The Last Hurrah (2016): Film Noir Meets Femme Fatale (Review)

The Last Hurrah (2016)

Written and directed by K. Patrick Tutera, The Last Hurrah is, in essence, a loving homage to film noir and another archetype of the time, the femme fatale.  It is an intimate look at two people who were married and had a child together. 

It is also about all things that make noir so popular. That invasive feeling that either one, or both, of the two protagonists are doomed. It also features a little greed, some lust and bit of double crossing…

Aleksandra Vujcic is Petra, a gorgeous classy looking dame (She has to be a dame; Sam Spade, the black and white medium and Lew Archer make it a necessity.) She is the foreign femme fatale that leads her former husband down a lane of deceit. 

Michael Bronte is Samuel, not a gumshoe with a dangling cigarette and lisping delivery, but a robber, as is Petra. He sees their sharing of the spoils in her apartment a chance to reconcile their differences. 

The director has a cameo as the “Man in Black” he is not Johnny Cash instead he is a  killer for hire. He could possibly be Petra’s new lover. It is not clear who the man really is.

While the characters do not deliver their lines with that 1940’s rapid fire staccato of a Howard Hawks film, the dialogue is reminiscent of that time period.  Snap brim fedoras, fox stoles and three piece suits mark the time period of this film.

The apartment could have come straight out of The Maltese Falcon  or The Big Sleep.  Camera work for the short feature is fairly stationary. The Last Hurrah could be done on the stage but it looks brilliant.

While the action is nearly claustrophobic in nature, the storyline and the interaction are perfect for the tale told here.  The former couple, who find that they can still work together perfectly, are a glamorous couple of crooks.

Petra, with her fractured English and Greta Garbo type delivery,  is a brilliant example of  strong female leads from back in the day.  The kind of woman who drove the men crazy while getting exactly what she wants from any relationship.

In this instance, the couple have a child in common. Petra uses the boy as a tool to force her ex husband into cooperating. Their offspring is also used as a diversionary tactic.  Samuel may be the muscle of this team but Petra is clearly the brains as this little vignette shows.

The Last Hurrah ends on an almost surprising note. This femme fatale, with the two-toned nails and lipstick that we know is a deep blood-red color, has gotten exactly what she set out to achieve.

Tutera gives us a spider and fly scenario set against the stark black and white world of the 1930’s and ’40’s.  The music chosen to set the mood could be lifted from any film during that time period and the director is not afraid to allow silence to frame a scene.

Philip Hurn, as cinematographer, lights the set brilliantly and the framing of each scene is spot on. The set and the designs feels right on the nose.

The Last Hurrah feels like a love letter in shorthand to Howard Hawks, John Huston and Billy Wilder. While the film is not perfect it does a great job of invoking those long ago days of cinematic glory.

Film producer, director and writer K. Patrick Tutera has informed us that his film will premiere at the Film Noir Festival in Albert, France 10, December this year. Fans of noir will want to check this one out.

This project is a high 4.5 star effort from all involved. It entertains and is an excellent homage to  the days of big studios.  Catch it if you can.

‘Kill Me Three Times’ Simon Pegg Black Comedy on Demand

Simon Pegg as Charlie Wolfe Directed by Kriv Stenders (“Red Dog”, “Boxing Day”) and written by James McFarland (in what appears to be his maiden effort as screenwriter) this black comedy and film noir spoof, with its limited theatrical and video on demand release is quite amusing and gives Simon Pegg fans a chance to see him with a Poncho Villa mustache and dark hair. Starring Pegg, Alice Braga (“Predators,” “I am Legend”), Luke Hemsworth, brother of Chris aka Thor, Callan Mulvey, Sullivan Stapleton, Bryan Brown (“FX,” “Cocktail”) and, an apparently pregnant, Teresa Palmer, the movie moves at a frantic clip and does try a little too hard to entertain.

That said, it is still entertaining, with Alice Braga playing against type as victim and Pegg playing what must be the world’s most incompetent assassin. The story begins with what must be the worst voice over Pegg has ever done. It is not the “Shaun of the Dead” star’s fault, however, it is McFarland’s dialogue. Stiff and clumsy, the opening words of the dying “hit man” are an instant turn off.

If one sticks with the film and ignores the awkward beginning, the movie does pay off. The plot has Braga as Alice Taylor, wife of hotelier Jack (Mulvey). Her hubby is an extremely jealous type and a bit too ready with his fists. Somewhat understandably, Alice has run to the arms of petrol station owner Hemsworth who plays hunky Dylan Smith. Smith may be what Mrs. Taylor prefers, but in the overall scheme of things, he is a muscle bound chap with a diminished brainpan.

The interweaved plot thread has 250,000 Australian dollars going from one person to another. A dentist with a terrible gambling problem, whose wife Lucy (Palmer) sets up her brother Jack’s wife in an insurance scam. Pegg is the other interwoven piece of this plot line and his hired assassin is either too drunk to operate his weapons properly or is the worst shot in the history of killers for hire.

