What is it about Los Angeles? Or more specifically what is it about celluloid treatments of L.A.? Every landmark cinematic portrayal of the City of Angels revels in exposing the ugly truth behind its glamorous façade.
Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1998) offered a view of a city controlled by nefarious thugs scheming under the colour of authority. Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) reached even further back in history to reveal the sinister machinations that helped turn L.A. from a desert wasteland into a sprawling metropolis. The silver screen always remains eager to show us the dichotomy at work in L.A.: for every example of glitz and glamour, there is an equally ugly truth behind it.
Even famous American Literature views the nations’ second-biggest city with a sardonic contempt. Philip Marlowe creator Raymond Chandler penned an image of the city as a cesspool, steaming under tacky neon lights. This urban embodiment of all that is good and evil in the human experience forms the focal point of Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, a disturbing yet masterful account of a mother’s search for her missing son.
Matching a director as sombre in tone as Clint Eastwood with a high-concept thriller about a President who kills the wife of his biggest financial banker, then is pursued by the cat burglar who witnessed his crime, might seem like an uneasy union.
But Eastwood not only made the relationship work in 1997’s Absolute Power. He also mastered the art of popcorn frivolity.
Of all the cinematic adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it took the Hammer Horror treatment to produce the best. The 1958 version of Dracula, or to give it its official title of the time, Horror of Dracula, still stands up today as a superb example of true horror cinema.
It is horror by contrasts. Those contrasts are achieved by sudden shifts. These include shifts in mood, aesthetics, pacing and tone.
In the first of a series of hidden gems of the big screen you have to see once, Thorold Dickinson’s Secret People goes under the microscope.
What’s revealed is a true masterpiece of the cinema of provocation. Through technical quality and thematic depth, Dickinson crafted a quite brilliant film.
Released in 1952 through Ealing Studios, Secret People is at once an anti-violence parable, as well as a treatise on the shadowy and malevolent aspects of human nature.
The Bourne franchise re-defined action-movie excellence. It’s third instalment, The Bourne Ultimatum, took action cinema to its perfect limit.
Each time you watch The Big Sleep it’s easy to be torn between thinking it’s a classic of the big screen, or simply sensationalist fluff, a shallow vehicle for off-screen couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
But Howard Hawks’ 1946 adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel earns its classic status because of one quality that never dims. It contains some of the most memorable dialogue in big screen history.
In fact, dialogue isn’t just a function of The Big Sleep, it carries the entire movie. Moments of brilliance are contained in how scathing put-downs are delivered with such wry eloquence.
There are no horses heads, no fishes wrapped in bulletproof vests, no hail of bullets at a toll booth, or even any Marlon Brando. But over 40 years since it was made,The Godfather Part II is still the superior film in one of the big screen’s greatest ever trilogies.