Category Archives: Neo Noir

10 great biker films

PsychomaniaThis September, the living dead won’t be shuffling on to the screen, they’ll roar across it on the back of motorcycles, as the BFI releases its Blu-ray of Australian-born director Don Sharp’s 1973 cult film, Psychomania, a fusion of two obsessions of early 70s exploitation cinema: the occult and vicious motorcycle packs.

Motorcycle gangs first appeared on the big screen in the early 1950s. A trickle of motorcycle-themed film appeared until the mid-60s, but it wasn’t until the release of US gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and then the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway concert, at which Hells Angels working as bouncers killed an audience member, that popular culture’s preoccupation with criminal motorcycle gangs reached fever pitch.

Hollywood produced a deluge of outlaw biker movies and, while this has been the motorcycle’s most common screen manifestation, the machines have also symbolised the quest for freedom and self-discovery.

My latest piece for the British Film Institute site, 10 major cinematic milestones focused on the motorbike, is available to read in full here.

What are your favourite films featuring motorcycles?

Forget it, Stanley, it’s Chinatown: Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon

Year of the Dragon posterThe recent death of Michael Cimino saw an outpouring of positive critical and fan commentary about the director’s work. The two films most talked about were the controversial Vietnam War drama, The Deer Hunter (1978), and the sprawling revisionist Western epic, Heaven’s Gate (1980). The Deer Hunter was a hit and won five academy awards. Heaven’s Gate virtually destroyed Cimino’s career and nearly bankrupted United Artists, but has since gone on to enjoy a curious critical rehabilitation, a development which will no doubt be given a prod by the director’s passing.

Cimino did make other films, including The Sicilian (1987) and Desperate Hours, based on the Joseph Hanson stage play and first filmed in 1955 with an ageing Humphrey Bogart, and he penned the scrips for a handful of others. His passing is an opportune time to revisit one of his lessor discussed directorial efforts, the first film he made in the wake the Heaven’s Gate debacle, 1985 neo noir, Year of the Dragon.

Set in New York’s Chinatown, Year of the Dragon opens with the assassination of one of Chinatown’s elders and the murder of an Italian grocery store owner who resists an attempt to shake him down for protection money. The new head of the Chinatown command of the NYPD, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) believes both deaths are the result of an upsurge in Triad activity.… Read more


Klute posterSome great films were made in the late sixties and seventies about the sleazy, exploitative underbelly of America’s sex industry. John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), Scorsese’s Tax Driver (1976) and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979), all spring to mind. But, surely one of the most gripping and atmospheric offerings in this tawdry canon is Alan J Pakula’s 1971 movie, Klute.

Klute is often referred to as the first of Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’, along with the trippy political thriller, Parallax View (1974), and his film about the Washington Post’s disclosure of the Watergate scandal, All The President’s Men (1976). Klute certainly has a number of themes in common with these two films, including the prominent use of (what was for its time) high tech surveillance equipment to create a sense of fear and unease, and how this alters human interactions. But the film is also a fascinating slice of New York in the early seventies.

A senior executive for a Pennsylvanian company, Tom Gruneman, has gone missing. When several months of police investigation turn up nothing, the head of the company, Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi) hires a local policeman and a friend of the family, John Klute (Donald Sutherland) to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. Klute follows up on one of the few leads in the case, a series of letters Gruneman sent to a New York prostitute called Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda).… Read more

MIFF report back #2: Sunrise


A key question for me from Partho Sen-Gupta’s second feature film, Sunrise, which played as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival, is how does one make a gripping crime film out of a pervasive social problem like child trafficking? If this was indeed Sen-Gupta’s intention, I’m not sure he has entirely succeeded. That said, there is a lot to recommend it.

The narrative spine of Sunrise is fairly straightforward. Joshi is middle aged Inspector working in a poorly resourced unit of the Mumbai police. His life has been in tatters ever since a person or persons unknown kidnapped his young daughter, Aruna, in front of her school years ago. The crime has destroyed his wife’s sanity and threatens to do the same to him. Compounding his trauma is the fact that the unit he works in deals with other parents who have had similar experiences. Joshi and his colleagues are largely unable to help these people, usually because their resources and methods are no match for those of the criminals responsible for the disappearances.

Joshi spends his nights obsessively searching for Aruna. He thinks he sees her everywhere. One night he stumbles out of the torrential monsoon rain into a nightclub called Paradise. Through the crowd Joshi spies Aruna amongst a group of young girls dancing on stage.… Read more

Interview: New Jersey crime writer, Wallace Stroby


Wallace Stroby was an award-winning journalist who quit his job as an editor at New Jersey’s Star-Ledger of Newark newspaper, to write crime fiction full time. A life long New Jersey native, he is the author of six books, of which his debut, The Barb Wire Kiss, was a finalist for the 2004 Barry Award for best first novel. His last three books, Cold Shot to the Heart, Kings of Midnight, Shoot the Woman First, feature the female professional criminal character, Crissa Stone. This is an edited version of an interview, which I conducted at Noir Con 2014 in Philadelphia, that originally appeared in issue 17 of Crime FactoryHis latest Crissa Stone book The Devil’s Share, is out now.

Let’s start of with your recent books featuring the character of Crissa Stone. What was the inspiration behind writing these?

I always wanted to write a book from the point of a view of a career criminal. In my third novel, Gone ‘Til November, half of the book was from the point of view of an ageing black hit man but the main character was actually a woman, the only female sheriff’s deputy in a small town, a woman in a man’s world and I liked that idea. So coming off Gone ‘Til November I wanted to combine those two and do a story about a career criminal who was a woman in a man’s world.… Read more