snapshot: Proud Mary (2018)

US / 89 minutes / color / Screen Gems Dir: Babak Najafi Pr: Tai Duncan, Mark Anthony Little, Paul Schiff Scr: John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, Steven Antin Story: John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal Cine: Dan Laustsen Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Margaret Avery, Rade Serbedzija, Erik LaRay Harvey, Owen Burke, Bo Cleary, James Milord, Alex Portenko, Gene Ravvin, Airon Armstrong, Jose Gonsalves, Kevin O’Peterson, Vladimir Orlov, Al’Jaleel McGhee.

Taraji P. Henson as Mary.

“Taraji P. Henson Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before” the DVD box proclaimed, so for at least a weekend we were incapable of referring to anyone by name without adding the words “Like You’ve Never Seen Her/Him Before”; things, minds, simple, etc.

Boston hitwoman Mary (Henson Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before) spares the young son of a bookie she murders, and thereafter feels responsible for the child, keeping an eye on him from a distance. When she discovers he’s being knocked around by the criminal he’s fallen in with, Uncle (Berkeley), she Continue reading

Angel of Death (2009)

vt Ed Brubaker’s Angel of Death
US / 75 minutes / color / White Rock Lake Dir: Paul Etheredge Pr: John Norris, Paul Etheredge Scr: Ed Brubaker Cine: Carl Herse Cast: Zoë Bell, Jake Abel, Vail Bloom, Justin Huen, Doug Jones, Lucy Lawless, Brian Poth, John Serge, Ingrid Rogers, Pat Asanti, Ted Raimi, Kaela Crawford.

Ed Brubaker, who devised and wrote this slice of hyperviolent borderline noir—I’d be tempted to call it grindhouse but it seems too highly polished for that—is one of the giants of the comix/graphic novels world, a multiple Eisner Award winner. All of which meant I, um, had to look him up in Wikipedia. (I’ve heard of Eisner, though, and actually met him briefly at a con years ago. I diligently made sure the conversation didn’t stray into the realm of comix because, er . . .)

Zoë Bell as Eve.

Anyway, Eve (Bell) is a highly prolific, highly regarded hitwoman, working in LA under the auspices of her agent and lover Graham Prescott (Poth). Her latest hit gets out of control, and part of the collateral damage is the victim’s 14-year-old daughter, Marie Anderton (Crawford). Moreover, during the shambles Eve herself is stabbed in the brain.

Doug Jones as Dr. Rankin.

Friendly junkie physician Dr. Rankin (Jones) extracts the knife and tells her that, if she’s survived this long, she Continue reading

snapshot: Cop Car (2015)

US / 88 minutes / color / Audax, Dark Arts, Park, End Cue, Expedition, Focus World Dir: Jon Watts Pr: Cody Ryder, Alicia Van Couvering, Sam Bisbee, Andrew Kortschak, Jon Watts Scr: Jon Watts, Christopher Ford Cine: Matthew J. Lloyd, Larkin Seiple Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham, Kyra Sedgwick (voice).

A movie the Coen Brothers might have made if they didn’t have much of a budget, an enjoyable dark comedy—very dark, in places—set somewhere in flyover country where cattle outnumber people.

Two ten-year-old boys, Harrison (Wellford) and the more outgoing Travis (Freedson-Jackson), have just this morning run away from home and are on the verge of getting bored with freedom when they come across what appears to be an abandoned police car, sitting in a copse in the middle of nowhere. Naturally they Continue reading

Claire in Motion (2016)

US / 84 minutes / color / Sacha, Running Man, Breaking Glass Dir & Scr: Lisa Robinson, Annie J. Howell Pr: Lisa Robinson, Annie J. Howell, Jenny Deller Cine: Andreas Burgess Cast: Betsy Brandt, Zev Haworth, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Sakina Jaffrey, Chris Beetem, Brian Evans, Ken Strunk, Marianne Murray, Merri Biechler, David Haugen, Kim Taylor.

Ohio University math professor Claire Hunger (Brandt) lives in Athens, Ohio, with her husband Paul (Beetem), an ornithology professor, and son Connor (Haworth). One morning Paul leaves home by prearrangement to go on a three- or four-day solo survivalist hike in the local wilderness, planning to live off the land. But time passes and, although his abandoned Subaru is soon found and a massive search operation is mounted by Police Chief Ken Doyle (Strunk) and his department, Paul himself is never seen again.

