Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pulp Fiction / No 8 best crime film of all time

Pulp Fiction: No 8 best crime film of all time

Quentin Tarantino, 1994

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.48 BST

1994 was Quentin Tarantino's year. With audiences reeling from the shock of Reservoir Dogs two years earlier, the mantle of world's coolest film director was his for the taking. His second feature, the ambitious but oddly leisurely thriller Pulp Fiction, premiered at Cannes, where Clint Eastwood's jury awarded it the Palme d'Or. A year later, it had grossed $213m, faced off against Forrest Gump at the Academy Awards and planted an entire library of off mbeat references and quotable lines in the heads of susceptible cinemagoers. It would not be overstating the case to call it a phenomenon.
The idea of a portmanteau crime film had been cooked up by Tarantino and his old video store colleague, Roger Avary (who got a "story by" credit). But the picture's magic touch is the anti-chronological structure which enables its three stories to intersect in unusual ways – so the final story predates the first one, and a character who dies in the middle story reappears at the end, striding off toward a demise we have witnessed, but about which he can have no possible inkling. In the first chapter, two hitmen, Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L Jackson), take possession of a mysterious briefcase before Vincent goes on to chaperone his boss's girlfriend (Uma Thurman) on an evening that spins wildly out of control. The second story follows a boxer, Butch (Bruce Willis), whose failure to throw a fight as instructed leads him into territory which might reasonably be described as hellish. The closing episode has an unexpected air of sitcom about it as Vincent and Jules turn to a clean-up specialist named the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) when a misfired gun leaves a nasty mess in the back of their car. All this is bookended by scenes in a diner that is being held up by two excitable young crooks (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer).
For better or worse, the movie made possible the long reign of Miramax, revived Travolta's career and ratified Tarantino's reputation. Familiarity with the director's box of tricks has bred a touch of contempt, but it's becoming easier, now that the hype has cleared, to see the movie for what it really is: an audacious attempt to fuse visual chutzpah and expansive storytelling, movies and music, art and trash. It's a true one-off.

Quentin Tarantino / Uma Thurman / Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino & Uma Thurman
Pulp Fiction
Cannes Film Festival

Playboy / Covers


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Get Carter / No 7 best crime film of all time

Get Carter: No 7 best crime film of all time

Mike Hodges, 1971

Michael Hann
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.49 BST

t a distance of nearly 40 years, Get Carter has as much value as a piece of social history as it does as a thriller. The Tyneside it portrays isn't one of hen parties in Bigg Market, but of poverty that grinds Newcastle and its inhabitants into an inescapable and unendurable greyness. At times, too, it seems as if Mike Hodges has thrown his actors into real life – the faces of the old men in the pubs and betting shops, and the revellers at the dancehall take the movie into something akin to cinéma verité, even as mayhem erupts in the foreground.

As a thriller, though, it's colder and more brutal than anything British cinema has produced before or since; its mood so unyielding that the viewer does not even question whether Michael Caine really could be a Geordie hood returning home for his brother's funeral. There's humour, but it's so bleak it causes grimaces more than laughs: when the husband of Carter's lover (played by Britt Ekland) walks in on her having phone sex with Carter, he asks, puzzled: "What's the matter? You got gut trouble or something?" That's entirely fitting with regard to the subject matter, for when Carter investigates his brother's death, he discovers the dead man's daughter has been coerced into porn films by the local crime syndicate, setting Carter off on a trail of vengeance.

At the centre of it all is Caine, playing with such chilly authority that even his most geezerish moments – "You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself" – retain their threat, when a few years later they might have teetered over into self-parody. He's aided by a top-notch supporting cast, with the playwright John Osborne an unlikely but wholly convincing ganglord, and future Coronation Street mainstay Bryan Mosley as the hapless hanger-on Cliff Brumby, who makes one of British cinema's most notable exits, from the upper stories of the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead. 

Watching Get Carter now is like reading accounts of the first westerners to cross the Gobi desert: did this world ever exist, and in such recent times? It seems wholly remote from 21st-century Britain, even as its themes of coerced sex and utter amorality chime with contemporary fears.

