Chinatown: Love, Lies, and Conspiracies | Project 87

ChinatownposterChinatown hit the big screen in 1974, giving audiences a look at one of cinema’s greatest treasures in storytelling. We meet Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) at his office, a private investigator with a private collection of alcohol in his cupboards, and a distraught customer tearing at the blinds. He deals in break-ups, getting the dirt when the dirt in sought. This is the only thing we need to know about Gittes for a little while, before we enter a world beyond his control. (You should also note, there’ll be a few spoilers beyond this point. Consider yourself warned, if you care about that sort of thing.)

He deals in secrets and lies, and all the dangers they can cause. When Mrs Mulwray arrives at his office, we should be suspicious. She suspects her husband of cheating. When we meet Hollis Mulwray, questions begin to crop up. He’s a gentle looking man, thin and unassuming. He’s also the Chief Engineer of the LA Department of Water and Power, while the city’s gone into drought and he refuses to build a dam that might resolve the situation. There are so many triggers here that Gittes ignores, so many things that would make anyone else roll their eyes in disbelief that Hollis could be a cheater, and that anyone could even think he could manage it. He’s too public, and too decent, and still Gittes’s men find him with a woman that isn’t his wife.

Then, of course, the woman who hired Gittes to track Hollis wasn’t his wife, either. Her name is Ida Sessions, a woman whose significance remains in the dark for a large portion of the movie, beyond getting the photos from Gittes and into the paper. Enter Evelyn Mulwray, the real wife of our Chief Engineer – a man who subsequently proves incredibly difficult to get a hold of.

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes
Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes

When we finally get to see his face again, we’re also introduced to Luo Escobar- Gittes former partner in Chinatown. It’s alluded that Chinatown was a bad time in the PI’s life, a time he’d like to forget. Escobar’s moved up in the force, just enough that when Gittes sneaks onto private property – a freshwater reservoir – to see the body of Mulwray dragged into view, he’s able to allow Gittes to stay.

With Mulwray dead, and Gittes still considering himself a client of Evelyn’s, the threads of the story finally tie themselves together: Gittes’s new life digging up dirt meets the water crisis of LA, and his old life in Chinatown tags along for the ride. Three stories, two happening concurrently. This is why we study Chinatown, why Syd Field writes about it in such detail in Screenplay, and presumably why it made Spike Lee’s list. A complicated set of tales wove into a single movie.

Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray
Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray

Under contract with Evelyn Mulwray – and faux-Mulwray – Gittes uncovers a lot about the water conspiracy of LA. From dried up relationships to dried up water reserves, his work keeps him tangled up in the biggest political issue the movie can muster: keep the desert off the streets. LA is focused on the water – where it is, and where it isn’t. Hollis uncovered the truth before his death – it led to his death, and subsequently to the reunion of Gittes and Escobar. It was an obsession for Hollis Mulwray – always looking for water. From the beach, Echo Park, and his own back yard, and let us not forget his position in the Department, water is Hollis Mulwray’s life, right from the beginnings of his fortune, when he and Noah Cross owned the city’s water.

Cross is important. He’s a vile man, with a wicked temper, a sense of greed greater than the devil’s, and a daughter in Evelyn Mulwray. He was critical in the construction of the Alto Vallejo, which later burst – an event that resulted in Hollis’s refusal to build another reservoir for LA. He knows what will happen – or at least suspects it – and when the water is dumped from the city’s supplies during the drought, Cross enters Gittes’s sights. Cross who owned the water, and whose fishing club is revealed to support a group of elderly men and women whose names come up on Gittes’s radar.

Remember Ida Sessions? Her involvement in the case, in getting Gittes involved, resulted in her murder. Gittes receives a last note from her, to look at the obituary column. He also runs into Escobar again. Old lives cross in new stories.

Between the obituaries and the public records for land purchases in LA, the puzzle begins to fall into place. The men and women Cross supports own the desert, where the land is cheap, and none of them even know it. With Cross intending for the land to receive LA’s new reserves of water – and with Mulwray out of the picture – the plot turns towards keeping Evelyn safe. Evelyn, and the woman we once suspected of being Hollis’s girlfriend.

John Huston as Noah Cross
John Huston as Noah Cross

Her name is Katherine Cross; she’s one more reason to hate Noah, and one more reason to keep Evelyn safe. Hollis’s death was no accident, his lung’s flooded with saltwater, and Noah Cross the number one suspect. With Noah on the lookout for her, after a dirty affair years before, and both Evelyn and Katherine sent to Chinatown for protection, the threads of individual stories that tied together at Hollis’s deathbed meet the point where they’ll become untangled.