Betsy Brandt as Claire.

Trying to adapt, Claire discovers there were plenty of areas of Paul’s life that he was keeping secret from her. In conjunction with art postgrad Allison Lorn (Hollyman), for example, he had been creating a sculpture; although he and Allison Continue reading

Keep Your Distance (2005)

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Poison pen à trois?
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US / 94 minutes / color / Lunacy Unlimited, Blue & Grey Dir & Scr: Stu Pollard Pr: Christina Varotsis, Stu Pollard Cine: Matthew Irving Cast: Gil Bellows, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kim Raver, Christian Kane, Jamie Harrold, Gary Anthony Williams, Cynthia Martells, Dennis Burkley, Rick Overton, Elizabeth Peña, Stacy Keach, Jenny McShane, Jim Petersmith, Mel Rexroat, Jon Huffman.

A modest yet engaging minor movie that, by its end, somehow seemed to be both more and less than the sum of its parts. I think this ambivalence of mine about it arose because a minor element of the movie comprises a Dan Brownish puzzle whose solution, when finally revealed to us, seems rather a letdown—the clues lead to a particular piece of text whose relevance is, well, a bit tenuous . . . unless I was missing something, which is always possible.

Gil Bellows as David Dailey.

Kim Raver as Susan Dailey.

David Dailey (Bellows) is a highly successful radio host for the (real-life) station 84WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Susan (Raver) are poster children for the arts, charity and tolerance. David is also near-insufferably smug in this role—for example, he seems to enjoy constantly telling assistant Whit Harrington (Harrold) that he’s a no-hoper—which makes it all the more alarming when one day David receives an anonymous note consisting of no more than the word

LOVE

with the initial letter highlighted. In the envelope there’s also a hotel room key.

Assuming Susan’s the one who sent the note, proposing a spicy night out, David goes to the hotel, a red rose between his teeth and his hopes high, only to discover Continue reading

Return to Sender (2015)

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Surgery practice!
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US / 95 minutes / color / Voltage, Boo, WOC, HW Dir: Fouad Mikati Pr: Candice Abela-Mikati, Holly Wiersma Scr: Patricia Beauchamp, Joe Gossett Cine: Russell Carpenter Cast: Rosamund Pike, Shiloh Fernandez, Camryn Manheim, Illeana Douglas, Nick Nolte, Alexi Wasser, Rumer Willis, Stephen Louis Grush, Donna Duplantier, Ian Barford, Billy Slaughter, Scout Taylor-Compton, Jeff Pope, Ryan Phillippe, Liann Pattison.

Sweet hospital nurse Miranda Wells (Pike), though rather cold, is always willing to help—and always level-headed in a crisis. To be sure, she’s a tad over-fastidious and obsessive, a quality she puts to good use in her hobby of baking and decorating intricately crafted cakes but that also manifests itself through her panicky antagonism to using any pens save those of a particular brand (which she orders by the boxful), through her need to clean off public phones before touching them . . . and through her reluctance to meet men with a view to dating.

Rosamund Pike as Nurse Miranda Wells.

Her colleagues and friends Nancy (Manheim), Darlene (Willis) and April (Wasser) are determined to do something to “cure” Miranda of this last idiosyncracy, and after months of trying Darlene has managed to get her to agree to a blind date with a man called Kevin (Slaughter).

The appointed day comes, and Continue reading

Devil You Know (2013)

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The long shadows of the past!
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US / 72 minutes / color / Roger, Nightfly, Wonder, RIVR Dir: James Oakley Pr: Michael Webber, Peter McIntosh, Amanda Foley, James Oakley Scr: Alex Michaelides Cine: Kenneth Brown Cast: Lena Olin, Rosamund Pike, Dean Winters, Molly Price, Barbara Garrick, Bern Cohen, Matthew Faber, Stephen Gevedon, Jennifer Lawrence, Alan Coates, Paul Navarra, Michael Pemberton, Kit Flanagan, Annika Peterson, Charlie Wilson, Eric Zuckerman.

The very first thing I thought on glancing at this movie was, Golly! What a cast! How come I’ve never heard of this . . .?

