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Showing posts with the label Noir

Roadblock (1951)

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I was torn on whether to write this up at all. The holiday section accounts for roughly thirteen minutes of the movie's runtime, plus or minus depending on when you assume some ambiguous events are taking place. The section is pivotal and the use of the holidays interesting, but this is more a case where it's relevant to trends of how Christmas appears on film, rather than of particular note to the movie itself. But I found it notable enough in context to want some notes, and this blog is largely turning into a sort of public collection of notes I'm compiling on holiday media for.... God, I don't know. I'm still figuring that part out. Regardless, the compromise I came up with was to write this up but hold the post until after the holidays. I don't want to water down our Christmas season posts any more than I already have. So that's why you're seeing this now. This movie, I should note, is a good one. Roadblock is a noir crime story with a tragic love st

They Live by Night (1948)

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They Live by Night is one of several crime noir films Criterion is streaming this year for the holidays. It tells the story of young lovers on the run from the law. I was on the fence about writing this up. Because the movie's timeline is fairly nebulous, it's not at all clear what portion is set around Christmas. A fourteen or fifteen-minute section starting just after the middle definitely is and you could interpret the entirety of what comes before as being in December, but you could just as easily assume the earlier scenes are in October or November. It just isn't clear. The tie-breaker, of course, came down to some thematic connections, but even these aren't clear-cut. More on all that later. The main characters are Bowie (played by Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell). Bowie just broke out of prison with the help of two older criminals, T-Dub and Chicamaw. They're staying at a service station run by Keechie's father, who's assisting them i

Backfire (1950)

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I'm working my way through the collection of "Holiday Noir" Criterion is streaming this year (God, I love that service). Like some of the other movies in this collection, the "noir" label should be taken with a grain of salt. It certainly has elements in common with noir - particularly towards the end - but the tone here is relatively light throughout, and this isn't as stylized as I generally expect from the genre. Or maybe my definition of that term is simply too restrictive - I'll defer to serious noir aficionados so long as they listen to me when I tell them films like Backfire should be recognized as legitimate Christmas movies. Whatever labels you attach to it, this one's quite a lot of fun. It's not unique or bizarre enough to be a "must watch," but it's a pulpy, energetic mystery that throws a barrage of fun twists at you from start to finish. For a movie with an escalating body count (including at least one character you ac

I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes (1948)

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I assume this is obvious to everyone subscribed to Criterion right now, but I'm finding a bunch of these thanks to a collection they dropped entitled Holiday Noir, which - to be clear - is pretty high on my list of "things in 2023 to be grateful for." I bring that up mainly because I think this movie's inclusion in that collection is a bit of a stretch, not because of its holiday content (this is very much a Christmas movie) - but rather because I certainly wouldn't classify it as "noir." It's admittedly a fuzzy term (even more so than most movie genres), but I tend to look for movies with pervasively dark tones that typically set out to leave you less optimistic about the world than when you started, movies where even victories feel like defeats and true happy endings are a virtual impossibility. And that just doesn't describe "I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes," which I'd consider more akin to your run-of-the-mill drama. There's

Blast of Silence (1961)

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This is one of seven "Holiday Noir" movies streamed by Criterion this month. A few of the movies they included aren't exactly what I'd call "Christmas movies" (not that Criterion promised they would be), but Blast of Silence passes my litmus test with flying colors (or in this case, flying black and white). The entirety of the film plays out during the holiday season, starting a few days before Christmas and ending on or around New Year's. The movie's "noir" credentials are a bit more complicated. Technically, this falls outside the window of what generally qualifies - Wikipedia identifies it as "neo-noir," which seems a more accurate designation. Essentially, this acts as a bridge between the dark melodramas of the '40s and '50s we now call noir and the gangster epics that would become popular over the next few decades. At least on the surface, this is a focused, contained crime story built around a single character. The

Repeat Performance (1947)

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This movie should be much better known. Repeat Performance is a holiday fantasy/noir from 1947 about a woman who just killed her husband in self-defense at midnight on New Year's, wishes to relive the past year to change her destiny, and finds her wish is granted by the magic of the season only to learn that while the paths of fate can be traversed differently, the destination will always be the same. I don't feel too bad spoiling this, because the movie kicks off with Twilight Zone-esque narration that more or less spells all this out. So, this is basically a post-war fatalism entry for the holidays. Again, why in hell am I only just hearing about this now?!!! Okay, I can probably shed a little light on that now. First, if you're not thinking about the thematic and historical significance the holidays lend the movie, it's easy to gloss over them, as well as how much of the movie is actually set during the season. Second, the movie has some pacing issues: it drags a bit

Christmas Holiday (1944)