Double Indemnity / No 6 best crime film of all time

Double Indemnity: No 6 best crime film of all time: No 6 best crime film of all time

Billy Wilder, 1944

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.50 BST

ameron Crowe called Double Indemnity "flawless film-making". Woody Allen declared it "the greatest movie ever made". Even if you can't go along with that, there can be no disputing that it is the finest film noir of all time, though it was made in 1944, before the term film noir was even coined. Adapting James M Cain's 1935 novella about a straight-arrow insurance salesman tempted into murder by a duplicitous housewife, genre-hopping director Billy Wilder recruited Raymond Chandler as co-writer. Chandler, said Wilder, "was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence". Noir's visual style, which had its roots in German Expressionism, was forged here, though Wilder insisted that he was going for a "newsreel" effect. "We had to be realistic," he said. "You had to believe the situation and the characters, or all was lost." And we do. Fred MacMurray, who had specialised largely in comedy until that point, was an inspired choice to play the big dope Walter Neff, who narrates the sorry mess in flashback, and wonders: "How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?" Edward G Robinson is coiled and charismatic as Neff's colleague, a claims adjuster who unpicks the couple's scheme.

But the ace in the hole is Barbara Stanwyck as Phyliss Dietrichson, a vision of amorality in a "honey of an anklet" and a platinum wig. She can lower her sunglasses and make it look like the last word in predatory desire. And she's not just a vamp: she's a psychopath. There are few shots in cinema as bone-chilling as the close-up on Stanwyck's face as Neff dispatches Phyliss's husband in the back seat of a car. Miklós Rózsa's fretful strings tell us throughout the picture: beware. Stanwyck had been reluctant to take the role, confessing: "I was a little frightened of it." Wilder asked whether she was an actress or a mouse. When she plumped for the former, he shot back: "Then take the part."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sharon Rogers / Her fascinating life

Sharon Rogers

Her fascinating life

MARCH 10, 2013
An interview with Sharon Rogers

Sharon Rogers is best known for her appearances in Playboy.  She was on the cover in November 1963 and Playmate of the month in January 1964 (The Tenth Anniversary Issue). Sharon has appeared in over 20 Playboy publications to date. She moved into the ChicagoPlayboyMansion in 1962 where she lived until January 1964.  She worked and trained bunnies at the Playboy Club in Chicago before moving to Hollywood where she helped hire and train bunnies for the opening of the L.A. Playboy Club.  She spent a year doing pre-publicity interviews on TV and in newspapers to promote the new Club.  She also worked in the New York Playboy Club before leaving the organization in 1969. She also appeared in a few TV Series and a couple of movies. Sharon went on to retire in 2009 after working for the Washington State Department of Transportation for 22 years. It was an honor to sit down with her to learn more of her fascinating life.

Rashomon / No 5 best crime film of all time

Rashomon: No 5 best crime film of all time

Akira Kurosawa, 1950

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.51 BST

woman is raped in a forest by a bandit, and her samurai husband murdered. In court, the victim and her attacker give contradictory accounts of what happened, while the dead man, communicating through a medium, offers another differing interpretation. Finally, a fourth account is given by a woodcutter who claims to have witnessed the attack. But whose version can be believed? Rashomon, which won the Grand Prix at Venice as well as the Oscar for best foreign language film, is an example not only of the great Kurosawa at the height of his powers – working with his regular collaborator, the imposing Toshiro Mifune – but of cinematic storytelling at its most daring. With its multiple contradictory flashbacks conspiring to present truth as an amorphous entity, Rashomon has been hugely influential on film structure and vocabulary in the 60 years since it was made.

But this formalist significance should not overshadow the picture's visual eloquence, and the extraordinary cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, which uses the intricate woodland setting as a metaphor for the story's tangled emotions. "[The] strange impulses of the human heart would be expressed through the use of an elaborately fashioned play of light and shadow," wrote Kurosawa of his preparations for the film, which he adapted in part from the short story, Yabu no Naka (In a Grove), by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. "In the film, people going astray in the thicket of their hearts would wander into a wider wilderness …" The bristling beauty of the film emerged from Kurosawa's quest to reconnect with the roots of the art form, which he worried were in danger of being eclipsed. "Since the advent of the talkies in the 30s," he said, "I felt we had misplaced and forgotten what was so wonderful about the old silent movies. I was aware of the aesthetic loss as a constant irritation. I sensed a need to go back to the origins of the motion picture to find this peculiar beauty again ..." There may be something a shade too reassuring about the final deference to truth and idealism. But this is easily offset by the rigorous psychological work-out to which Rashomon – arguably Kurosawa's greatest work – subjects its audience.


