Tag Archives: True Detective

City of Dark Angels: Nate’s Top Ten LA Noir films

Los Angeles is a place of bright sunny daydreams, hopeful aspirations of fame and fortune and the ever present hum of the Hollywood industry. It’s a fascinating arena to watch a film noir unfold but between the palms, roaming the hilly outskirts and permeating the cityscape is often a deep, sleazy corruption and sense of danger at every turn, apparent in many films that explore the dark, noirish side of town. Vice cops on the take, starlets on the run from powerfully evil forces, mobsters running the show from behind the scenes and grisly serial murderers that inspire films of their own, it’s all there and more. Here are my top ten in this sexy, beautiful and often hilarious sub-genre.. Oh one more thing! Please keep in mind I’m still a young’in and haven’t seen pretty much any of the old LA crime films dating back to black and white days of the 40’s and 50’s.. one day we’ll get to those, but for now these are my favourite one from a more contemporary scope of vision.. Enjoy!

10. Carl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington sniffs out corruption most foul in this sweaty potboiler that includes a mysterious femme fatale (Jennifer Beals), a politician (the late Maury Chaykin) with some disturbing skeletons in his closet and a scary rogue cop (Tom Sizemore). The narrative is reliably serpentine, Denzel pulls off a smooth performance and the atmosphere is all grit, shadows and smoked out jazz clubs.

9. Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls

In this vision of 40’s LA, corruption has to stand up to Nick Nolte’s Max Hoover, an off the book vigilante cop who doles out brutal frontier style justice on gangsters along with his equally ruthless crew (Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and Chazz Palminteri). This one has a bad rep but it’s fantastic, the scope of the central mystery spans to the outskirts of town and includes a mysterious songbird (Jennifer Connolly), a weirdo Air Force colonel (John Malkovich) and more. It’s a positively star studded piece of work with cameos buried like hidden treasure throughout, a spectacular sense of time and place thanks to lavish production design and a hard edged, angry lead performance from Nolte at his most battered and distraught.

8. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

The buddy comedy gets a royal workout in this balls out pairing between Russell Crowe’s aloof thug for hire and Ryan Gosling’s moronic private eye. The plot here is almost impenetrable but it’s no matter, most of the fun is in the colourful, detailed 1970’s production design and Black’s trademark deadpan dialogue which we get in spades. Ooo, and an icily sexy turn from Kim Basinger as the city’s most corrupt government official, a deliberate callback to another film later on this list.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Combining elements of classic noir with the zany cartoon aesthetic and using stunning technology to do so, this miracle of a film parades around pretty much every animated character you can think of in a tale of humans living alongside ‘Toons’ in an alternate reality Los Angeles. A trip to Toon Town, the sultry femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner) a truly terrifying villain (Christopher Lloyd), an intrepid private eye (Bob Hoskins) and so much more can be found in this timeless, visually dazzling classic.

6. Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential

A sprawling, diabolical tale of police corruption, this brilliant, galvanizing piece of crime cinema launched the international careers of both Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, both providing solid, brawny tough guy turns. Kim Basinger gives arguably her best performance as a blonde bombshell starlet, Kevin Spacey is splendid as a headline hogging super cop who reeks of self loathing and James Cromwell makes for one terrifying villain as the last guy you want as a Police Commissioner. The real star here is the script, a labyrinthine tale that takes its time imparting revelations and ends with several dark secrets and a bang-up shootout. Oh, and remember Rollo Tomassi.

5. DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

Val Kilmer explores the duality of man as both a nocturnal meth-head and a mournful trumpet player in this curious, dreamy and altogether captivating piece of pulp bliss. Populated by eccentric actors like Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf and Vincent D’Onofrio in a bizarre encore as a drug kingpin called Pooh Bear, this is one of the most distinctive and memorable crime flicks out there. From it’s haunting trumpet solos set against the sunset on the shores of the titular waters to the feverish late night shenanigans of Kilmer and his band of druggie freaks to a slow burn revenge subplot that creeps up from behind, this is a brilliant picture.

4. HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

This might be a controversial pick a) because it’s a season of television and not a feature film and b) because this season isn’t regarded as quality content in some circles. Well… with these lists I envision a world of blogging where film and TV occupy the same realm and also I will defend this incredible story to the grave. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn play lost souls in a fictional California county who begin to uncover a dense, decades old trend of conspiracy and corruption in their midst. It’s bleak, fatalistic and hyper stylized but the truth of each character and the season’s dark themes overall shine through wonderfully. It’s one of my favourite seasons of television ever produced and simply undeserving of any dislike thrown its way.