In a flurry of activity that sees Evelyn dead and Katherine leaving with Cross, Gittes’s past has finally caught up with him.

This is what we’re dealing with as an audience of Chinatown, a mish-mash of stories that somehow manage to work. Looked at together, it takes some attention to put it all into a cohesive plot. Separately, we’ve got a PI who can’t get away from the trouble he left the police force over entangled with a woman whose past relationship with her father has led to the complete downfall of her life. The history of Chinatown, and the history of the Cross family, meet in a bloody end, with Gittes dragged back into one to mingle with the other.

Chinatown is as much the story of the water crisis of LA, and the supposedly failing marriage of an engineer, as it is the story of a PI who never conquered his demons, who instead took up showing others everything wrong with their lives.

Mulwray’s death is a message no one received, but for the audience, and for readers of the script, it marks a significant turning point in the story. It’s the point at which everything comes together almost entirely by accident, and sparks the events that won’t end until the death of the second Mulwray.

We study Chinatown for the way in which these stories are told, stories of life and death, love and abuse, and the politics of need and greed. We remember it for its closing line: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

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Six Christmas Movies to Get You in the Mood (Whatever Your Mood)

Christmas is coming. It’s December, so it’s finally okay to admit it, to let those words come out of your mouth. As I write this, there are less than three weeks before the big day. To help get you in the mood, here are six Christmas movies, whatever sort of mood you might be in.

1. Elf

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Let’s get things started with one of my all-time favourite Christmas movies, and one of my favourite Will Ferrell movies: the tale of Buddy the Elf on a great big adventure in New York. Featuring many other things I love, like Zooey Deschanel’s singing voice, Peter Dinklage’s almighty acting talent, and book publishing, along with many critical lines such as “Smiling is my favourite” and “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear”, it’s sure to get the whole family laughing.

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It also features many great gift ideas: a good book, some classic toys, clothing, and candy. Also creative gifts, like handmade decorations, or songs.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol

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If you’re too much of a Scrooge to really get in the spirit, then meet the original Ebenezer himself. Dickens’s classic Christmas story is reinvigorated with the Muppets, and caries the plot along with whimsical music and an array of early 90s special effects.

3. Jingle All the Way

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Maybe you’d prefer a more modern example of the extents to which people go for their children. Maybe Scrooge isn’t doing it for you, and you need Arnold Schwarzenegger to make the season truly jolly. It’s cheesy, but it’s fun, and it’s held a special place in my heart since I first saw all those years ago. (I seem to recall seeing it in my Nanny’s house before she passed away, so it must have only made it onto the television a bit before that. Or I’m misremembering it.)

4. Bad Santa

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All those are very well and good for the kids. But when they’ve gone to bed, the adults need something. Something with some violence, some drinking, some swearing – a bad sort of Christmas. While some families honour the tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life every year, we watch Bad Santa. I never said my family was normal, but we know how to have fun.

5. Love, Actually

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For something a little bit different, try a Rom-Com on for size. It has the kid from A Game of Thrones in it, with Liam Neeson trying to be a good father. It’s one of those large-cast, many-stories sort of movies, but it manages to pace itself well enough that we get a sense of who they all are, what they want, and the different sorts of Christmases there are to be had. But before you watch it with your kids, maybe skip the opening scene.

6. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

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Last, and most certainly not least, the third instalment in the Harold & Kumar series. I developed a soft spot for these movies when I saw this one, with its intentionally bad 3D effects, its portrayal of Neil Patrick Harris as Straight Neil Patrick Harris, and the tale of friendship it tells over it extended arc. It’s crude, rude, and a little bit filthy, but there’s an awful lot to love about this movie. Not least of all being Jake Johnson as Jesus.

On my watch list this Christmas: Krampus and The Nightmare Before Christmas – which I still haven’t seen! What about you? What are your Christmas favourites that I should check out this year?

Seven Sci-fi Movies to See Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes to Ireland

Curated by @SimonCocking guest post by Paul Carroll

As we get closer to the holiday season, it’s coming, no matter how much we try to deny it, and, unless you’ve been living on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, the 7th coming is just around the corner. Of course if you’re living on a certain island off the South West coast of Ireland, then you’ve probably already seen some of part VIII already.