Chinatown / The best crime film of all time

Badlands / No 4 best crime film of all time

Badlands: No 4 best crime film of all time

Terrence Malick, 1973

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.52 BST

Terrence Malick based his peerlessly poetic debut on the real-life story of Charles Starkweather, a teenage James Dean wannabe who fled across the midwest on a killing spree, his 14-year-old girlfriend in tow. But the film couldn't be further from a pulpy true-crime tale, or a hip New Wave homage like Bonnie and Clyde. It's a true original: eloquent about the intersection of crime, romanticism and myth-making in America, and highly innovative in its use of colour, editing and voice-over. Martin Sheen, who was cast as the Starkweather surrogate, Kit, believed Badlands was the best script he had ever read. "Still is," he says. "It was mesmerising. It disarmed you. It was a period piece, and yet of all time. It was extremely American, it caught the spirit of the people, of the culture, in a way that was immediately identifiable." Sissy Spacek played Holly, the baton-twirling schoolgirl who elopes with Kit after he kills her father (Warren Oates).

The film's dislocated emotional effect arises almost entirely from Holly, whose banal narration goes starkly against the grain. Traditionally, a voice-over fills in the blanks, but Badlands is defined by the contradiction between what we see and what we hear. Holly's blank reaction when Kit guns down her father makes the slaying more shocking than any amount of hysterical identification. "She isn't indifferent about her father's death," Malick pointed out. "She might have cried buckets of tears, but she wouldn't think of telling you about it. It would not be proper. You should always feel there are large parts of her experience she's not including because she has a strong, if misplaced, sense of propriety." This suggestion that we may not be getting the full story is crucial to appreciating Malick, who is more likely, at a moment of drama, to turn his camera on a quivering blade of grass. In fact, Malick's career was to be the biggest ellipsis of all, with only four more features to date (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World and the forthcoming Tree of Life) completed after Badlands. Not that this trifling fact can undermine, in any way, his place as the visionary of American film-making.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Vertigo / No 3 best crime film of all time

Vertigo: No 3 best crime film of all time

Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.53 BST

he rehabilitation of Hitchcock's Vertigo is now fully complete – its reputation is as assured as that of Citizen Kane, and can only have been helped by a long period in which it was out of circulation – but what an oddity it is. Viewed as a conventional thriller, this adaption of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's 1954 novel, Sueurs Froides (D'Entre les Morts), is hardly the tightest of constructions. And there is also the notorious left-field touch of giving away the twist some distance before the end. But then, plot matters far less in Vertigo than the machinations of desire and obsession – and about those there is no finer film. 

James Stewart plays Scottie, an acrophobic private eye who receives an unusual assignment: to follow Madeleine (Kim Novak), the wife of an old friend, who is drifting around San Francisco in a dazed funk. She seems to be under the spell of a long-dead ancestor named Carlotta, who committed suicide, but soon Scottie is lost in his own reverie.

At this point, the plot takes a sharply disorienting turn, and Vertigo moves into darker and even more unsettling territory. Stewart's performance as a prototype stalker is especially troubling as we watch his soft features harden and his wholesome persona become mangled and corrupted; along with Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West, it is one of cinema's most effective instances of casting against type. Meanwhile, Novak is a model of fraught beauty in her tombstone-grey suit. She was always a reluctant star, and her natural anxiety contributes to her character's vulnerability, which peaks in the heartbreaking line to Scottie: "If I let you change me, will you love me?" No wonder the writer David A Cook said of the film that it "suggests not only the fraudulence of romantic love, but of the whole Hollywood narrative tradition that underwrites it."

Stylistically, Vertigo features some of Hitchcock's most expressionistic work; the film includes the famous zoom-in/track-out shot, also known as the "trombone shot" (and later appropriated by Steven Spielberg for Jaws), which gives the impression of both moving toward and away from the subject simultaneously. Even the misstep of the nightmare sequence created by John Ferren, which sees Scottie's disembodied face floating in a psychedelic void, cannot undermine the stifling atmosphere of romantic intensity epitomised in the ripe colours and Bernard Herrmann's grand, encircling score.