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From The Blog
December 15, 2017
"Burger King" Arrested for Drunk Driving
Adam Wagner
December 12, 2017
Review: Le Samourai (1967)
Brian Greene
December 8, 2017
Two Lovers Against the Law
Adam Wagner
December 7, 2017
Spy Games
Bill Rapp
December 7, 2017
Writing from the Perspective of an Animal
Abi Curtis
Showing posts by: Brian Greene click to see Brian Greene's profile
Dec 12 2017 1:00pm

Review: Le Samourai (1967)

1967 was the year of the Summer of Love, but during that year, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-73) put together and released a movie that couldn’t have been more removed from the splashy colors and free-love mood of the swinging moment in cultural time. Le Samourai is a stark, moody, decidedly un-psychedelic crime film that Melville directed based on his own original story. It stars Alain Delon, who became an important collaborator of Melville's as well as a personal friend. Criterion has just released a new version of the film with their usual stash of bonus materials, which offers a prompt for a fresh examination.

Arthouse sex symbol Delon plays the lead character, Jef Costello, a 30-year old lone wolf who sometimes takes on work as a contract killer. Costello doesn’t talk more than he has to, and he doesn’t exhibit much emotion. He spends a lot of time looking handsome and soberly removed from it all as he smokes fat French cigarettes and wears fedoras.

[Ooh la la!]

Oct 9 2017 3:30pm

Page to Screen: Vampyr (1932)

I originally planned this to be a Page to Screen article comparing Carl Theodor Dreyer’s (1899-1968) 1932 horror film Vampyr with In a Glass Darkly (1872), the collection of mystery stories penned by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). The film is regularly noted as being based on the short fiction works, but after reading Sheridan Le Fanu’s stories, watching the movie, and ingesting several articles written about both, I have come to realize that the extent to which the film is actually derived from the stories is debatable. So I’ll write primarily about Vampyr, as the new Criterion Collection edition of the film makes it timely, and I’ll add some comments about Sheridan Le Fanu’s short fiction.

Prior to Vampyr, Danish filmmaker Dreyer’s most recent work was the one many consider his masterpiece: 1928’s silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc. Vampyr, a combination French-German production, was the auteur’s first sound feature. Dreyer’s experience with silent cinema is evident in his debut talkie, as he used title cards to tell much of the story even while including (sparse) dialogue between characters. More significantly, and also indicative of the way the director was accustomed to showing tales on the big screen, most of what drives the horror film is its visual aspects; more on that in a moment.

[Read more about Vampyr...]

Sep 11 2017 2:00pm

Review: Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji by Tom Mes

Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji by Tom Mes traces Meiko Kaji's career from its earliest beginnings as a teen model and tomboyish basketball fanatic to her critically-lauded and versatile performances onscreen (available September 12, 2017).

Check out Brian Greene's appreciation piece on Meiko Kaji!

In her most notable film roles, Japanese actress Meiko Kaji’s (1947- ) characters are self-ruled women who are fiercely independent and who don’t take any shit from anybody, including those who would seem to be in positions of superiority over them. They don’t cave in to the expected societal norms. What this new book on Kaji by Japanese film scholar Tom Mes reveals is, Kaji herself is much like those characters. She may not have been the leader of any urban bad girl gangs, and she may not have sliced enemies up with knives and swords on vengeance sprees as she has on film. But Kaji has stood up to movie directors when she felt they had it coming, and she has turned down seemingly lucrative roles if they didn’t live up to her sense of personal and artistic integrity. She’s not somebody to be fooled with, no more than the women she’s portrayed on screen have been.

[Read Brian Greene's review of Unchained Melody...]

