Tag Archives: film noir

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski posterWhere does one start with the Coen Brothers take on neo-noir, The Big Lebowski?

Since its release it has often been hailed as a classic (though I’m sure it has its share of naysayers) and has become one of the most quotable films in recent memory. I’ve seen it a good number of times and sat down to rewatch it again recently on something of a whim.

This whim was spawned by a fact that struck me, part way through, as being a bit odd – that despite the fact the plot deals with kidnap, murder and conspiracy it does so in a way that feels cosy, friendly and warm in something of a generic about face.

The story is a rambling one, reminiscent of many classic noir stories, where a young lady is kidnapped, a ransom demanded and a pay off set up that goes wrong as new aspects come to light and the mystery deepens. Where the Coens throw in their twist though is that rather than having a detached, cool, calm and collected private detective in the lead they have… The Dude (Jeff Bridges).

The Dude (“His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”) is an ageing hippy type who enjoys the simple things in life like bowling, White Russians and Credence Clearwater Revival and it is his presence as the often befuddled core of all the goings on that I think creates the surprisingly homely feel.

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Jeff Bridges)

Added to this is the fact that, regardless of your social position, The Dude is almost universally relatable.

He is a guy that just wants to get on with his life and is wondering why someone has soiled his rug, someone wants to use him to conceive a child and someone else has roped him into being a go between in a ransom case – while his best friend (John Goodman’s excellent crazed Jewish convert Vietnam vet, Walter) is threatening people with a gun over bowling scores and confusing the mystery plot even further.

What really makes this is a performance from Bridges that is so spot on its hard to separate him from the role as he casually meanders his way through the movie.

Even though it does reach more of a neat conclusion than one might expect The Big Lebowski retains the feel of a rambling, shaggy dog story, that has a ring of truth within a sense of near surrealism.

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Bridges), Donnie (Buscemi) and Walter (Goodman)

This is aided by a couple of dream sequences that perfectly fit The Dude’s demeanour and work as almost stand alone moments, the most impressive of which is the second that ties the whole film together in a suggestive musical number to the song Just Dropped In by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

The setting of the film also adds to the sense of surreal-realism as this is North Hollywood in the early 1990s.

North Hollywood itself, the less glamorous side to LA, is a location that lends itself to the uniquely odd mix of the real world rubbing shoulders with Hollywood just over the hills and the famed pornography industry of the San Fernando Valley as well as the high end residential area of Beverly Hills and so, in many ways, is a reflection of The Dude and his situation.

While the Dude is certainly our hero the film is rounded off by a very strong cast of supporting characters.

Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore

The Dude and Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) mid dream Sequence

From The Dude’s bowling buddies Walter and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), the titular Lebowski’s assistant, Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the eccentric artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), ‘The Jesus’ (John Turturro) to the excellent Sam Elliott as The Stranger, our narrator, while also being present in the world of the film (possibly).

All of these help create the world of The Dude, a world he and we are sucked into and spat out from across the film and, as is a Coen Brothers trait, they are an excellent ensemble cast of regular players.

While this all sounds a little confusing the Coens wrangle it expertly into a movie that becomes at once as good as one would expect it to be and somehow even better, all while twisting cinematic convention from noir to period in a way unlike anything to come before or since.

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Tiger Army – V…-

Tiger Army V coverIn their near 20 years as a band Tiger Army have continually defied the generic stereotypes of their chosen style, while none the less continuing, in many ways, to be impossible to describe as anything but a psychobilly band.

While their first two albums certainly fell into this category the third and fourth began to stray and now, with V…- they have taken things yet another step beyond to create what could be a soundtrack to a film noir while packing in some great punk power as well.

As has become traditional the record (and I feel I certainly can call it that as it is available not only as CD and digital but also on vinyl with a great looking gatefold sleeve) begins with a short instrumental opening that merges into first track proper, Firefall, that shows while Nick 13 has evolved both his own and his bands sound punk rock ’n’ roll and pyschobilly is still a strong part of Tiger Army’s make up.

