The Bling Ring is based on a true story as reported in Vanity Fair. From October 2008 through August, 2009, a group of teenagers, who met in an alternative high school, burglarized the homes of A-list celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, taking away jewelry, designer handbags, and loose cash.
As written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the narcissism of the victims is exceeded only by the shallowness of the criminals.
As in many noir tales such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, it's hard to decide whom we dislike more: the criminal or the victim. As in Gone Girl, there's not a single likable character. The spectacle of evil feeding upon evil has a grim fascination.
And yet, The Bling Ring doesn't feel all that dark because the crime seems so inconsequential. Do we really care if they stole about one per cent of Paris Hilton's shoe collection?
This theme recalls Sofia Coppola's film from 2006, Marie Antoinette, about another young woman isolated in a world of wealth and glamour, oblivious to the dark implications of her privilege.
In A Simple Plan, an average guy, Hank Mitchell, finds a small airplane, crashed in the woods. Inside he finds the pilot dead and a bag of money---lots of money.
Hank thinks of calling the police, but instead makes a simple plan: hide the money for a few months and see if anyone comes looking for it.
His plan is immediately complicated because his brother and a friend are with him and they are not people one wants to be in business with. But they agree to the plan.
What could go wrong?
Noir is full of stories that begin with honest citizens, a bit down on their luck, having a chance to make a big score by doing something a little dishonest with little risk. On the Movie index page for my blog there is Dangerous Lies, 2020. On my Novels Index page: After Dark My Sweet by Jim Thompson, A Touch of Death by Charles Williams, and Out of the Black by John Rector,
A Simple Plan is based on the novel of the same title by Scott Smith. It was his first novel, and he also wrote the screenplay. His success with both is well-deserved. Both are well-crafted exercises in watching it all go wrong.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the city shut down Geary Street and removed the pedestrian bridge at Steiner. The crew started early on Saturday and by Sunday morning it was reduced to rubble as you can see below.
No one will miss this bridge, because no one ever walked on it. It let you cross busy Geary Street at will, but climbing up the ramp at one end, crossing the bridge, and coming down the ramp on the other end took longer than waiting for the light to change and crossing at street level.
This bridge was a vestige of the 1960s, when this section of Geary was widened to six traffic lanes and turned into a mini-freeway with an underpass at Fillmore and closure of Buchanan and Octavia streets. The result was a nine-block gash through a traditional neighborhood that has never healed.
Another surface-level crosswalk is being added at Buchanan, and Geary is being narrowed with bulb-outs for bus stops and parking. All this should make the neighborhood more livable.
This movie feels good largely because of the chemistry between Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher as her husband. They are the young couple you have to love: hard-working, passionate, a little bit naive. It doesn't hurt that the rest of the cast is solidly believable with strong performances by Sasha Alexander as a police detective, Jamie Chung as a lawyer, and Cam Gigandet as a realtor. And it's delightful as always to see Elliott Gould in a cameo.
Dangerous Lies also feels good because it teases the viewer's expectations. It starts out as a story about an average person, down on her luck, who has a chance at a windfall that's not entirely legit. That puts it in a category with A Touch of Death by Charles Williams, and Out of the Black by John Rector.
Soon we're not sure how accidental the windfall is. Are all the friendly people really villains? Are all the suspicious people dangerous or just a little off? Is Katie (Camilla Mendes) as innocent and good as she seems or is she fooling everyone including the audience? I'll admit the movie kept me guessing.
It's not a perfect movie. There were moments when I thought, "Wait . . . What just happened?" And when it was done several things made me wonder, "Why didn't she just . . . ?" But it was plenty entertaining.
In 1881, Adolph Sutro bought 22 acres north of San Francisco's Ocean Beach. On a rocky promontory he built a mansion and gardens with wide vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Marin Headlands.
Sutro came to San Francisco in 1851 and set up as a shopkeeper. In 1860, he went to Virginia City, Nevada, and, after a few career changes, made a fortune at the Comstock Lode. He returned to San Francisco, served as mayor and carried out many philanthropic projects.