The musical score is reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse offering “Planet Terror” a kind of 70s noir with twanging guitars and synthesizers. Although there is a sort of Tarantino feel in some places, it is Planet Terror that this film’s soundtrack takes it cues from.

Pegg’s character seems to have been written by McFarland as a sort of homage to many of his prior roles. There is even a direct nod and wink to Sgt. Angel from “Hot Fuzz,” “look at his arse.” Charlie Wolfe (Pegg) is a construct of Simon’s other roles, from “Spaced” to “The World’s End.”

This is a problem, along with the stilted dialogue and the accent Wolfe spouts. Since the character is driving an American car, it seems that he may be a “yank,” or at the very least a tourist, but there are those dead give-a-way British pronunciations that mess things up.

Bryan Brown makes an impressive local baddie and although it’s been a long time since “FX” and “Cocktail” the Australian actor still has those impressive acting chops. Teresa Palmer looks enough like Elizabeth Montgomery that if a biopic were ever done, she would fit the lead like a glove.

Speaking of Palmer, she looks to be impressively pregnant and despite Stenders’ best attempts, it is very noticeable. The actress has come a long way since her debut in the J Horror sequel “Grudge 2.”

All the characters in the film almost appear to be stereotypes of Australian types. While this does not detract from the movie itself, it would be interesting to see what the country thought of this decision. Colloquial opinions aside, these “types” work very well for the movie’s plot.

The film feels a little like a noir-ish updating of the 1963 film “Comedy of Terrors” with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. Both films feature a character that deals in death and both feature another character that refuses to die.

The cinematography is crisp and clear and the scenery is spectacular. Being a hopeless fan of Australian cinema, I liked the film. Pegg’s character is not a nice chap, and despite the inept nature of his hit man and his genuine delight at the turn of events, he still comes over as likeable.

Releasing the film with a limited theatrical run, coinciding with a video on demand option seems to have been a wise move. The film is, perhaps, a bit too eclectic for the main stream and while Simon Pegg fans may like the movie, it may have a hard time finding an audience.

Still worth a look, or two, and overall the blackly comic noir spoof is enjoyable and despite some plot holes here and there, worth the time spent watching it. A solid 3 out of 5 stars.

22 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Detective (2007): Pang Bros Noir

The Detective (2007)

I am continually amazed and impressed by the Pang Brothers. Just when I think I’ve seen everything they’ve ever made, another gem and another genre of film pops up out of nowhere. Directed by Oxide Pang and produced/written by both the Pang Brothers, The Detective is film noir at it’s finest.

Set in the back alleys and streets of Bangkok, we follow private detective Tam (Aaron Kwok). Tam’s income as a private detective obviously leaves a lot to be desired. At the beginning of the film Tam is seated behind his desk and his fan is busily rotating back and forth. He suddenly notices that the fan may be moving but the fan blades are not.

After he turns the fan off, a man he knows from a bar comes in and hires Tam to find a woman who, he says, is trying to kill him. He wants Tam to tell her that he (Lung) had nothing to do with the other thing and that she should leave him alone. Tam doubts that Lung is serious, until he pulls a wad of cash out of his pocket and drops it on Tam’s desk. Lung tells him that it is all the money he has.

After taking Lung’s picture, Tam goes to have a bite to eat at a local cafe where he bumps into his childhood friend Chak (Kai Chi Liu) who is on the police force. Tam cannot join the police as his eyesight is very bad. He suffers from extreme short sightedness. After exchanging pleasantries with his friend he pays him back some money he owes him and tells him of his latest case.

Chak jokes that he will be there to help Tam if things get too difficult.

Tam then starts his meticulous investigation and tries to find this nameless woman. As we accompany him on his journey, we learn a lot about Tam and how he works. Pictures are taken of everyone he interviews and everyplace he visits. Not long after he starts questioning people he finds his first lead and his first dead body.

Tam follows more leads, discovers more dead bodies and relentlessly continues trying to find the woman and what her connection is to all the dead people he keeps finding.

The Pang Bros signature is on every scene and every frame of this film. Their usual combination of odd and sometimes oblique camera positions and use of natural lighting helps to sell this ‘noir’ crime story. The plot is full of twists and turns and it will keep you guessing right up until the end.

Aaron Kwok portrays Tam as a likeable and tenacious man who has scars from the disappearance of his parents when he was a child. His character makes mistakes and clearly loves solving the puzzles he encounters. Tam is  the Sam Spade of Bangkok if not in action, he definitely has the spirit of Spade in him.

The whole film shows Tam’s process of following first one clue then another and going through each step of his investigation as logically as he can. He pretends to be a policeman when this can help him in his pursuit. Despite being told off by his friend Chak for impersonating a police officer, he continues to use this ruse several times.

Inspector Chak and Tam

The list of suspects and the elusive woman who Tam has been hired to find makes for a very satisfactory mix of intrigue, mystery, danger and confusion. Despite the fact that this noir crime thriller doesn’t fall into the usual catalogue of Pang Bros films, it does follow their winning formula of good story, good characters, great cinematic moments and a very satisfying ending.

