Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2013 in Crime Flicks: March

Crashout - Lewis R. Foster - Hunted this one down after reading Jake Hinkson's great piece God's Murderous Men over at The Night Editor, and boy-howdy am I glad I did. This, in my book, is just about perfect movie making (or screen writing, really). Starts like a shot, elegantly slips us an exposition mickey while we're catching our breath, then sets up a gauntlet of tense set-pieces that whittle down our cast of hard-bitten escaped cons hunting down buried loot. Great under-championed film noir. Best moment: two cops wander into a hostage situation in a roadhouse.

Dead Man Down - Niels Arden Oplev - Opening scene really dished out more hope than it had any business doing that this was going to be a stiff drink of a crime flick only to quickly slip into a standard, silly, complicated revenge pic. Which is okay, just... silly. Not near as satisfying as what it teased me with. The complicated revenge thriller falls prey to silliness as often as the silly romantic comedy falls prey to complication when what audiences truly crave out of both genres is a human moment (in revenge - ground me in this character's pain and make me care - not, dazzle me with the genius of the cold-serving machine's machinations: in rom-com - give me two people with a genuine connection and some real obstacles, and then show me how they work it out - not, tease me with coincidence and cartoonish afflictions). Astounding leaps of logic and some pretty drafty plot-holes don't entirely spoil the fun though. Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) proves himself a stylish and confident servant of the script... I'd just like to give him a chance with something really meaty. Best moment: Colin Farrell does Noomi Rapace a favor.

Driller Killer - Abel Ferrara - Ferrara himself (billed as Jimmy Laine) stars as the titular slasher in this shrill, low-budget cringer.  While not a slasher aficionado myself, this one did stand out to me as a peculiar example of the genre for a couple of reasons - first that the story was the killer's, it was all about his slide from frustration to mass murder, and second was that he was not an agent of chaos villain (ala The Joker) but essentially a repressed square trapped in the lifestyle of a bohemian painter in late seventies NYC. Probably more effective as New York punk pic than a horror flick - more Taxi Driver than Halloween - it's a mixed bag of moments awkward and some surprisingly graceful. Nowhere near my favorite from Ferrara, but interesting to catch up with. Best Moment: Laine lectures room-mates on their excessive phone use.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer - John McNaughton - Probably been about twenty years since I'd seen it, and holy hell, it's a sick flick with a career-making performance from Michael Rooker (inspired by the life of Henry Lee Lucas - and Ottis Toole) who manages to squeeze an ounce or two of empathy out of you before ruining your whole week. Man, what a downer, but yeah, glad I checked it out again. Best moment: Henry tips a waitress. It's chilling how pleasant and genuine he seems - hell, he probably is, he's so compartmentalized - it's the small, quiet moments like this one when Rooker is so natural and polite and easy going that really lend the awfulness a nastier edge.

The Imposter - Bart Layton - This stranger-than-fiction doc tells an intriguing story of a con-man trapped in the chewy center of an assumed identity scam, and the farcical lengths people will go to sustain a favorable illusion. One too many red-herrings probably lessen the impact of this genuinely uncomfortable and disturbing tale, but that's only in hinds-sight. I predict your rapt attention on first viewing. Best moment: A detective with a shovel.

Kansas City Confidential - Phil Karlson - Fantastic slice of late-first-wave film noir. Great visuals (those masks make everything work), great cast (Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef together and it's not even a western!) and great pacing keep it lean, mean and fun to pick out all the parts subsequently hijacked and re-apropriated by future influential film makers. Best moment: John Payne flips Elam in an underground Mexican casino.

Purple Noon - Rene Clement - The first screen representation (movie - that is) of Patricia Highsmith's cultured killer Tom Ripley, portrayed by Alain Delon - who sets an unimaginably high bar best just ignored by subsequent Ripleys (Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, John Malkovich... wait, has Pierce Brosnan never played Ripley? How could that be?) - is as smooth and unsettling as... as you'd expect from a Delon Ripley. Best moment: dragging Freddie to the car.

Robbery - Peter Yates - Was Yates un-fucking-touchable for a few years there or what? Between '67 and '73 he gave us Bullitt, The Hot Rock, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and this one - inspired by the infamous 'Great Train Robbery' of '63. True, some would say he gave us one of the worst films of the '80s (Krull), but I wouldn't be counted among them. This is precisely the kind of detached, no-frills, criminal procedural that I am looking for, and am disappointed not to find, when I watch shit like, like, like... most of the shit I end up watching that's all slicked-up action, cast with muscle-y bad boys with pricey haircuts and tattoos, cut like a music video and over-selling me on the righteous motivations of one or two of the crew. Best moment: the opening heist and getaway chase set the tone awfully well.