3. Ethan & Joel Coen’s The Big Lebowski

What do marmots, nihilists, White Russians, bowling, sarsaparilla, interpretive dance, dirty undies and the sheriff of Malibu have in common? It’ll take a couple of viewings to completely string together the Coen’s farcical cult classic and distill it to a point of cohesion, but is that really the point anyways? This film has sort of spawned a subculture and taken on a life all its own. A purebred masterpiece of screwball elements, abstract dream sequences, stoned out tomfoolery and the bad guy from Roadhouse playing a pornographer who likes to draw dicks… what more do we need?

2. Michael Mann’s Collateral

There’s a point in this film where a lone coyote ambles across the LA interstate while Jamie Foxx’s introverted cab driver and Tom Cruise’s philosophical hitman look on in dreamy bemusement to the tune of Groove Armada’s haunting ‘Hands Of Time’ in the background. It’s striking for a few different reasons.. it serves the plot none other than to highlight both the savage, jungle law nature of Los Angeles and to remind us that the colour of this beast’s coat mirrors that of Cruise’s hair and leaves us to wonder if that is deliberate or just us making conjecture. Mann’s brilliant crime thriller is full of moments like these, subtle instances, eerie coincidences and mood setting interludes that make it something more than just your average cat and mouse thriller, something deep, meditative and primal.

1. Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

As a once aspiring actor I’ve always had this fantasy of becoming casted by accident and catapulted into the LA scene by sheer happenstance, and that’s exactly what happens to hapless Robert Downey Jr in this hilariously meta send up of noir in general. Of course the lucky break isn’t without strings attached, the main one being Val Kilmer’s scene stealing private detective Gay Perry. The two of them bicker their way down a rabbit hole involving an aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan, luminous), a shady tycoon (Corbin Bernsen) and numerous other lowlifes and weirdos the great city has to offer. Downey and Kilmer win the day with their utterly hilarious and touching characterizations, spurred by Black’s winning dialogue and an overall sense that everyone involved has a deep love for all things Hollywood.

Thanks for reading!! What are some of your favourite LA Noirs?

-Nate Hill

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HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

So just what was it about season two of HBO’s True Detective that caused such a monumental ruckus of ruthless criticism? Well, who can say. I imagine it had something to do with the dark, difficult and byzantine way that creator Nic Pizzolatto presents the material. Maybe it’s the fact that it had to follow the lightning in a bottle, southern gothic, out of left field mastery of season one. Simply just the shift in tone and setting? I’m reaching for straws here because the hate and rejection that this brilliant piece of television has amassed always flew over my head. This is deep, dark LA noir at its finest, most gorgeously dangerous and I love every challenging, impenetrable episode to bits.

The setting shifts from bayous of Louisiana, the amount of lead characters multiplies significantly and where there was once eerie folk horror and occult conspiracy we now find decadence, corruption most high and a focused, implosive inwardness in exploring each individual the narrative focuses on. Colin Farrell is unbearably intense as LA cop Ray Velcoro, a haunted addict who has fallen from the grace of both the department and his family, but isn’t down for the count quite yet. Vince Vaughn is emblematic of every career criminal trying to go straight as Frank Semyon, a stubborn small time kingpin with dreams of scoring big in California real estate. Rachel McAdams is haunted as Ani Bezzerides, a cop with a tragic past and the deep set trauma to prove it. Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrough, a pent up special ops veteran turned state trooper who rounds out this quartet as they’re faced with the kind of miserable, insurmountable odds one always finds in the best kind of film noirs. There’s an unsettling, decades old conspiracy afoot in the fictional yet uneasily realistic county of Vinci, CA, a brooding, festering menace that seems rooted in the now booming transportation system that has taken the economy by storm. Our heroes struggle to fight treachery, debauchery and excess run mad everywhere they turn, for their souls and California’s itself alike as the slogan for promotional material “We get the world we deserve” seems stingingly apparent throughout.