My final verdict is that this film is one to see. Put on your noir thinking cap and enjoy this twisting and turning journey.

Max Payne 3 – Conclusions

Max Payne 3

Okay, so I finished Max Payne 3 last night, well early this morning, and I had a little think about the game. I was perhaps a bit harsh on the game, in my ‘first thoughts‘ on it. Because all said, it was a fun play through.

Now admittedly I’m not a Max Payne fan. I had played a very little bit of Max Payne 2 and my initial thoughts on that game, was that it seemed a lot like Condemned. As I said in my first post about Max Payne, I felt that I had been there before.

I guess to an extent it felt like that because Rockstar had set the whole game up as a ‘Game Noir’ and that’s okay, but did they really have to have that ‘grind house’ look to it?

I am still trying to figure out why they did the scratchy and shaky appearance to the whole thing. It did look like a addicts vision of life around him, but the bleeding and blurry colours didn’t really make a lot of sense for a ‘third-person-shooter.’

If it had been a ‘first-person-shooter’ it would have fit a bit better, but I still maintain that it was an un-necessary distraction.

The story was okay. The bit about powerful, rich, corrupt families has been done before. I suppose that with the drug cartel problem in Mexico these days grabbing headlines, it seemed the topical thing to do. But again, it still felt a little like a ‘re-run’ that I had seen before.

My other main complaint? The game was short. Damn short. I guess they felt like the inclusion of a Max Payne multi-player would make up for that. I did play the multi-player for a bit after I had finished the game. Sorry Rockstar, it didn’t add anything to the game. For a start, my character wasn’t even Max, for crying out loud. That bit was locked.

English: The Rockstar New England logo, a divi...

I guess I do have to admit that I liked the almost easy task of blowing bad guys away in their dozens. I do like shooting things whether said things are aliens, bad guys or enemy soldiers I am a sucker for a gun fight.

The ‘bullet time‘ feature is still fun, although it took me ages to really master it and the R1 feature took me forever to remember I had it as an option. But when I did remember all I could think of was John Woo’s Stranglehold game.

To be completely fair I have to say that it was a good play, but, it did not have that wow factor. So in my thinking it is more of a rental versus a ‘gotta have’ game.

I will say that I did like the fact that Max was in his mid-forties. As an old fart myself, it was nice to see a protagonist who was not young, bronzed and muscle bound. Someone instead with a bit of character on his face. Grizzled and wrinkled and still able to get the job done.

Max Payne 3: Been There, Done That, Got The T-Shirt

Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3 (Photo credit: s3rioussam)

You know how sometimes you just get that feeling. You know the one I mean. The one where you just know that you’re not going to get too excited about something, despite all the hype? Well that’s how I felt about Max Payne 3.

So rather than rush down to the store and spend my hard earned dinero on buying a copy I went to BlockBuster and rented the game for a week. Wise choice.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the game, I just don’t love it.

Rockstar Games obviously set this instalment of the Max Payne story to be a stand-alone experience. In other words you didn’t have to play the other two games to enjoy it. It seems to work fine under this premise but, the story has been done before.

Rockstar Games seem to specialize in ‘Game Noir’ at the moment. It was great when games first started using ‘Film Noir‘ as a starting point for their games. But now? Everybody seems to be doing it and that’s okay, but geeze guys change the story up a bit. The “world weary hero” having to watch over the vacuous, vain and spoiled rich has been done before…A lot of times before, time to give it a rest Amigos.

English: The Rockstar Lincoln logo, a division...

The game play is easy enough, I’ve only died a couple of times, but overall the gun toting bad guys are easy enough to dispatch. Which brings me to my other ‘gripe’ about the game. The “Bullet Time” feature. Come on guys! I know that this feature was revolutionised  in Max Payne 1. But the feature of slowing down time for gunplay has been used by everybody since then, even in ‘Gun’ for Pete’s sake. *Just a short side note, I loved that game, just having Kris Kristofferson voice one of the character’s made the game an instant winner for me* So streamlining it for 3 just isn’t enough.

And I know that Max is supposed to be a ‘rummy’ who’s hooked on pills as well, but the graphics meant to show us that fact are annoying as hell.

But, I do still like the game, like any third-person shooter it is easy for me to get caught up in the action and spend hours playing the game.  I guess that is my point. I do love third-person shooters. But I don’t love Max Payne 3. I’ve looked at my reasons listed above and I still can’t quite put my finger on why.

It has to do with story, I’m sure. I had no problem getting into Naughty Dog‘s Uncharted series, but to give credit where it is due, the writing for the Uncharted games is top–notch.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

I guess I’ll have to play it to the end. I should be able to accomplish this in the week I rented it for (you sure couldn’t have done that in the old days). In the mean time, I’ll ammo up and go out and kill some more bad hombres  and see where Max is going to take me next.