What I didn’t then know was that Continue reading

No Way to Live (2016)

US / 85 minutes / color / Modernciné, Gravitas Dir & Scr: David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Pr: Rebekah Sindoris, David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Cine: Alexander Chinnici Cast: Freya Tingley, Tom Williamson, Timothy V. Murphy, Justin Arnold, Paul Rae, Carla Toutz, Christopher Douglas Reed, Larry Fessenden, Roy Frumkes, Bonnie Root, Ryan Harper Gray.

David Guglielmo, one of the co-directors of No Way to Live, approached me a few weeks ago with the suggestion that I might like to write about it for this site. I accepted his kind offer of a screener with I hope my usual impeccable courtesy but also some hesitation, because it’s a sad fact that not all of the independent noirish movies that come this site’s way are altogether wonderful.

In this instance, though, I needn’t have worried. No Way to Live is a first-rate movie that I enjoyed a great deal—far more than I’ve enjoyed many movies with major-studio budgets, which this I gather didn’t. It’s also, to clear matters up at the start, not a neonoir in the stylistic sense of the term: rather, as you might expect from a piece in which the main character has the surname Thompson and one of the supporting roles has the name Big Jim, it’s a movie that very much has its roots in the classic noir tradition, albeit with a greater degree of frankness about sex and racial prejudice than was generally deemed permissible in the 1940s and 1950s.

Paul Rae as Earl.

It’s 1958, and in the small town of Crawfordville, Florida, vacuum-cleaner salesman Monty (Williamson) is trying unsuccessfully to make a sale to householder Earl Thompson (Rae)—in fact, Earl is seeing him off the property at the point of a double-barreled shotgun, Monty being black and Earl being both white and a bigot.

Tom Williamson as Monty.

It’s clear to us that Monty’s eye has been caught by Earl’s pretty daughter Nora (Tingley). That night, as Monty attempts to spy on Nora through her window, he gets his foot caught in one of the gator traps with which Earl has surrounded the house.

Freya Tingley as Nora.

At Nora’s insistence, and much against Earl’s better judgment, the pair bring Monty indoors to convalesce from what’s a pretty serious injury. Love—or something like it—sparks between the two young people; Monty’s ardor is undimmed even after he discovers a terrible secret:

Nora: “He makes me do it. I got no choice. D’you think that I want to? He’s been having his way with me ever since my mother died.”

Monty and Nora run away, after she’s stolen from under Earl’s bed an old blue suitcase containing $10,000 in cash.

As we guess long before Monty does, Nora took the opportunity to murder Earl before she slipped out of the house. Led by Detective Frank Giddins (Murphy), with Detective Bradford (Gray) and hick local sheriff Big Jim (Arnold) assisting, the cops investigate. During the investigation we learn that Nora is not in fact Earl’s daughter but his wife, now widow. We later find out she was in effect sold to him as a child bride when she was just thirteen.

Meanwhile, the two youngsters are on the run and—in between coping as a “mixed-race couple” with the omnipresent racism of that place and time—taking the opportunity to do a lot of what two youngsters on the run generally do in movies like this. Despite all her protestations of eternal love for him, however, Nora has already decided it’s time to ditch Monty, preferably terminally; she even lines up wastrel Jerry (Fessenden) to murder him.

Jerry (Larry Fessenden) readies to shoot Monty (Tom Williamson) in the back.

Nora has had from the outset, you see, a plan that only slowly emerges into the light. What she doesn’t realize is that Monty too has had a plan—that in his way he’s every bit as cunning as she is, and that he’s been withholding from her all sorts of secrets that profoundly affect her.

Theirs aren’t the only plans. Big Jim has been planning for years to bed Nora if only she’d give him the chance, while Giddins has been developing a plan to blow the whole case wide open . . .

Big Jim (Justin Arnold) tries to woo Nora (Freya Tingley).

There’s a love for classic film noir evident in just about every frame of No Way to Live, together with lots of echoes of later noirish road movies like David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1990) and perhaps more particularly Tamra Davis’s GUNCRAZY (1992). The screenplay’s full of pace and surprise, not to mention some moments of unexpected cuteness and humor, as when Monty and Nora, lacking fizzy wine with which to celebrate their new freedom, make do with Alka-Seltzer.

And there are some really great performances. Freya Tingley (who I was astonished to discover is Australian, so convincing is she as the Florida belle) delivers a major act as the Lolita-style femme fatale, but she’s if anything outshone by Tom Williamson as the wholesome, loyal, everything-on-the-surface young adventurer who proves to possess an inner darkness. Timothy V. Murphy as the deceptively genial, wide-eyed Detective Giddins dominates the screen during his scenes.