Farrell is my favourite as Velcoro, the anxiety ridden badass who displays the horrors of his past in the manic whites of his eyes and drowns them out with enough booze and blow to feed a city’s collective habit. He’s an antihero type, moonlighting as an enforcer for Vaughn but maintaining a fierce moral compass when all else is naught. Vaughn feasts on the stylized dialogue here and produces verbal poetry so good it hurts and you hit the rewind button just to hear his delivery again. His Frank is a hard, jaded piece of work with a soul hiding beneath the layers of anger and distrust for the world around him. McAdams’s Ani comes from a place of childhood trauma so unthinkable that they barely show it in hushed flashback, and it’s apparent in her caged animal body language, by far the actress’s most affecting work. Kitsch makes the slightest impression of the four and his arc didn’t seem as immediate as the others but he still did a bang up job in intense physicality. After the success of season one a host of excellent actors were drawn to this project, standouts here include David Morse as Ani’s commune leader dad, Kelly Reilly as Frank’s intuitive wife and second in command, Rick Springfield (!) as a shady plastic surgeon, Ritchie Coster as Vinci’s terminally alcoholic mayor, W. Earl Brown, James Frain, Ronny Cox, C.S. Lee, Lolita Davidovitch and the legendary Fred Ward as Ray’s bitterly prophetic ex-cop father.

Pizzolatto spins a very different kind of story here, one composed of long glances, deep shadows, arresting establishing shots of Vinci’s sprawling highway system, as dense and tough to navigate as the season’s central mystery, which isn’t one you get a sense of in just one, two or even three viewings. Impatience and frustration are easy to understand with this narrative, but one shouldn’t write off this piece so easily and I’m sure that’s what happened. A few people don’t have the time to invest in it, get hostile and throw some negative reviews out there and before you know it it becomes cool to hate and there’s folks throwing around words like ‘flawed’ before they’ve attempted a single episode, but that’s the way the internet works I suppose. Balls to them though, this is a deliciously dark, highly stylized, very emotional ride through a world whose themes, intentions and true colours aren’t readily visible until you descend several layers deep alongside these compelling characters. It’s thoughtful, pessimistic yet just hopeful enough to keep a candle lit in all that darkness and has some of the most beautiful acting, camera, dialogue and music work I’ve seen from anything. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

HBO’s True Detective: Season 3

In season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle observed that in a battle between light and dark, it looked to him as if the light appeared to be winning. The spectacular third season has has come to a close and without any spoilers it felt to me like that sentiment has never been more apparent in the series. The first story was a brilliantly existential gothic folk horror show gilded by unsettling conspiracies that went who knows how high up and permeated by the eerie, lived-in grottos of rural Louisiana. The second story was a brilliantly deep, dark, Byzantine labyrinth of California corruption, noir laced nihilism and fatalistic angst. The third story, no less phenomenal, sees a more intimate, emotional tale unfold against the mysterious backdrop of the Arkansas Ozarks, revolving around a crime the mechanizations of which gradually, steadily unfold in ways we both expect and also don’t. There’s a directness and fortitude to the story here where in the past seasons things could be a little more ambiguous and opaque, something I was fascinated by. Every season relies heavily on setting to make the case something you both remember and care about, from the sweaty bayous along the coast to the seedy industrial hum of Vinci. The Ozarks are considerably more picturesque with craggy mountains and thickets of boreal forest, but the atmosphere is no less portentous, the musical cues no less unnerving and the the clues embedded with no less regularity or tact.

One Arkansas evening, young Will and Julie Purcell (Lena McCarthy and Phoenix Elkin) disappear from their neighbourhood while riding bikes, prompting a statewide, decades long search that will go on to greatly affect the lives of everyone involved, especially those of the two lead detectives. Mahershala Ali is a pure sensation as Detective Wayne ‘Purple’ Hays, a haunted yet stalwart Viet Nam vet who can’t let the case go, Ali is a wonder whose eyes, physical mannerisms and tone of voice gravely and soulfully reflect a mystery that has entwined itself into his very essence. Stephen Dorff has been taking it easy for some years now, but casting him as gruff, take-no-shit Detective Roland West has proved a stroke of genius. Dorff has dimension and depth in the role, obstinately turning a somewhat second fiddle character into a complete scene stealer and fleshed out human being who is utterly compelling to watch and listen to. They are surrounded by a pitch perfect supporting cast that all turn in fantastic work. Scoot McNairy and Mamie Gummer are both knockouts as the parents of the missing children, underrated Carmen Ejogo gives a career best as Wayne’s wife and true crime author Amelia Hays, while captivating turns are observed from Brett Cullen, Michael Greyeyes, John Tenney, Ray Fisher, Steven Williams, Lauren Sweetser, Sarah Gadon and a welcome appearance from the legendary Michael Rooker.