Sleepless Night - Frederic Jardin - After riding the raw sugar rush, last year, of Fred Cavaye's Point Blank, I was, perhaps, less surprised by the jagged adrenaline trip that Sleepless Night turned out to be, but even more excited afterward to think that Point Blank and Sleepless Night may not be flukes. Perhaps the French have got a something floating in their collective consciousness that thriller film makers are tapping into and producing these stick-lean and ampheta-mean action flicks. 'Cause, wow, just wow, they start like a shot and end like a runaway train. These are some tightly controlled, solidly structured, excitingly executed movie-stuffs conveniently distilled into potent shots of kinetic-cinematic impact. Best moment: Kitchen fight. Brutal bout betwixt dog-tired pro-an-tagonists just clobbering the shit outta each other with anything they can lay their hands upon.

Total Recall - Len Wiseman - Why bother? Well, 'cause it's got some pretty tight action bits and some super-cool visuals - lifted, though they are, from pretty much every Philip K. Dick adaptation that's come before (ooh, that bit's from Blade Runner, that one's from Minority Report and remember that awesome thing from Paycheck? Neither do I, but I'm sure it's in here too.) Pretty slick. I enjoyed it. Will I remember it like I remember Paul Verhoeven's version? Surely not. Already not. But not a bad time at the show either. Best moment: The-Drop-zero-grav-fight sequence. Nuff sed.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning - John Hyams - I defy any of you to watch US:DoR and tell me it doesn't kick the necrotic shit out of earlier installments. This is largely thanks to Hyams, who took over the series with installment three... or four... or five... Universal Soldier: Regeneration - making Reckoning number 6 (the confusion comes in when pondering where to place the Matt Battaglia made for cable vehicles Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business - but I digress). Nobody told Hyams that this was some low-rent shit or that the muscle-y Brussellite was washed up. He's reinvented the series, injected it with some seriously dark and melancholy vibes, and grown up the notion of zombified super soldiers - and is beginning to squeeze the fermented good stuff out of that notion. Sure, it's derivative - a touch of Blade Runner, a dash of Apocalypse Now a dollop of Fight Club - but damn, it's potent. Best moment: the brothel sequence.

Von Ryan's Express - Mark Robson - As I recall, a favorite of my father's that I enjoyed with him, as a teenager. Hadn't seen it in over twenty years, but yuuuup, it holds up swell. Great WWII POW escape flick with a super cast and a great premise - four hundred Allied POWs overthrow the train they're being shipped to Germany in, and tear ass along the boot-leg of Italy toward an escape into the Swiss Alps. Best moment: the climax. That helpful?

The Ward - John Carpenter - Swing and a miss. Travels well-worn tracks through genre territory which I wouldn't mind so much if the genre weren't "surprise ending" or "big twist". This particular twist has been on heavy rotation since 1999 and needs to be put to rest for a good long while. Still, I loves me some Carpenter work. Please, please, please, JC, don't stop. Best moment: Wheelchair escort down the nightmare hallway. Go ahead and scream, we're miles from where anyone can hear you.

Young Guns - Christopher Cain - The Brat Pack goes west really shoulda been a far, far worse movie, and the opening title sequence makes promises of shittiness that the rest of the film simply fails to deliver on. After the opening MTV-ish silliness with each hot young star's name appearing beside their face and then all six whipping out their young guns and unleashing all that raw fire power straight at the camera, the movie turns into a pretty good-looking shoot 'em up. Got a nice, lived-in, dusty quality to the costumes and sets, and a more often than not winning sense of humor. Emilio Estevez as William H. Bonney carries most of the burden and your enjoyment of the film overall mostly rides on your response to his maniacal chuckle and the thrill-killing glint in his eye, but most of the cast do their job competently, in fact, I wish we had the option of a Dirty Steve outtakes feature on the DVD. Dermot Mulroney pulls off lines like "We're gonna die here, and he's out there doin' it with his horse!" without playing it for laughs, making Dirty Steve a stand-out among the cast. Best moment: Watching the troops assemble outside the house - "I like these odds."

2 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

A detective called Charlie Parker with a shovel, even. Some well good choices there.

jedidiah ayres said...

That's right! Forgot that detail.