson Kimono itself brings to mind oriental exoticism involving strange dress and foreign culture. This could have just as easily been a dated film of yellowface and Asian stereotypes, but it’s superfluous to judge this film by its posters and title alone. When you actually watch Fuller’s work these are not the focal points at all. As Fuller later said himself, “The whole idea of [his] picture is that both men are good cops and good citizens. The girl just happens to fall in love with the Nisei. They’ve got chemistry” (A Third Face). Chris likes Joe because he is a genuine hero, not because the other man is not. Joe is sweet and shares a love of art (piano and painting) like her. She could care less that he’s Asian just like Charlie could care less. Those are the kind of people they are.

Fuller’s depiction goes both ways, however, because while he never sells Kojaku short, he also suggests that Joe might be part of the problem. Fuller notes that he “was trying to make an unconventional triangular love story, laced with reverse racism, a kind of narrow-mindedness that is just as deplorable as outright bigotry. [He] wanted to show that whites aren’t the only ones susceptible to racist thoughts” (A Third Face). This ends up happening with Joe since he gets so caught up in prejudice, his own prejudice, that it wrecks his relationships with his friend. Charlie is not angry because Joe, an Asian, stole his girl. Charlie is understandably irritated because his best friend took the girl who he really liked without telling Charlie his true feelings. Joe makes the mistake of attributing this to a question of race, but Charlie, like Fuller, is not that shallow. His reaction is purely a human reaction that develops in any romance when two men who are equals go after one girl and only one can come out on top. It hurts no matter what race, color or creed they are. That’s just the reality and that’s the lesson that Joe does not understand at first. He seems to care too much about the race question and potentially even his identity. It ultimately damages his relationship with Charlie and we cannot know for sure if it will ever be repaired, even if we would like them to patch things up. Thus, Fuller combats racism from both angles, including minorities who might take on the role of a victim too quickly. Because the reality is, issues of race almost always get blown way out of proportion with both sides being hypersensitive. Fuller seems to have the right handle on the situation, not stooping to unwarranted stereotypes and not heaping all the blame on the majority. Sometimes everybody is at fault at least a little bit. That’s simply how life is and that’s how it gets depicted in The Crimson Kimono, with a sensitive, albeit, realistic touch. Furthermore, one could argue that it is a typical noir ending because although Joe still gets the girl it came at a steep cost.

crimsonk4The Crimson Kimono is riveting from the beginning because it is such a groundbreaking and rare piece of film history. It presented on film something that we never see or very rarely see: a relationship between an Asian man and Caucasian woman. In the hands of Samuel Fuller, this unique but still mundane tale is kept thoroughly engaging. He infused his screenplay with visuals of Los Angeles and realism that makes his characters all the more believable. His camera is able to take the everyday and make it dramatic while we continue to invest in these people. It seems fitting to end the discussion with a quote from the man himself. He affirmed that “One film never really gives me complete satisfaction. Nor should it. All creative people must learn how to deal with the imperfect and the incomplete. There is no end in art. Every accomplishment is the dawn of the next challenge.” That’s what makes the films of Samuel Fuller meaningful. No one film can ever have everything. The Crimson Kimono does not have every answer on race and it certainly does not have every convention of film-noir. It’s imperfect, but it is a jumping off point for future endeavors and dialogue.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

crimsonk1From director Samuel Fuller comes another welcomed addition to his canon. It features the same type of seedy urban landscapes and back alleys of Pick up on South Street (1953) and there are some equally interesting characters like Mac (Anna Lee). It all is underlined by some sleazy jazz music in the vein of Sweet Smell of Success except this one is set in L.A.

The plot line is basic enough following two policemen as they investigate the homicide of a local stripper with a heart of gold and wasted plans for a new show involving kimonos and karate. Their only real lead is a painting and the name that goes with it. That’s where the more interesting part of the story begins.

I failed to mention that one of the cops is Caucasian. His name is Detective Sergeant Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett). His partner is Japanese-American or “Nisei,” meaning the second generation. Detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) is his name. The beauty of their relationship, which is one of Fuller’s focuses, is that they are equals who are inseparable ever since landing in a fox hole together in Korea.  Charlie was saved by a pint of Joe’s blood, Charlie practices kendo with Joe in their off hours, and they live together on the side. You cannot get much closer than that.