From there the album weaves in a vaguely laconic fashion through what feels like a dark night of rock ’n’ roll drenched in the Americana and 1950s obsessions of the band’s leader while maintaining the idea of this being created by a gang of Orange County vampires akin to antagonists of seminal 1980s movie The Lost Boys.

Tiger Army in 2016

Tiger Army in 2016

Lead single Prisoner of the Night (debuted at last year’s Octoberflame shows) sets a tone for the film noir-ish quality of what is to come and really this link between the sense of visuals and the music is something that defines the album throughout leading to something of a concept album feel – albeit nothing like the proggy self-indulgence that might suggest.

As well as the ever-present thrum and thwack of the double bass and Nick 13’s Gretsch guitars (both in overdriven and more melodic style) the album features a host of new sounds growing on the developments seen on 2008’s Music From Regions Beyond.

So we get pianos, strings, organs, pedal steel guitars and, possibly most notably, brass, that gives a slightly mariachi or Mexican feel to some of the songs and adding a western movie vibe to the noir.

While World Without The Moon and Devil Lurks On The Road are fairly typical of what we’re used to from Tiger Army, Dark And Lonely Night really highlights the 1950s sounds coming in the form of something that, in a different context, could be mistaken for being from an easy listening crooner and shows Nick 13 has grown into a confident singer and frontman from the howls and screams of the band’s early days.

Tiger Army live by Samantha Madnick

Tiger Army live by Samantha Madnick

Culminating with the feel of a south-west US sunrise on In The Morning Light, V…- completes what feels like a long hot night on a lower key note. After spanning everything you’d expect from Tiger Army and more the album shows a band confidently treading their own path regardless of what some other parts of their subculture may think of them to create a great record that continues to show extra levels listen after listen.

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Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad posterIt seems Friday nights at the cinema and films set within the Los Angeles Police Department that I have totally missed are becoming a trend – following End of Watch a couple of weeks back tonight it was time for Gangster Squad.

The first thing I noticed about the film was the cast list on the poster outside the Mallard Cinema and that got me a bit worried. While all of the actors are ones I have enjoyed performances by in the past, or have heard good reports of, seeing so many on one poster recently has generally led to poorly thought out rom-coms.

I’m pleased to say that from the start this is not the case.

We start with a voiceover from Josh Brolin’s cop as we fly across 1949 LA up to the Hollywoodland sign where we meet our antagonist, Mickey Cohen, and it becomes clear we are in the world of pulp and noir from the off.

Gangster Squad - Sean PennDespite the ‘Inspired by a true story’ title card the dialogue from the start is pure pulp and Sean Penn’s inspired performance as mob boss Cohen highlights this. But, it also highlights a strange juxtaposition within the movie, that the dialogue, which is possibly intentionally ‘bad’ (but always perfectly judged), is counterbalanced by a series of great performances which, from the outside, are very stereotypical of a kind of noir b-movie, but clearly all have an extra level to them.

As well as Penn, Brolin’s hero-cop is proof of this as you can see the thought processes behind their eyes as they face off across the movie and there is an intensity within them both that carries the bulk of the drama.

Gangster Squad - Josh BrolinAway from the acting the way the film is shot gives it a strange quality. I’m assuming that it was shot on digital as it is all very smooth and this is another element that gives the film a real sense of heightened pulp reality.

My one issue with this heightened reality is that, at times, it feels like watching a very, very realistic video game version of this world and the whole thing bears an uncanny resemblance to Rockstar’s LA Noire to such a degree that I wonder if the original intention was to make a movie version of the video game.

Notable in the cinema tonight was the reaction to some of the violence. While not as extreme as we get in many movies, there are some very graphic moments (notably involving a car and a fairly primitive power drill) that, while not out of place, certainly are a bit shocking within the context of what is, essentially, a bit of a romp of a movie.

While Gangster Squad is far from a great film, and is somewhat imbalanced by what seems to be a confusion over its style and its direction at times, it is highly entertaining and, in a world where gangster movies always seem to be trying to outdo each other for realism and ‘grittiness’ this is predominantly pure entertainment set in a heightened pulpy world that brings to mind something of sub-Tarantino style.

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