Film Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

Release Date: May 14th, 1997 (Cannes)
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson
Based on: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Matt McCoy, Simon Baker

Regency Enterprises, The Wolper Organization, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.” – Capt. Dudley Smith

I’ve seen parts of L.A. Confidential over the years and I knew enough about the story before even watching it but yes, this is my first viewing of the film in its entirety.

While that may seem odd for a fan of film-noir, I didn’t become a true lover of noir fiction until I got past my teen years. Sure, I always liked crime movies but the noir aesthetic didn’t truly penetrate my psyche until my late 20s and really didn’t make me do a deep dive into the cinematic style until my mid-30s.

Now L.A. Confidential is a modern neo-noir that takes its narrative and stylistic cues from classic film-noir but it has this pristine razzle dazzle about it and that’s not simply because of the star power. It’s visual allure is just breathtaking and while other films in the ’90s tried to encapsulate the noir look, albeit in color, there is just something fantastical about how this comes off on screen.

On one hand, the movie feels like a dark fairytale of a time long gone and a world that doesn’t exist in the same way. On the other hand, there is a gritty realness to it that makes the darker parts of humanity come across as genuine and frightening.

That being said, this is still great because of its star power on top of the film’s visual look. You really have a solid cast between Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. Everyone does a perfect job with the script and the story.

However, I think the glue that holds everything together so well is director Curtis Hanson. While not having a prolific name like Scorsese, Coppola or De Palma, he takes the crime fiction material and makes it work, incredibly well. He got the most out of his cast while having a great eye for mise-en-scène. The film boasts stupendous cinematography and shot framing.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith is also pretty close to perfect.

My only real complaint about the film comes in regards to its pacing. While mostly energetic, there are a few points in the film that drag a bit more than they need to. I didn’t find it to wreck the movie or even be much of a distraction, though.

The ’90s produced a lot of neo-noir motion pictures but L.A. Confidential certainly deserves its place in the upper echelon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s neo-noir films: Heat, The Two Jakes, The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Falls, Seven, Red Rock West, Devil In a Blue Dress, Dick Tracy, etc.

TV Review: James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons (2011)

Original Run: January 19th, 2011 – February 23rd, 2011
Directed by: various
Cast: James Ellroy (host/narrator), Phil LaMarr (voice)

Digital Ranch Productions, 6 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a weird show. No, not because of the subject matter but because of the way this thing was produced and presented.

I guess this is James Ellroy’s baby but he doesn’t make a good host or narrator, as his delivery is off putting and distracting. Where most of these episodes had interesting topics, it was hard to get lost in the tales because Ellroy delivered his lines like a monotone crazy person that likes to go, “BAM!” between every segue in his story.

Also, there are these weird bits in each episode where he talks to a CGI cop dog that looks like Spuds McKenzie. These scenes are bafflingly bad with worse computer graphics than a homebrew 1994 PC game from the Ukraine.

I really wanted to delve into these stories, as each one was like a real life film-noir from a bygone era.

Ultimately, this was poorly crafted, poorly presented and even though I got through all six episodes, I felt like I wasted my time trying to dig through the dirt to find the treasure.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other crime documentary shows.

Documentary Review: Los Angeles: City of Film-Noir (2015)

Also known as: Los Angeles: Cité du Film Noir (original French title)
Release Date: February 28th, 2015 (France)
Directed by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Written by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Cast: James Ellroy, Eddie Muller, Alain Silver

Wichita Films, 52 Minutes

Review:

This is a short one hour documentary that specifically focuses on film-noir that has encapsulated the City of Los Angeles.

The documentary features only three people, which doesn’t seem like enough but all three men do have extensive knowledge on the subject.

James Ellroy has lived in L.A. his entire life and has written noir-esque crime novels, two of which were made into major neo-noir motion pictures: L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia.

Eddie Muller is a film-noir historian that runs the Film-Noir Foundation, restoring lost noir classics to HD beauty, as well as having gone on to host the Turner Classic Movies weekly program, Noir Alley.

Alain Silver is a film producer and author that has spent extensive time working in the realm of noir.

So there’s a lot of meat and potatoes here to chew on in regards to the subject matter.

Still, more talking heads would’ve been great and I think that this is something that could’ve gone on for longer than 52 minutes because of how interesting the subject matter is.

If you dig classic film-noir, this is certainly worth a watch. In fact, as opposed to just a trailer, I posted the full documentary below.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on film-noir. Several can be found on YouTube.

Film Review: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Release Date: August 9th, 2006 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Josh Friedman
Based on: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, Rose McGowan, Troy Evans, Pepe Serna, William Finley

Davis Films, Millennium Films, Nu Image, Signature Pictures, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?” – Kay Lake

For a modern noir picture with a cast this star studded, The Black Dahlia was a real disappointment. It had some positives but it mostly falls flat and is an example of style over substance.

This is not a good example of the work Brian De Palma can do. He is one of the best directors of his generation but this really misses its mark, which is unfortunate, as the subject matter is great and the talent he was able to get in this picture was impressive.

Josh Hartnett is the main star of the picture but his role feels pretty weak. I don’t feel like it is Hartnett’s fault, I feel like it is the direction of De Palma and the emotionless script. However, Hillary Swank, who is more talented than this film is able to show, is kind of just in this movie. It doesn’t really matter that it is her.

Although, everyone else does seem to work with the material. I thought that Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson were really good in their scenes and Patrick Fischler, a guy who is in everything but doesn’t get the notoriety he should, knocked his scenes out of the park. You also get to see Mike Starr and Troy Evans, two guys who do a lot of cop type roles but always bring their best to the table.

The real scene stealer however, is Mia Kirshner, an actress I’ve been mesmerized by since first seeing her in The Crow: City of Angels, a film where she was the only positive other than the murderous psycho biker played by Iggy Pop. Kirshner truly owns her role in this picture and it may have been the best she’s ever been. She’s really the only character in the film that you feel any emotion for. Honestly, it’s been eleven years since this came out and she should have gotten more prestigious roles but maybe her work was overshadowed by this being such a lackluster film.

Now, despite the overall film falling short, the visuals are top notch. The cinematography is unquestionably superb. Everything within the film feels true and authentic, even the bizarre K.D. Lang performance that pops up in the middle of the movie.

The narrative and the big reveal at the end were all pretty poorly strung together, though. It just made the film too bizarre and frankly, pretty fucking stupid and just really annoying after sitting through this two hour mess.

Typically, I like the work of Brian De Palma. This one just misses its mark.

Rating: 5.25/10