Aug 15 2017 2:00pm

Page to Screen: Hopscotch

I’m not sure if Criterion Collection is releasing a new edition of the 1980 movie Hopscotch because of the timeliness of the plot, but timely it is. A retired CIA agent who threatens to publish a book filled with leaked classified information ... um, yeah, that kinda gels with the present times here in the U.S. The film, directed by Ronald Neame (he also directed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Odessa File (1974), among others) is based on a 1975 novel by Brian Garfield. Garfield co-wrote the screenplay for the movie with Bryan Forbes. Let’s take a look inside the book and movie.

[Read Brian Greene's Page to Screen review!]

Aug 14 2017 3:30pm

Review: Low Heights by Pascal Garnier

Low Heights by Pascal Garnier, translated by Melanie Florence, is the latest Garnier novel to be translated into English and made available by Gallic Books (available August 15, 2017).

As I’ve noted in other posts on this site, one common thread among several of the novels written by Pascal Garnier (1949-2010) is that the Frenchman liked to study characters who have the left the cities of France and moved into provincial areas. This is true of Low Heights, which was published in its original language in 2003 and is the latest Garnier title to be brought out in a new English translation by Gallic Books.

Édouard Lavenant, the tale’s protagonist, is a widower in his mid-70s who left the city of Lyon for the remote town of Rézumat sometime after his wife’s death and after he’d suffered a stroke. At the outset of Low Heights, we find Édouard to be a grouchy old geezer who has one arm that’s no good to him and a mind that is having episodes during which it loses touch with reality. A businessman who’s financially comfortable, the widower now mostly spends his time sitting around his house in the country and griping about this and that to Thérèse, his live-in housekeeper.

[Read Brian Greene's review of Low Heights...]

Jul 18 2017 3:00pm

Page to Screen: Roadside Picnic & Stalker (1979)

Some admirers of the science fiction novel Roadside Picnic, written by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, might feel that the book has not received the critical and popular recognition it deserves, particularly in comparison to the film that was made from it: Andrei Tarkovsky’s widely celebrated Stalker (1979). But really, those of us who appreciate the novel should be thankful that we are aware of it at all.

Completed by the Russian brothers in 1971 and published in a magazine the following year, it was held up in book form for several years due to Soviet censorship. And when the authorities of the Strugatsky brothers’ home country did finally see fit to allow the story to appear as a book, it came out in a heavily censored version. However, the novel finally saw its release in its original form—in scores of different languages—and for this, we can be grateful. Criterion Collection’s new edition of the Tarkovsky film provides an opportunity for a fresh look at both novel and movie.

[Read more about Roadside Picnic and Stalker!]

Jul 10 2017 1:00pm

Page to Screen: Thieves Like Us & They Live by Night

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) might be the most well-known movie about an outlaw couple, and Gun Crazy (1950) might be the best. But the title that many credit as the original gangster couple film was made before either of those.

Critically revered auteur Nicholas Ray made his directorial debut with 1948’s They Live by Night, the plot of which largely revolves around an escaped convict and the woman who becomes his lover and traveling companion. Ray’s film was based on a gritty 1937 novel called Thieves Like Us, which was written by Edward Anderson. Anderson was little known in his time and is still under-recognized today. Criterion Collection’s new edition of They Live by Night is a prompt for a fresh look at both the film and novel.

[Read Brian Greene's Page to Screen review!]

May 25 2017 2:00pm

Page to Screen: Nightmare Alley

When I was around 23, I took my two nephews to a carnival in Norfolk, Virginia. I figured it would be a good time for the boys, both aged approximately nine at the time. You know—cotton candy, funnel cake, exhilarating rides, midway games, etc. And for me, personally, maybe there would be some kicks like a wild funhouse with those freaky mirrors.

We left after less than an hour and with me in a bitter mood. The staff of the fun fair were rough customers. One barker growled at me and called me a cheapskate when I declined to buy any of the goods at his stall. The guy operating the Spider laughed meanly through bad teeth when one of my nephews cried out in fright while being thrown around on the rickety ride. Most of the workers looked like they needed a bath and maybe a stay at a drying-out clinic. Needless to say, they were an unsavory bunch. It was enough to make me want to stick to treating the kids to comparatively safe and wholesome activities like mini golf when I had them for a night.