After his death, his daughter lived at the cliff-top mansion, which overlooked the first inn and restaurant called The Cliff House. By the time she died, the house and grounds had fallen into disrepair.
Today, only the foundations of the house remain, but on a foggy morning one can still imagine the grand life he led.
The writers of Dead to Me have proven they can invent enough nightmare complications to keep their plot alive for two seasons. Repeatedly, they give two women a reason to hate one another and a complication that binds them together for survival.
And yet, the show provokes laughs with the rapport of the two principal characters---a wealthy suburban widow and a new-agey free spirit---who read each other's minds and finish each other's sentences,
Christina Applegate, who plays the widow, is known for light comedy. She played the daughter in 259 episodes of Married with Children, Gwendolyn in Bad Moms, and Courtney n The Sweetest Thing. Yet she brings real terror to the scenes in which she is threatened.
Linda Cardellini, who plays Judy Hale has appeared in another darkly comic story, A Simple Favor, as a SoHo artist with lots of tatoos and a fascination with big, sharp knives. In Green Book she played the wife of Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen).
James Marsden does some wonderful work, but to say any more would ruin one of the show's best surprises.
If you enjoy the suspense of someone trapped in a nightmare only partly of their own making mixed with the hilarity of someone tripped up by complications they couldn't foresee, Dead to Me is for you. If you start with season one and continue through season two, you can stream twenty half-hour episodes back to back, and hope for a third season.
Out for a walk in Fort Mason, army-post-turned-park in San Francisco, we came upon this by accident. Yikes! What happened here? Is this a practical joke? No! Those boulders would be too heavy. What's holding them up? Are they real boulders or hollow plastic casts? Why are those guys hanging out where boulders could fall on them?
We had not been warned to be on the lookout for sculpture. This one is entitled Ideas of Stone and was created by Giusepe Penone. The boulders are real. The tree is a bronze cast.
An article on the website of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy says, "Penone uses objects from the natural world to document the intertwined relationship between humans and nature," and "Penone’s earliest works included site-specific sculptures."
So, Penone has a lot in common with Andy Goldsworthy, four of whose sculptures can be found in the Presidio, another army-post-turned-park in San Francisco: Earth Wall, Spire, Tree Fall, and Wood Line.
The article also says another work by Penone has been installed elsewhere in Fort Mason. I guess we'll have to take another walk.
The only thing unsatisfying about Season 3 of Ozark is watching it 18 months after watching Season 2. The writing, directing, acting, design---everything about this show is so tight, it's like a book you hate to put down.
It's my kind of story. A family flees Chicago after dad (Jason Bateman) fails to deliver on a deal for a Mexican drug cartel. His best shot at saving himself and his family is setting up a money-laundering operation fronted by a casino in the the Ozark mountains of Missouri.
By Season 3, it's not only dad trying to get out of a tight spot, Mom (Laura Linney) and both kids are involved and looking beyond surviving to making a big score. Things do not go well. In fact, things go badly in increasingly complicated ways.
The makers of the show have a five-season plot planned. If you haven't started watching Ozark, enjoy the first three seasons back to back. You might be tempted to wait until the series is complete, but it's too good to postpone.
If you like heist movies, you will like Thief, a 2006 TV series from FX. Andre Braugher stars as Nick Atwater, a smart, empathetic thief who contracts jobs such as cleaning out deposit boxes in a bank vault and "redirecting" new $100-dollar bills being moved by the Treasury Department.
In addition to a star performance by Braugher, the show offers a motley crew of specialists, a complicated personal life for Atwater, and it doesn't hurt that the legitimate business that fronts the criminal operation is a used car dealership for classic Detroit muscle cars.
Thief lasted only six episodes. At the time, the LA Times called this "puzzling." There was speculation that scripted drama may not have a future on cable networks, which were relatively new then. Not true, as it turned out.
Thanks to streaming, it's a six-hour mini-series that is smart, funny, scary and tense. It reminds me that heist movies have some something in common with noir suspense: the perfect plan that inevitably goes wrong. We buy in when the boss tells the crew how it will go down. We hold our breath as loose ends start to unravel. We groan as it all comes apart.