‘Time takes everything but the truth’, we see emblazoned on the posters, something that goes from promotional slogan to sediment truth once we see how the show plays out in the unique fashion of three separate timelines unfolding simultaneously in a rhythmic dance that takes time getting used to but is such a fascinating way to tell this tale. We join our detectives in 1980 as the initial disappearance happens, in 1990 as the seemingly wrapped up case is reopened and again in 2015 when new facts come to light and the mystery approaches a conclusion that’s always just around the corner. Hays suffers from dementia in the third timeline and we see how this has affected his memory of the case, relationship to his family and his own familiarity with a psyche that is slowly fragmenting. Such a scattered trio of narratives could have proved too tough to fluidly impart, but there’s a remarkably steady hand in editing, direction and performance that makes the story as a whole, and each circling chapter really shine and come across clearly. Both time and memory are essential in not just understanding this story, but feeling your way through intuitively, because as Wayne’s mind starts to go, that in a sense is all he can do anymore in some instances. This is in many ways a departure from the two other seasons even though on the surface it appears to be very similar to the first. This i believe is a smokescreen of sorts and by every episode we see a unique story unfold that’s filled with secrets and explores obsession, heartbreak, violence, mental illness, the sad plight of Viet Nam vets, corruption, love, family, friendship and the darkness that ever dwells on the fringes of human society, always just a step outside our brightly lit towns, be it in a ghostly fog filled cave or mysterious grove of trees. A story worth telling, and a story worth hearing. Bring on season four please, I don’t see this hot streak stopping anytime soon.

-Nate Hill

BREAKING: Mahershala Ali for TRUE DETECTIVE Season 3.

 

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Mahershala Ali at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival [Photo Credit: Devin Godzicki]
Mahershalla Ali is reportedly in final negotiations to star as the lead in the upcoming third season of TRUE DETECTIVE. The third season, written by Nic Pizzolatto and David Milch will begin filming soon. The cast is being assembled with Ali in the lead. No other details have emerged, but it certainly appears HBO is getting ready to officially announce the third season of their seminal show. Ali last appeared in Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT and most recently won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Juan in the film, making him the first Muslin actor to win an Academy Award.

 

We”ll have more when the story develops.

Episode 20: THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION with SPECIAL GUEST MELISSA MAERZ

EPISODE 20

We were joined by Entertainment Weekly television critic Melissa Maerz to discuss the continuation of the golden age of television.  Follow Melissa on Twitter, and check her podcast on Sirius/XM Women on Pop.

Intimidating Rust Cohle and assisting Walter Mitty: an interview with actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, by Nate Hill

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who has appeared in a very memorable turn as villain Dewall in season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, the rowdy, loveable helicopter pilot in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, as well as films including A Walk Among The Tombstones, Contraband,  XL, Stormland, Beowulf And Grendel. He can also be seen in the TV show Banshee, as well as the upcoming fantasy action film The Last Witch Hunter, The much anticipated sequel to Zoolander, and the recently announced adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. He’s a super nice guy, and I think will be a huge upcoming talent in years to come. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you always knew you wanted to do growing up, or did you fall into it?

Ólafur: I didn´t really decide to be an actor until after my first year of drama school. I know that sounds weird but I sort of fell into acting in college. When college was finishing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I loved acting but had never really considered a career doing that. Then one of my friends wanted to audition to get into the drama school here in Iceland and sort of dragged me with him. Of course I ended up getting in but he did not. Even though I got in it still took me awhile to really take the plunge. But in retrospect, getting in was the first step. I was lucky, I got a lot of work straight out of school, lot of smaller parts and as your get older you realize how important experience is. But I wasn´t really using all my potential.

As weird as it seems, one of the best things that has ever happened to me professionally was when I was fired from The City Theatre of Reykjavik in 2003. That really forced me to look at my career and where I wanted to take it much more critically. That´s where the decision was made. I was going to be a better actor, person, an artist. I was going to have a much more honest dialogue with myself and be someone who takes responsibility for their art.

Nate: Who were some of your favourite actors, filmmakers and films growing up?