[There's a reason carnivals are portrayed as dark and creepy...]

Apr 25 2017 3:00pm

Page to Screen: Rumble Fish & The Outsiders

There are those who see Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic output as being divided into two distinct halves. According to this theory, there’s one set of his films that are of a classic Hollywood style and comparatively mainstream; then there’s another more personal and artistically pure group of releases. Whether or not you think this is a valid means of assessing Coppola’s work in films, there can be little question that his two 1983 movies based on the young adult novels of S. E. Hinton illustrate each of these approaches.

The Outsiders is a movie whose story just about anybody can grab onto, with its easily graspable dramatic episodes. Rumble Fish, by contrast, is a more deeply layered tale and more of an esoteric product, as well as a more experimentally shot film. Criterion Collection’s new edition of Rumble Fish provides an opportunity to give a fresh exploration of it, The Outsiders, and the two Hinton books they’re based on.

[Happy 50th anniversary, The Outsiders!]

Apr 3 2017 11:00am

Page to Screen: Blow-Up (1966)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up has inspired a lot of reverence. The 1959 Julio Cortázar short story that it’s drawn from certainly has its admirers, but it is less widely known or appreciated. Criterion Collection’s new, expanded edition of the movie gives those who are interested an excuse/opportunity to take a fresh look at both the cinematic and literary versions of the story, and to see into the connections (or lack thereof) between the two.

Both film and story are multi-layered, elusive works that invite varied interpretations of their ultimate themes and meanings. Likewise, the associations between them are not altogether straightforward. Many people who know and love Antonioni’s feature have likely never read the story. And some who have taken the time to read it after knowing the movie version possibly came away thinking there are only surface likenesses between the two versions of the tale. 

The opening credits of the film state that it was “inspired by” rather than based on the story, and they don’t bother to give a name to the Cortázar work (the Argentinian’s original title was “Las babas del diablo”; “The Devil’s Drool” translated from Spanish). But maybe there’s more in common between the filmmaker’s and writer’s visions than has been previously noted. Let’s explore.

[Yes, let's explore!]

Mar 31 2017 1:00pm

Two Heist Stories, One Book: Lionel White’s The Snatchers and Clean Break

When I wrote an appreciation of Lionel White’s 1955 noir novel The Big Caper for my Lost Classics of Noir series on this site, I called White “the master of the heist (gone wrong) novel.” This new Stark House Press edition of two of White’s edgy crime stories helps back that claim.

In The Snatchers (1953), White jumps right into the caper. This is a kidnapping story. A 33-year-old con named Cal Dent has orchestrated the abduction of the young daughter of a wealthy Connecticut family. Dent and the team of criminals he has assembled for the big job have taken the child, along with her pretty governess, to a beach cottage in a small tourist town on Long Island. It’s October, and the area where they’re holed up is largely deserted. From this hideout, Dent and his cronies attempt to execute Dent’s complex plan for demanding and collecting a vast amount of ransom money from the child’s parents, after which they plan to flee the country.

Among Dent’s crew are a sexy moll who knows how to use her good looks, her violent boyfriend, a super creep who appears to be a pedophile, and a few others. As we hear all that goes down as the ransom collection attempt is put into action, much of what drives the novel’s dramatic force is the set of interactions among the crooks and how they all respond to the child and her caretaker.

[Read Brian Greene's review of this Lionel White twofer...]

Mar 13 2017 1:00pm

Review: The Love Witch (2016)

One sign of a worthwhile film is that it can be experienced on different levels. This is the case with The Love Witch, the sexy horror-thriller movie that was released in late 2016 and is still making its debut in theaters in parts of the globe now. 