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This noir film directed by Robert Siodmak stars Deanna Durbin, Dean Harens, and a relatively young Gene Kelly, which may be enough to pique some of your curiosity. Know the movie is extremely weird, with a plot that takes a while to establish what the story's going to be. That said, it's beautifully shot, with some impressive crane sequences, loads of shadows, and an appropriately dark story. This one's definitely not on the "feel good" end of the Christmas movie spectrum. It's worth noting this was loosely based on a novel, though there were some significant changes made to update the characters for an American audience and to avoid running afoul of censors. So a Russian prostitute is now a singer from Vermont, and the British POV character is transformed into an American soldier. The movie starts with the soldier, Charlie (Dean Harens), who's excited to be going on holiday, because he has plans to return to San Francisco and marry his fiancĂ©. Only things

Happy!: Season 1 (2017 - 2018)

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I vaguely recall hearing some positive buzz when this came out, but because it premiered on a cable station as opposed to streaming, it wasn't really on my radar. I'm honestly a little surprised it took this long for someone to point me towards this. Setting aside the fact the tone and style are right up my alley, the first season is entirely set at Christmas, which is obviously why we're discussing it here. I'm glad I finally got a chance to watch this - it'd rank this on my list of favorite genre TV seasons in recent history. As to what genre... well.. that's where things get complicated, because the first season of Happy! isn't easily described. It's an adaptation of a Dark Horse comic book written by Grant Morrison, who also seems to have been heavily involved in the show. I've never read the comics, but I might have to track them down, if only to confirm or falsify some theories. There's sort of a vein in comics that plays with the fact the

Strange Days (1995)

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Before I even get into the spoiler warning, I want to open this with a content warning. The movie I'll be talking about includes a sexual assault, and while I won't go into much depth in the review, I found it disturbing even relative to other films that touch on that subject matter. [Editor's note: I found this scene incredibly upsetting to watch. I was glad I sought out spoilers ahead of time so I knew what I was in for - Lindsay] If that's not something you're willing to sit through, you'll want to steer clear of this one... ...And I needed to open with that, because this is one of those movies where plot spoilers could impact your experience quite a bit. And also, yes, this is a pretty great sci-fi noir flick directed by Kathryn Bigelow, so it's probably worth your attention, assuming the last paragraph isn't a deal-breaker. The film definitely has some issues aside from that, so it's not like this is required viewing or anything, but it's g

Lady in the Lake (1947)

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I'm not sure how this one flew under our radar for as long as it did. Lady in the Lake is an adaptation of a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe mystery filmed almost entirely in first person from the perspective of Marlowe. Because of this, the movie is both directed and starring Robert Montgomery. Lady in the Lake is fascinating as a concept, yet somehow excruciatingly boring in execution. The solution to the mystery is needlessly complicated and poorly portrayed. Characters central to the mystery never appear on film, and significant sequences of Marlowe's investigation are skipped over and instead described in conversation. Most notably, the titular lady is never actually shown, nor is the lake, which is arguably the most significant location in the mystery. It honestly feels as though they couldn't find or afford a location, so they rewrote the script at the last minute. The plot is too convoluted to explain sequentially, so here's the idea. Marlowe is hired by Adrienn

Trancers (1984)

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This is, for better and for worse, a pretty good example of what genre movies released in the '80s were actually like. Those of you born after the '80s probably think you know what the decade offered - after all, you've seen Ghostbusters, Terminator, Goonies, Blade Runner, Aliens, and a host of other films. But here's the thing: those were exceptions. Those were the movies that endured. The classics. The vast majority of 80's movies were... not those. They were this. Honestly, that might be generous. Trancers, an extraordinarily weird time-travel-action-Christmas-noir, is pretty good, as far as schlocky B-movies go. It's fun, campy, and inoffensive. I suspect this was trying to be a cult hit but didn't quite pull off the formula. Its weirdness feels a little too intentional, it's not bad enough to be "so bad it's good" but not quite good enough to be some sort of hidden gem. Still, it's a fun bit of '80s camp and a rare entry on our

Book Review: Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp (1979)

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Nothing Lasts Forever is, arguably, the most influential Christmas novel written since A Christmas Carol, and if it's title hadn't been changed when it was adapted into a movie nine years later, I wouldn't have to explain why. That movie, incidentally, was Die Hard. I'm not sure what I expected from the book, but it wasn't this. I knew going in it was a sequel to a novel Thorp wrote in 1966 called The Detective. I've never read that, but I have seen the film adaptation, which starred Frank Sinatra in the lead role. It's pretty obvious from reading Nothing Lasts Forever that Thorp wrote this with Sinatra in mind. The plot. It's exactly the same as the movie's. Also, it's completely different. The book starts with Joe Leland (they changed his name along with the title for the film) being driven to the airport on Christmas Eve. Leland isn't actually a detective anymore: he left that profession at the end of the first book and became a