Source: Seven Sci-fi Movies to See Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes to Ireland

My article on Irish Tech News went live this morning. As a companion piece to my post here – 8 Sci-Fi Comedies to Watch Before The Force Awakens – I present to you a list of alien-featuring movies to accommodate for the lack of attention all the interesting aliens get in the Star Wars movies.

Even the most annoying aliens can sometimes get a write-off. Maybe. If you’re trying to get into the Star Wars mood, check out the fan-theory about Jar-Jar Binks below. It’s a little bit redemptive of our least favourite character in the franchise.

Thanks again to Simon Cocking of Irish Tech News for the opportunity to write for them. If you like the list, and want to add your own recommendations to it, leave a comment on their website.

8 Sci-Fi Comedies to Watch Before The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming out on December 17th. For many, that seems like a long time away. For those of us who attend the cinema on a regular basis, we’ve already reached saturation point with advertising. A walk through Dublin city centre is a painful experience, with Star Wars clothes on sale in Penneys, LEGO on sale in Arnotts, assorted merchandise  on sale in Forbidden Planet, a new game available in HMV and Gamestop, and books and other items to be found in Eason – all within a short walk of one another.

Remedy time: Sci-Fi Comedy movies. They’ll keep you in the mood, but you’ll get a whole other experience.

1. Attack the Block

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Set in modern-day London, Attack the Block pits a gang of inner-city kids against a pack of furry aliens. There’s swearing, there’s banter, there’s a whole heap of laughs, and there’s a sense that – while these kids were more than willing to mug a stranger in the street – the hooded youths really care about their flats and the people in them.

2. The World’s End

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In a similar vein, we have Simon Pegg on a session in his home town. Who doesn’t love a good drinking movie, right? Well, when people start acting strangely – as they do in Pegg’s movies, quite often in fact – we get a whole different sort of film. With a great supporting cast (including Martin Freeman and Nick Frost), and the relatability of Pegg’s character Gary King to the audience, it’s one to watch during these dark winter nights.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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If drinking movies aren’t your thing, but you still quite fancy the idea of seeing Martin Freeman in a Sci-Fi movie now that it’s been brought up, then look no further than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Based on the novel of the same name, it’s a film full of weird aliens, improbabilities, and British-isms, and the voice of Alan Rickman as Marvin the Paranoid Android.

4. Evolution

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If the witticism of British writing and actors are too much for you, and you want something a bit sillier, there’s always Evolution – a humorous flick exploring extraterrestrial lifeforms, shampoo, and Darwin’s theory of evolution on overdrive.

5. Dude, Where’s My Car?

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Considered more of a stoner film, it still passes my base-level Sci-Fi test: it has aliens in it. In this case, you have a choice between a pair of vaguely Norwegian muscle-men, and a pack of incredibly attractive women with a fetish for sexual innuendos.

6. Paul

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If human stoners aren’t your thing, perhaps an alien one would be better for you. Featuring Seth Rogen as the voice of Paul – and essentially playing the same role he plays in a number of his other films – with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kristen Wiig, it’s the story of grown-men with alien-obsession meet real-life alien, and all the disappointment that usually goes with it.

(Side note: My name is Paul, and I was essentially a third wheel when I went to see this with some friends a few years ago – they took a lot of pleasure out of the fact that I shared the name of the titular character. It didn’t help that one of the toilet paper companies ran an ad at the same time with the line “I’m going to have a poo at Paul’s”. That made for an interesting few months.)

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Okay, not exactly a comedy, but given the comedic tone of the film, the 80s cringe, and some of the best dialogue of the summer blockbusters that year, and the fact that I’ve already included a stoner film in the list, I’m giving it a pass.

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Fun for all the family, and equipped with exactly the sort of emotional manipulation Disney depends on to make people care about Groot. It’s also got an amazing soundtrack to help make your Christmas/New Year’s playlists that much better.

8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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If you’re still not satisfied, and you just want something a little bit freaky to go with your funny, look no further than cult-classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Featuring the most remarkable transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania – Frank N. Furter, played by Tim Curry – and a whole host of weird songs and weirder characters, it’s one for when the kids are in bed, and the wine bottle’s been opened.

And there we have it! 8 comedies. 8 vaguely-Sci-Fi movies. Less than three weeks to go before The Force Awakens. What would you add to the list? Which would you recommend most highly? And how many times do you think we’ll need a list like this to distract ourselves from the Disney marketing budget for Star Wars movies?