One aspect of The Love Witch that a viewer can focus on is simply its story. A feminist study of relations between the sexes, the tale follows the romantic/sexual exploits of Elaine, an alluring and powerful youngish woman who practices witchcraft. Elaine’s heart was crushed when her former husband left her (he later died under suspicious circumstances), and now she’s looking for a new man. She leaves San Francisco and starts a new life in a Gothic apartment in a smaller California city.

Elaine has a forceful presence, you-can’t-stop-staring-at-her looks, and an enchantingly mysterious personality. She’s the kind of woman who makes most men salivate and puts most other women on their defenses. And yet, Elaine is mentally unbalanced and not in control of her emotions; when she uses potent witchy concoctions on the men she meets and goes for, things get out of control for both her and the guys.

[Read Brian Greene's review of The Love Witch...]

Feb 21 2017 3:30pm

Page to Screen: Mildred Pierce

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

That oft-cited sentence from Shakespeare’s King Lear would have been well placed on an opening page of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel Mildred Pierce and just after the opening credits on Michael Curtiz’s 1945 same-named film adaptation of the story. Criterion Collection has just released a new Blu-Ray version of Curtiz’s movie, and that gives me an excuse to write about it—as well as the Cain book—and to think about the Shakespeare quote while considering both.

The book was the 3rd published novel from the hardboiled crime fiction leading light Cain, whose works The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943)—among others—were also adapted for notable films noir. Curtiz’s career as a movie director was too lengthy for me to try and sum it up in a sentence or two, so I’ll just mention that he was also the auteur behind the camera on Casablanca (1943) and one of my personal favorite Elvis movies, King Creole (1958).

[Thank you, thank you very much...]

Jan 23 2017 2:30pm

Page to Screen: The Harder They Come

I’ve written many page-to-screen features for this site. In most of those cases, my pieces have been odes to particular films on which I think it’s worth shining a light, with some commentary on the novels upon which they are based. In a few instances, the heavier slants of such posts have been on the books, with some scattered attention sprinkled on the subsequent films.

This is the first book/movie article I’ve written for Criminal Element (or anybody) where the novel in question was based on the film. An unusual situation and a departure from the normal way of how these artistic relationships go. So, yeah, it’s screen-to-page this time around because Michael Thelwell’s 1980 novel The Harder They Come was inspired by, and based on, Perry Henzell’s 1972 movie of the same title.

[Read more about The Harder They Come...]

Dec 15 2016 12:00pm

Another Kind of Christmas Movie: Lady in the Lake (1947)

It’s a long stretch to call Lady in the Lake—the dark suspense film from 1947 that Robert Montgomery directed and starred in—a Christmas movie. But, you know, I’m not much of a holiday films buff, and I wanted to write a seasonal post for this site, so a film noir title that happens to be set around Christmastime was as close as I was going to come to getting in the yuletide spirit for this purpose.

There are some interesting aspects of Lady in the Lake that make it worthy of consideration in December—or any time of the year, really. Based on Raymond Chandler’s 4th Philip Marlowe novel, which was published in 1943, Montgomery’s film is mostly noted for its odd cinematic approach. All of the shots (except those where Marlowe—portrayed by Montgomery himself—speaks directly to the audience in asides) come via how the scenes and people are witnessed by the private eye. Marlowe is the camera. Apart from the asides, and when mirrors are part of the scenes, we hear Marlowe speak and see what he sees, but we don’t see him

[Can't see me...]

Dec 13 2016 4:00pm

Revisiting The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Criterion Collection’s new Blu-Ray edition of the 1950 film noir title The Asphalt Jungle gives me a prompt to write about what I (and many others) consider to be one of the greatest crime/suspense movies ever made. And yet, I feel a little at a loss as to how to approach this piece. I mean, where do I begin?

I guess I’ll just start by running through some of the most notable aspects of the movie. First, it was directed by one of the best to ever orchestrate a motion picture: John Huston. His 11th directorial effort, Huston is the creative mastermind behind other film noir works, notably The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Fat City (1972). While those two are classics of the genre, the case can be made that The Asphalt Jungle is Huston’s defining stroke within this style of movie-making.

