Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks: February

The Americans Season 2 - Joe Weisberg - Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) continue their double life as Washington DC suburban parents and deep-cover Soviet agents living in Reagan's America through season 2, and things get delightfully worse and more complicated for everybody involved - including their children, co-workers and neighbors. The show improved, as all my favorites tend to in their second season, in part from the weight of time spent with the characters and from rubbing the audience's nose in their sympathies (wherever they may lie). It also benefited from the addition of a top-notch antagonist (Lee Tergesen as Andrew Larrick) whose presence elevated every aspect of the show from the suspense to the moral stakes to the grounding the whole affair in history. Best moment: Larrick and Elizabeth square off over another soviet agent.

Bad Turn Worse - Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins - A trio of Texas teens, soon to be parting ways after high school graduation, celebrate the end of their time together by blowing a bunch of money over a weekend that one of them ripped off of a local drug dealer. Said bad guy Giff (Mark Pellegrino) proves himself to be a ruthless bastard though and ambitious to boot, forcing the kids to pull a second heist that will tip the power balance of the region's vice business his direction. I enjoyed the film for its self-assured tone and sense of scale as well as the small town Texas vibe it gave off comfortably and believably, but I resisted some of the elements too: the dream girl who's both book smart (crime novel aficionado no less!) and a grease monkey - she's both boys' wet dream - or generally teenaged characters who think and behave like adults, plus the end has about two twists too many for its refreshingly straight-forward set up. Looking forward to more from the Hawkins brothers who have obvious talent and similar interests to me - call this one a promising start, let's hope not their masterpiece. Best moment: Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) tries to get help from the sheriff (Jon Gries). That's the, 'oh, they're really, truly fucked' moment and it's really nicely handled, especially by Gries.

Boardwalk Empire Season 5 - Terrence Winter - Very satisfying close to my favorite TV show. Left no circle unclosed, and even expanded the scope of the show (very slightly) going into Cuba and the past (and holy heck, the actors cast as young Nucky, Nolan Lyons and Marc Pickering, add dimension to the central character of a compelling ensemble cast and focus to the sprawling story). Sad to see the show go, but happy it went out so strong. Best moment: Chalky plays his final card.

The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson - A pair of confidence men ply their craft in a final elaborately staged drama before retiring. Initially I resisted the film crying too precious, too weightless, too bloodless to care about, but upon revisiting I realized that criticizing it for lack of substance is like complaining that a fizzy pop isn't black coffee. True, it's not my usual preferred fare, but it is effortlessly charming and c'mon Mark Ruffalo is highly watchable always. Third of three in Johnson's body of work to date, but not a black mark. Best moment: not sure, but I guarantee Ruffalo was on screen.

Felony - Matthew Saville - When an off duty detective (screenwriter Joel Edgerton) is involved in an auto accident, he reports the incident as a hit and run and pretends to be a witness, making a bad situation worse. The responding officers, a May/December pair (Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney), clash over the suspicions one has about his fellow officer's story and the need for solidarity, politics and the y'know brotherhood. Meanwhile, some kid is in a coma and der copper's soul is melting. The film makers took a pretty juicy premise and sucked all the bigness out of it - and that's not a complaint - leaving us with a downbeat, workaday drama more concerned with the long term cost than the short term thrills. This is my second exposure to Saville, and though it isn't as good as Noise, it takes a solid step toward defining his sensibilities in a damned attractive outline. It also firms up my estimation of Edgerton as a writer. I'd be happy to kick in to keep these guys making similar movies. Best moment: random sobriety test.

Jack Irish: Bad Debts - Jeffrey Walker - Guy Pearce plays Jack, a former attorney turned debt collector washout whose past
isn't finished with him. Adapted from the novels by Peter Temple, Jack Irish is part of the alarming trend of turning book series into television series - wait, that's not the alarming bit - with a 1/1 book to episode ratio. Gak! I'm afraid it's one and done for me. Man... I'm hoping the Bosch tvs from Michael Connelly's books cor-fucking-rects this trend by giving us a slower burn on plot and a heavier focus on tone and character, 'cause if there's a single disposable element to crime dramas on television it's the machinations of plot. Best moment: trying to watch something on VHS.

John Wick - Chad Stahelski - They killed the wrong motherfucker's dog. Scott Phillips and I developed the Bronson scale for rating movies while we were writing our own 'best Charles Bronson movie you never saw' and this film received 3&1/2 Bronsons from a trusted source, so hopes were high going in. I agree in spirit with my friend's Bronson rating, but disagree that it's a particularly good fit for Charlie mostly for the elements that I found most enjoyable here - the otherworldly ones. The deeper this flick crawls up its own ass, the weirder, sharper, funnier and more exciting it becomes. I understand there's a sequel coming and shit, I hope there's a trilogy, 'cause there's whole lotta goods to be harvested from this premise. Best moment: Wick shoots a priest.
Predestination - Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig - Ethan Hawke plays John, a cop who chases a terrorist through time and gets dizzy. Once you start to see where this one's heading (pretty early) it becomes a lot less about twists and more about architecture - or framing. How do you chose to tell this story? What kind of frame do you put around it? Where/when do you focus and upon whom? Whatever conclusions you come to, it's at least interesting to consider the construct the Spierig Brothers built to facilitate this adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's short story All You Zombies. It's a relief to realize Sarah Snook isn't attempting to Jaye Davidson us and once that's out of way (again - early), she's interesting to watch, but it's more choices like making half(?) the film be two actors in one conversation that make it feel like maybe you haven't really seen all of this before. Not sure I want to take the time to rewatch and consider it, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Best moment: Hawke watches the lovers on the park bench.