Martin Krieger discovers someone is stealing from the company he bought for his investors. He vows to find out who is involved and make them pay.
But the thieves have set a trap, and Krieger must do things he’s never done before to protect his career, his reputation, and his family.
How far will he go?
In The Con Man’s Son, a chilling game of hide and seek plays out on the foggy streets of San Francisco.
The Con Man’s Son will be published September 31, 2020 and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
The story begins with a husband throwing a surprise anniversary party for his wife. As the evening proceeds, little things don't make sense. The wife is appalled at the amount of money spent. The husband tries a little too hard to seem happy. Odd looks and gestures pass between guests. One of the caterers seems more than curious about the couple.
When the evening is over, there's body on the floor and we hear complicated explanations of what happened. As the story proceeds, we wonder who did what and whom to believe.
Alibi plays out in three, 45-minute episodes. The action is remarkable not only for elaborate schemes, but also for the range of feeling from noir to farce. The acting is superb with Michael Kitchen, Phyllis Logan, and Sophie Okonedo in the principal roles.
For fans of noir nightmares from Double Indemnity to A Simple Plan---especially those who like a dash of absurdity as in Blood Simple---Prime Video's Blow the Man Down is a very interesting little film.
We start with a volatile situation: two sisters at their mother's funeral inherit nothing but problems. One doubles down on taking charge; the other goes wild. There's a murder, and covering it up turns into a farce. We are deep into noir territory.
But, there's a chorus of fisherman with surprisingly operatic voices singing sea chanteys. The movie is set in a New England fishing town, so, I guess, they're musical scenery.
And there's a trio of older woman who keep turning up . . . at the funeral . . . out for a walk in the village . . . they're always around. And there's Margo Martindale playing a matriarch as few other can.
There are plot twists. There are surprises. Ominous things turn out to be unimportant. Little things loom large. When it was done, I had to mentally reverse-engineer some developments to see if they made sense. But I was always fascinated.
The policy of social distancing means there aren't many people around when we go out for a walk, and we avoid those few we see. The streets and plazas and neighborhoods feel empty, and traffic signals seem useless.
But we're having lovely weather, and the place still looks nice. The skies lately remind me of that fine old song by Joni Mitchell, ". . . ice cream castles in the air, and feathered canyons everywhere . . ."
The new Transbay Transit Center has a roof garden. This is good because it covers four city blocks. It's nice to have four blocks of places to catch city buses and commuter buses that go outside the city. It's even better to get a big public park in the bargain.
The bit of greenery shown here is a collection of "living fossils," plants that were around long before people were. I find this reassuring, and I'm not sure why. Plants elsewhere in the park exemplify cloud forests, desert landscapes, Australia, and other cool stuff.
It's not all plants. There's a climber for kids, a plaza with cafe tables ringed by food and drink vendors, and a flat lawn with a stage incorrectly described as "amphitheater." All very cool.
I took this pic standing on a pedestrian bridge that connects the park to the fourth floor of an office building. We hit the coffee bar and sat out on chairs such as he one you see. We had our choice of chairs, which was unusual in the busiest part of town. This happened because everyone has been told to stay home through March 22, 2020.
We went out anyway. In our hearts we are from New Hampshire: "Live free, or die!"
We went to the Balboa Theater, one of San Francisco's remaining neighborhood movie houses, to see Bullitt, the 1968 action film starring Steve McQueen and green, Mustang fastback.
You don't see the title on the marquee, because it's on the other side. I could have photographed the other side, but then you wouldn't have seen that glorious sunset.
The car chase in Bullitt is rightly famous and more than fifty years later it still works. I had not remembered that the movie is a series of chases. Earlier in the film, McQueen chases the killer through the stairwells and basement corridors of a hospital. Later, he chases a different bad buy across the runways of SFO while planes are taking off.
This showing was part of the Total SF series hosted by two writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight. There pre-show trivia contests are fun and it's fun to see films shot in San Francisco with a home-town audience turning out to see how the place looks on screen. We previously saw The Rock and Sister Act in this series.