Justin Arnold as Big Jim.

But it’s tempting to see this as an ensemble piece, with fine contributions coming from the supporting cast, even those whose screen time is minimal—such as Carla Toutz as Nora’s mother Celia Weaver, Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted store-owner Cain, and Roy Frumkes as Nora’s long-suffering lawyer, Thomas Chasen. Indeed, there isn’t a weak link in the chain of actors on display here.

Carla Toutz as Celia Weaver.

Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted shitface Cain.

Lawyer Thomas Chasen (Roy Frumkes) despairs of his client, Nora (Freya Tingley).

No Way to Live isn’t a perfect movie (as if there could be such a thing). There’s an unexplained hiccup in the storyline when Nora wakes to discover she’s been taken to the orphanage where Monty was reared; furthermore, Jerry somehow knows—by magic, perhaps?—that this is where Monty has taken her. There are two quite separate earlier explanations in the script as to why, in the later stages of the movie, Nora should find herself infuriatingly pregnant. And there are moments during the lovers’ time on the run when things seem to flag a bit, as if the scripters weren’t quite certain where they were going to take things next.

Those are really quite tiny criticisms, especially bearing in mind the egregious plot holes you often find in multiplex blockbusters. No Way to Live, which refreshingly doesn’t require you to leave your brain at the door, is a very satisfying piece whose 85 minutes seem to fly by.

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UPDATE: Contrary to my earlier understanding, you can get this movie on DVD/blu ray from the usual online suspects. And here are some places you can go stream it:

Hulu
Amazon
FandangoNow
Google Play
iTunes
Vimeo
Vudu
Microsoft XBOX
YouTube Movies

Midnight Catch (2012)

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A cop with a heart and a brutal murderer with a conscience!
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US / 21 minutes / color / Halcyon Valor, One Forest Dir & Scr: Jamison M. LoCascio Pr: Louis J. Ambrosio, Jamison M. LoCascio, Collen Doyle Cine: Conor Shillen Cast: Tyrone Grant, Skyler Pinkerton.

midnight-catch-0

A very simple tale with a profoundly neonoir affect.

After looking furtively around him, a young man goes into a bar; we’ll learn his name is James Price (Pinkerton—an excellent surname for an actor in a noir movie to have!). He’s not long settled when another customer enters, Cole (Grant).

Cole, who’s probably about old enough to be Price’s father, starts up a conversation with him and soon succeeds in getting him to relax. It’s a fairly typical bar conversation, with the older man producing bits of homespun wisdom for the edification of his junior. Stuff like: Continue reading

Save Me (1994)

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A memorable femme fatale!
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US / 93 minutes / color / Spark, Vision International Dir: Alan Roberts Pr: Alan Amiel Scr: Neil Ronco Cine: Ilan Rosenberg Cast: Harry Hamlin, Lysette Anthony, Michael Ironside, Olivia Hussey, Bill Nunn, Steve Railsback, Neil Ronco, Sigal Diamant, Joseph Campanella, Reilly Murphy, Christine Mitges, Kristine Rose, Carrie Vanston, Dee Booher, Stan Yale.

save-me-0

It’s been said by various critics that the direct-to-video erotic thriller can be regarded as the modern equivalent of the classic-era film noir. Yes, there were some A-feature noirs back in the 1940s and 1950s, but the vast majority of what we think of as films noirs—including many that have attained “classic” status—were B-movies in which the studio bosses had little interest beyond making sure they came in under their (usually minuscule) budgets. The way was thus open for directors like Fritz Lang and Robert Siodmak to do more or less what they wanted without the heavy hand of the studio bosses on their shoulder. Similarly, all that the movie companies responsible for modern erotic thrillers care about is that there’s enough sex and nudity to keep the punters happy and that the project comes in under budget. This allows enormous latitude to directors and scripters to create the movies they actually want to create . . . just so long as the other parameters are met.

save-me-2-ellie-sends-eye-signals-to-jim-as-she-hugs-oliver

Ellie (Lysette Anthony) sends frantic eye signals to Jim as she hugs Oliver (Michael Ironside).

Save Me is a very good case in point. Here we have, if not a first-rate, then certainly a perfectly creditable neonoir/psychological thriller that contains quite a few Continue reading