Public Enemies - Michael Mann - John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis are the stuff of popular mythology and less than a character study or biopic about either this one really is like an artist's sincere and uncomplicated take on a standard ballad - one he assumes his audience is already very familiar with. Enjoyed it, but wasn't bowled over upon its release, but a few short years later, I'm happy to report that it's only gotten better. Love the Mann-ness of it all - the themes, the professionalism that masks the deeper dysfunctions, the gorgeous dirty clarity of his digital camera, the editing and the attentions to detail make this one highly rewatchable and, now I'll say it, a future classic waiting to be rediscovered. Best moment: Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and Walter Dietrich (James Russo) almost make it.

The Purge: Anarchy - James DeMonaco - An annual 12 hours of de-criminalized criminality is a pretty simple and terrific set up for an exploitation film franchise and I'm happy to see the sequel jump from the Last House on the Left/Straw Dogs-esque home-invasion horror of the first to an Escape From New York/The Warriors urban jungle vibe. What could be next? Purge Tour Guides for rich fucks who want to kill the deadliest prey ala The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target/Surviving the Game? I'd show up. Best moment: that one where they're being chased.

Salvo - Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza - Salvo (Saleh Bakri), bodyguard and killer for a local crime boss (Mario Pupella) thwarts an attack on his employer, then hunts down the man responsible for it and in the process takes away his enemy's blind sister's only support. If you've ever seen a hitman movie before then you know that this means that he's now responsible for her life - especially if she's attractive - and Rita (Sara Serraiocco) most certainly is. Shit, this sounds exactly like John Woo's The Killer now that I type it out loud. Oh well, The Killer it ain't, but what it is is very worthwhile. A crime/action thriller with a strange, nearly supernatural twist, it is the work of film makers with their own sensibility and clearly having a story they wanted to tell (Salvo is an expansion on themes first explored in their 2009 short film Rita) and features one exceptional extended sequence, the Best moment: the botched hit, turned Salvo's reversal and Rita's experience of the attack. That was a stunning piece of movieness right there.

Two Faces of January - Hossein Amini - Opportunistic American ex-pats in Greece cross paths, purposes, hot blood and cold cash in this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. Rejoice Highsmith fans, 'cause though I haven't read the source material, the film feels so very right, and by right, of course, I mean wrong. They brought out the venal, opportunistic and the striving of these characters. They brought the nasty and the desperation all around. And, more importantly, by doing all of that, they preserved the humanity of these characters. They are far more relatable and readily investable than your average Tom Ripley in film adaptations (save perhaps for Alain Delon in Purple Noon who brought us in very close) where most of the attention seems to be given to how skilled he is at getting things done. This trio (Colette, Chester and Rydal - Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac respectively) have mostly already done what got them into their situations and what we get to focus on is the cost of their choices. The results are pretty thrilling. (Side bar: how amazing has Mortensen's post-Lord of the Rings career been? Dude is consistently one of the most intriguing performers and choosers of projects out there and, to my mind, deserves a lot more credit  for both aspects that keep him a vital presence. After decades of bit parts in big movies, he lands the lead in the biggest ones, then has the freedom to make bold choices in little films - can't wait for Jauja). Best moment: Rydal and Chester's double date night is terrific. The two recognize themselves in the other, but do not disengage for intriguing tension.

The Wild Geese - Andrew McLaglen - A group of aging, beret-sporting mercenaries are pulled together to violently meddle in third world politics for the benefit of first world money men. It's a tale as old as time based on the novel by Daniel Carney and starring the original Expendables Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore doing what they do best - killing tersely and speaking eloquent-ish-ly - so what more do you need? As a piece of popular entertainment from a time gone by it's rife with chuckle/grimace bait and manages a few gems of tonal dissonance (how about the a-warring-we-will-go march that scores scenes of warm up to slaughtering blackies?), but it earns its slot in the lineup, batting cleanup after Zulu, Zulu Dawn and The Man Who Would Be King have loaded the bases. That is to say... I kinda loved it. Best moment: Witty (Kenneth Griffith), the medic and token homosexual, has some delightful last words.


Anonymous said...

Bad Turns Worst, Predestination and Two Faces were all good flicks. Just added Jack Irish and Salvo to my Queue. Thanks for the reviews!

Bryan Cyr said...

Bad Turns Worst, Predestination and Two Faces were all good flicks. Just added Jack Irish and Salvo to my Queue. Thanks for the reviews!

jedidiah ayres said...

If you dig Jack Irish, lemme know. Maybe I'll give it another go.