[The Asphalt Jungle where dreams are maaade of...]

Oct 11 2016 2:00pm

Review: It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives

It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives is a prose series of unpublished interviews with, and a visual retrospective of, the seminal mid-to-late 20th-century literary crime writer, Ross Macdonald.

Lew Archer, the private investigator who was Ross Macdonald’s signature literary character, is a guy who a lot of the younger generation saw as the best kind of father figure. Archer, who appeared in the sensationally good novels Macdonald penned through the 1950s, ‘60s, and into the first part of the ‘70s, wasn’t a beatnik or hippie guru who led a flock of wide-eyed teens and young adults through coffeehouse poetry reading sessions or acid trips. But he was a straight man who was always prepared to be sympathetic to youthful people’s problems.

When Archer encountered a troubled young person in the course of working his way through a case, before he wrote the kid off as just another deadbeat or dope fiend, he took the time to look into their home life to see what kinds of experiences might be at the root of the person’s problems. He didn’t automatically take the side of the youngish person over the older adult when he came across a generation gap conflict, but he was more than willing to see what parents and relatives and other adults might have done to lead the young people astray.

[Read Brian Greene's review of It's All One Case...]

Sep 27 2016 3:00pm

Beyond Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Revisiting a Wild 1970s Film

Criterion’s new Blu-Ray edition of Russ Meyer’s 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls gives me a prompt to write about a movie that I treasure. I could try to describe how much I like the film, but it might be easier and more telling if I just mention how many times I’ve watched it: I estimate 10-12 start-to-finish viewings, in addition to innumerable re-watches of individual scenes. I own the (glorious) soundtrack on vinyl, and it’s never but so far away from my turntable’s needle.

When people see BTVOTD for the first time, many of them (this was true of me, for sure) feel the need to start it back up and watch it again. There are so many dizzying cuts in the film, such a barrage of zinging one-liners, that on first viewing, it can be a sort of pleasurable assault on the your’s senses that leaves you feeling like you only really took in a portion of what happened and need to cue it back up to get what you missed.

[Be kind, rewind, and replay...]

Sep 14 2016 12:00pm

Review: The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier

The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier is a crime novel that finds reality and fiction overlapping for an author's stay in Normandy.

Pascal Garnier (1949-2010) has become one of my favorite writers—not just of noir fiction, but among all scribes whose work I’ve read, regardless of genre or style. A few years back, a friend with similar reading tastes to mine alerted me to Gallic Books’ run of new translations of the Frenchman’s edgy crime stories. I’ve been hopelessly hooked since. When Gallic releases a new English version of one of the books, I devour it like it’s a favorite food item that I’ve managed to get my hands and mouth on after being starved for a stretch of time. As was the case with Gallic’s latest translation of Garnier’s noir work, The Eskimo Solution.

[Read Brian Greene's review of The Eskimo Solution...]

Aug 23 2016 3:00pm

Page to Screen: Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

When I read that Criterion Collection was releasing a new Blu-Ray edition of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 film Woman in the Dunes, I tracked down and read the 1962 novel by Kōbō Abe on which it is based. I thought I might write about the Criterion release, and I knew that if I did, I’d want to comment on the ways the screen version differs (or not) from the page version. I’d seen the film many years earlier, but had never read the novel, although I’d read some of Abe’s other books.

As it turns out, there’s not a whole lot to say in comparing and contrasting book to film here. Abe wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, and Teshigahara was extremely faithful to the written version of the story in adapting it for the big screen. The two men were close associates at the time. They were leading members of a circle of forward-thinking Japanese artists, and Teshigahara made three other movies from Abe’s books. This film is a true collaboration between the two men, rather than a case of a movie director taking an author’s novel and completely reshaping it through his or her own vision.

[Read Brian Green's review of Woman in the Dunes...]