Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Noir City film fest concludes


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The portrayals of dark and scary times on screen move beyond the classic era to more recent choice examples from Eddie Muller as his annual Noir City film festival concludes at the Castro Theatre.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) is about a New York Woody Allen never evoked. Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, and Earl Hindman hijack a subway car and threaten to kill the passengers and the conductor unless a million-dollar ransom is paid in one hour. Walter Matthau and Jerry Stiller (long before Seinfeld and The King of Queens ) are the unlikely cops assigned to foil the kidnappers. Even if the money is paid, how do the hoods expect to escape? Suspenseful direction by John Sargent. Fine performances, especially from Shaw, who personifies the urban lunatic no sane person wants to encounter. Peter Stone adapted John Godey's bestseller. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) are Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges as a veteran heist man and his young protegé. Eastwood's old pals, including fierce George Kennedy and Gary Busey, haven't gotten their share of the previous heist, and they want it. Written and directed by Michael Cimino, before The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate. (1/26)

The problems of Blue Collar (1978) workers have been much in the news of late, but they're not new. Richard Pryor, Harvey Kietel, and Yaphet Kotto play alienated Detroit automobile workers who decide to rob their union by breaking into the office safe. Things don't go as planned. This is Pryor's best movie performance. The rest of the cast, including Ed Begley, Jr., is excellent. Paul Schrader's directorial debut. He co-authored the screenplay with Leonard Schrader. In 1978's Straight Time, Dustin Hoffman learns that it's tough to re-enter society after a spell in jail, no matter how well-intentioned the ex-con is. With Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, and Harry Dean Stanton. Screenplay by Edward Bunker, Alvin Sargent, and Jeffrey Boam, from Bunker's novel, written while he was in prison. Directed by Ulu Grosbard, although Hoffman (uncredited) helmed much of the film. (1/27)

Walter Matthau is shrewd, logical Charley Varrick (1973), a crook who knows what to expect. When he robs a small New Mexico bank and winds up with much more cash than he anticipated, he knows he's in for a rough time, and not just from the law. His partner and the mob are also after him. With Joe Don Baker, Felicia Farr, and Sheree North. Directed by Don Siegel. Screenplay by Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner, from a novel by John Reese. The Brinks Job (1978) is based on 1950's "Crime of the Century." Two million dollars was stolen in Boston, and the robbery remained unsolved for years. William Friedkin grippingly directed this version of what happened. With Peter Falk, Peter Boyle, Gena Rowlands, Paul Sorvino, Warren Oates, and 1940s tough turned television producer Sheldon Leonard as J. Edgar Hoover. Written by Walon Green, based on Noel Behn's book. (1/28)

In Sexy Beast (2000), Ray Winstone, Amanda Redman (playing a former stripper named Deedee Dove), Ian McShane, and James Fox have retired in sunny Spain, leaving their lives of crime behind them. Well, almost. A terrifying Ben Kingsley shows up and compels them to commit one more heist, a major one. Kingsley is amazing. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, from a screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto. Ricardo Darin possesses The Aura (El Aura) (2005), which is not necessarily a good thing. He's a taxidermist who dreams of committing the perfect crime. While hunting, he accidentally kills a friend, then discovers a plot for a bank heist. He now decides to live his dream. It turns out to be a nightmare. Set in Buenos Aires. Directed by Fabian Bielinsky, who authored the script with Pablo De Santis. In Spanish, with English subtitles. (1/28)

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) was the last film directed by the great Sidney Lumet. It's an intense study of a dysfunctional family in the guise of a superb noir. Philip Seymour Hoffman bullies his hapless younger brother, Ethan Hawke, into robbing their parents' jewelry store. Nothing goes as expected, and the consequences are emotionally harrowing. With Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei. Brilliant performances by the memorable cast. Written by Kelly Masterson. Laila Costa is Victoria (2015), a lovely young Spanish woman newly arrived in Berlin. She meets a local guy, and what starts out as an innocent flirtation turns into a horrifying heist orchestrated by a gruesome gangster. Filmed in one long take on location using a digital camera, which brings an immediacy to the terrifying action. Directed by Sebastian Schipper, who co-wrote the script with Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Eike Frederik Schulz. (1/29)

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