The movement of the plot leads them to Ms. Chris Downes (Victoria Shaw), a pretty young painter who is the only witness who potentially saw the man who shot Sugar Torch. In between looking at journals full of mug shots, she gets to know both Charlie and Joe. Charlie sees himself falling in love with her and like anyone he tells his best friend. Joe is happy for him until the fateful moment when he is alone with Chris. She makes her affection for him quite plain because he’s a pretty great guy, but as a good friend, he doesn’t do anything. It tears him apart and it only hurts them as they plod on with the homicide.

What follows is a painful love triangle embroiled with issues of race, friendship, and misguided notions. It’s jarring because these three are all likable and you want only the best for them, but it cannot be remedied like the murder which ultimately gets wrapped up neatly.

crimsonk4Samuel Fuller always tackles issues of race head on like no other. In fact, he was ahead of his time when no one else would show such relationships, romantic or otherwise, on the silver screen. Beyond whether or not an Asian man and a Caucasian woman romantically involved was accepted back in the 1950s or not, it probably was not what audience cared to see at the movies. To me, now, it’s really interesting, especially to see such non-stereotypical roles all across the board. It’s a breath of fresh air from the Charlie Chans and Mr. Motos.

On another level, Fuller’s camera makes solitary L.A. street corners and the bustling Nisei festival amazingly dynamic. It brings Little Tokyo alive, filling it with genuine people, sights, and sounds. Thank you, Sam Fuller.

It’s like mixing two dabs of paint together. You could never separate them.” ~ Mac on Charlie and Joe

It’s what you think is behind every word and every look.” ~ Chris Downes

4/5 Stars

Review: Blade Runner (1982) – Final Cut

edd47-bladerunner1“Too bad she won’t live but then again who does?”

It’s the year 2019 in Los Angeles but this is a far cry from the world we are used to as you will soon see. Blade Runner is a hybrid neo-noir, dystopian, and sci-fi film. The Tyrell Corporation has successfully created humanoids called replicants that are near perfect copies of humans except at one point some went rogue and special policemen called Blade Runners were called in. Their services are still required to get rid of a few remnants

Unlike your typical Noir, the film is not in black and white but it still is faded, dank, and dreary. It’s a world-weary L.A. that doesn’t see the light of day anymore. The sterile environment is filled with unnaturally bluish light, old technology, and spaceships coupled with neon lights. The 1980s aesthetic actually adds to the atmosphere which fills all the more dilapidated and old by modern standards. It is weirdly sci-fi while also being time worn. On the ground, it has the appearance of a Chinatown where it is perpetually raining. There is a melding of cultures, time, and place. The ultimate melting pot.

This is the strangely foreign earth that four replicants escape to. One of the fugitives soon blows away a Blade Runner and thus, the best man for the job is brought in: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Finding 4 so called “Skin jobs” is like finding needles in the proverbial haystack. But Deckard has the experience.

Initially, he pays a visit to replicant mastermind Dr. Elden Tyrell and does a test on the woman Rachael (who appears to be a replicant but without any knowledge of it). Deckard proves his skill to Tyrell and heads off on his investigation. Meanwhile, two of the replicants Roy Batty and Leon interrogate a replicant eye manufacturer (James Hong) who points them to one J. F. Sebastian. Another replicant Pris pays a visit to the hapless man named Sebastian and he invites her into his home.

Deckard’s search leads him to snake scales and his first target. He gets to Zhora by putting on an act as a dweeby member from the American Federation of Variety Artists (reminiscent of Bogart in The Big Sleep). She has none of his pitiful guise but he soon pops her. One down. But Leon sees what happens and is ready to make Deckard pay for his deeds. Luckily the Blade Runner gets some much-needed help. Two down. Two to go.

The leader of the replicants, Roy Batty goes with Sebastian to the lair of Tyrell. Batty meets his maker literally and they trade some choice words. In a strangely horrifying instance, he gives his father a kiss before proceeding to cave his head in. A modern reincarnation of Frankenstein and his creature. Except Batty cannot take his life yet.

Deckard finds his third replicant and barely notches his third kill. Now it’s only Roy and Rick left to duel it out. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse where a frantic Deckard is playfully stalked by a seemingly deranged Batty. At times both men seem inhuman (I thought you were supposed to be good. Aren’t you the “good” man?), but it is ultimately Batty who remains the unfeeling one. That’s what makes his quiet death all that surprising. Deckard is left looking on bewildered as Batty’s dripping head hangs limp. Four down.