Ólafur: I was in love with everything film. I remember walking home late New Years night about 25 years ago and seeing one of my favorite films, High Anxiety, I thought it was brilliant (HERE IS YOUR PAPER!) Jaws, Alien, Star Wars, Kentucky Fried Movie, all of James Bond, ohhhhh, to be able to go back and re-watch them for the first time?!!! I also remember loving these teen comedies like Better of Dead and Ferris Bueller´s Day Off. All those actresses and all that teenage angst. I had a crush on quite a few of them.
Nate: Working with Marteinn Thorsson: You and him have done several projects together, what is your working relationship like, and do you plan to collaborate again soon?

Ólafur: Me and Matti are blood brothers. We have done two features and one short together and have in the works at least a couple of films that we want to do. Marteinn is just such a great director to work with, he thinks big and has an extensive background in film, he has worked as a script supervisor, producer, editor, director and screenwriter. There are probably more titles he has held on a set. He is easy, fun, collaborative and honest. You can´t ask for more than that.
Nate: True Detective: You are an integral part of the story despite only appearing in one episode. How was your experience playing Dewall, working with Nic’s writing and acting opposite Matthew? How did ty approach the character? Backstory and intentions etc.

Ólafur: True Detective was such a great experience. I auditioned for a bigger role but was offered this part and fell in love with it. The scene in the bar with those excellent actors, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Sikora was so much fun to do. Joe who plays Ginger in the series is one of my best friends today.

I had studied an Algiers (a neighborhood in New Orleans) accent for my role in a film called Contraband which I was able to use in True Detective. And the writing made the scene easy to do. Overall it was a show filled with good, talented, hard working people led by a man who is one of the best directors working today, Cary Fukunaga.
Nate: A Walk Among The Tombstones: How was your experience working on this, playing Jonas and acting with Liam Neeson?

Ólafur: I had a general meeting in New York with the great Avy Kaufman during which she asked me if I would be around two days later to meet a director. When I met Scott Frank two days later, I had a taxi waiting for me downstairs to take me straight to the airport for my flight home. Scott is such a lovely artist, it was a pleasure to meet him and after a couple of Skype readings he offered me the role. And I can´t really tell you how happy that made me. I though Jonas was such a wonderfully twisted creation. Someone who could so naively get himself involved with the wrong crowd. A crowd consisting of two monsters really. And filming it was truly great. Liam Neeson is one of my favorite actors and he is such a good, kind man. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I would give anything to work with Scott again, which I hope might happen soon…
Nate: Walter Mitty: your character is so funny and memorable, you really gave him a sheepish drunken amiable quality that lights up the whole sequence. How was your experience playing him?

Ólafur: It helped that I had recently played an almost entire film “drunk”. I worked with Jermaine Clement on a film and he asked me twice if I really hadn´t been drunk, I think that might be the best review I ever got. But I have to say that Ben Stiller really made it easy. Both as a director but also as an actor, you could really feel how much he enjoyed the “acting” part and how he made me able to just relax and enjoy being there and not to worry about having to perform. I´ll admit that I there were moments where in my mind was going “holy s..t, that´s Ben Stiller and I´m working with him”. One of the best days of my life was spent at that table drinking that fake beer.

Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited for and want to speak about?
Ólafur: There are a few projects that I´m excited and a few that I can´t mention. I got to reunite with Ben for a tiny cameo in Zoolander 2. There is a Icelandic tv series called Trapped, which will premiere around Christmas. The series is the biggest thing we have produced here for tv and I´m really looking forward to seeing it. Then there is a film directed by Jörg Tyttel and Alex Helfrecht called The White King. A series for Cinemax, Quarry that really looks incredible and finally The BFG which was an absolute pleasure, directed by Steven Spielberg.
Nate: Thank you so much for chatting , Ólafur, and I look forward to all your upcoming projects, especially The BFG which is a favourite book of mine. 

I HEARD IT FROM MATTHEW WILDER: THE NEW GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION

I Heard it From Matthew Wilder

Our latest monthly edition is with filmmaker Matthew Wilder.  Matthew’s credits include writing and directing YOUR NAME HERE, and he penned the screenplay for the upcoming Paul Schrader film, DOG EAT DOG which he adapted from Edward Bunker’s novel.  Matthew is also casting his next film, OLD MONEY and working on a miniseries based on Norman Mailer’s HARLOT’S CHARIOT.  Stay turned for more adventures of, I HEARD IT FROM MATTHEW WILDER!