Deckard returns one last time for Rachael. He has fallen for a replicant, but he could care less. Then again, she might not be the only one left. If Gaff’s origami unicorn and Deckard’s dream mean anything at all. The identity of Deckard is one of the many ambiguities that is left for the audience to mull over. That is the beauty of Blade Runner because, with the many different versions, there are various interpretations that can be made. You be the judge of which one is correct. I still say they should have kept the name “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” but then again what do I know? Blade Runner will continue to befuddle me as well as others and that’s probably a good thing. If all movie mysteries were solved and tied up nicely with a big bow they would all but lose their allure. Not so with this one.

4.5/5 Stars

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, and a great supporting cast, the film takes place in Los Angeles in 1953 where the police force is trying to get rid of crime. Pearce is the promising newcomer who will do whatever it takes to move up. Spacey on the other hand is the technical adviser a cop show and makes money on the side supplying a gossip journalist. Crowe is simply a hardened strong man. Despite their mutual dislike for each other, they must ultimately work together to uncover the mystery behind the murders at the Night Owl Cafe. Their investigation leads them nearer than they ever expected. In a heated finale they must fight for justice while struggling to stay alive. Although quite violent, this film has a good period setting, and the interesting story is reminiscent of classic film-noir.

4.5/5 Stars

Blade Runner (1982) – Final Cut

3869e-blade_runner_posterThis sci-fi, neo-noir directed by Ridley Scott stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard. The film opens in Los Angeles in 2019 which is continually dark and perpetually raining. In this futuristic dystopia, several replicants, which are superhumanoids, have escaped and gone rogue. After one man is killed, Rick Deckard is called in to execute them and take up his former job as a blade runner. First he heads to the Tyrell Corporation where he meets Rachael, a woman who is unknowingly a replicant. The fugitive replicants begin to search for their creator and Deckard continues his own search and with a little help he is successful. At the same time the replicants gain access to Tyrell and confront him. Then, ultimately it is down to Deckard and Roy Batty, the leader of the replicants. In a somewhat bizarre ending, Deckard fights to survive and he returns to Rachael, their future unknown. Scott played off his own difficult experiences for this film in order to create a universe full of uncertainty. This environment is paradoxically old and futuristic at the same time. Even the melding of film-noir and sci-fi creates a disconcerting atmosphere of technology but also fear. I think part of the aura surrounding this film also has to do with the fact that Scott made multiple cuts so depending on which one you see the film differs as a whole (I saw the final cut from 2007).
 
4/5 Stars

Chinatown (1974)

89858-chinatownposter1Starring Jack Nicholson with Faye Dunaway and John Huston, this skillfully written neo-noir is a nod to the work of Chandler and Hammet. J.J. “Jake” Gittes is a P.I. in the L.A. area during the 30s who specializes in marital cases. When a woman calling herself Mrs. Mulwray asks Gittes to watch her supposedly cheating husband, he enters something he does not understand. Soon he meets the real Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway), learns Mr. Mulwray is dead, and discovers Mrs. Mulwray’s father is the powerful water tycoon Noah Cross (Huston). As he tries to uncover the truth behind some odd events, Gittes meets with opposition, more confusion, and eventually some answers. The mystery is twofold and he begins to understand the plot over the L.A. water, however he does not figure out the secret kept by Mrs. Mulwray right away. When he finally does find out he is too late and tragedy ultimately comes in Chinatown. This film was enjoyable in the buildup and the ending was okay if not tragic. However, it did seem that the mystery surrounding the water was predictable.

4.5/5 Stars

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – Film-Noir

Set in L.A., the film stars Ralph Meeker as the callous and often corrupt PI Mike Hammer, adapted from the Mickey Spillane novels. One night while driving, Hammer picks up a frightened woman who begs him to remember her. They are forced off the road by thugs and the girl is eventually killed. Hammer wakes up in the hospital to his secretary girlfriend Velda. He makes it his priority to find out what the mysterious woman was talking about. He meets up with opposition and a femme fatale, but Hammer keeps on going using strong-armed tactics. He finally tracks down a mysterious whats-it but then discovers that Velda was kidnapped. In the final confrontation he finally learns who he was looking for and he finds out the consequences of the Pandora’s box and a deadly female. This film was unique film-noir with interesting cinematography and a rather bizarre conclusion.

3.5/5 Stars