Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

All Good Things - Andrew Jarecki - Poor little rich boy David Marks (Ryan Gosling) just wants to be a New Jersey hippie running a quaint little health food store with his wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst) but his father Sanford, as played by Frank Langella, is one of those old-money types who's not gonna be satisfied until his son is as successful and unhappy beneath the burden of his semi-legitimate wealth as he is (has anybody reasonable and good-natured ever been named Sanford? - If you're a reasonable and good-natured person named Sanford, please let me know of your existence). Back in the big city David works for dad and makes big money, but grows increasingly emotionally unhinged and violent. One day Katie disappears and all eyes look to David as a probable wife-killer. Nobody can ever make a solid case of it and David starts a new and even stranger life until the sins of the former catch up. Director Jarecki's fictional take on the story of Robert Durst - whose story he recently procured from the mouth of said horse, who was a fan of the dramatized version, as the documentary series The Jinx on HBO - is an odd duck of a film. An unwieldy narrative that's often obtuse is punctuated by compelling moments that I don't want to spoil and a cast that includes Philip Baker Hall, Lily Rabe, Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig. Not really satisfying on its own, it does serve as an intriguing advertisement for The Jinx. I now want to see that thing. Best moment: Malvern and David go shooting.

Better Call Saul Season 1 - Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould - The story of how Slipping Jimmy McGill went from small time scam artist to big time sheister Saul Goodman has as an emotionally complex and surprisingly big-hearted opening chapter. As a spin-off prequel to Breaking Bad it shouldn't work as well as it does, but as an original title and character it's more than solid. The large cast and knotty non-linear narrative are never difficult to keep up with and the hints at what's to come are handled with a light touch and sustained dramedic tone that carries the viewer around blind corners and big reveals so smooth you'd swear you always knew where it was heading. Great cast too. Of course Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are good, but holy shit Michael McKean, Mel Rodriguez, Rhea Seehorn and Julie Ann Emory are top notch and even Patrick Fabian's corporate shark Howard Hamlin is given more dimensions to exist in and is used for more than the one-note designated hitter he'd be on 99% of televised storytelling. Each character brings out unexpected layers to the central storyline - the battle for Jimmy's soul and the emergence of his life's call - and justifies their own existence admirably every time out. Dunno how many seasons they're hoping for, but this... this is an incredibly good (and self-contained) first story. Best moment: Mike's episode was a particularly strong one and damn, when he shows emotion... maybe I cried.

Bloodline Season 1 - Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman - The Rayburns are a family of big fish in their respective small ponds of Florida Keys law enforcement, hospitality, law and petty crime. When prodigal fuck up Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home the family struggles with their identity and for their future. A family drama soaked in crime with mixed results. The cast drew me in and promises from trusted sources kept me plugging away, and I'm glad that I did stick with it, but the 13 episode structure felt pretty arbitrarily adhered to. Felt a little inflated, like book with a hundred extra pages - probably would've made a kick ass 9 or 10 episode season. Still, I'm interested in where it will go from the season's end. Ridiculously good cast including Kyle Chandler in a role that feels right for him - those blandly handsome features beginning to look a little interesting with age, Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek and Jacinda Barrett are solid, if underused, and only Sam Shepard feels truly wasted. Standouts include Jamie McShane, Chloe Sevigny, Norbert Leo Butz and Enrique Murciano - all of whom I hope get a chance to step to the fore in subsequent seasons. Best moment: Danny and Daddy put their cards on the table.

Cut Bank - Matt Shakman - When two teenaged lovers (Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth) accidentally catch the murder of a postman (Bruce Dern) on video they find themselves at the nexus of dumb luck and worse decisions. Turns out there's a substantial reward for giving evidence to the murder of a federal employee that they're going to be seeing just as soon as the old boy's body is found. Oh yeah, the body - not there any longer. And neither are the packages he was delivering. One of those is of particular interest to an unbalanced individual (Michael Stuhlbarg) who begins to exponentially increase the body count in the search for his package... all contributing to a massive headache for Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich). Recipe for a terrific little small-town, small-time noir. A tad underbaked, though. Clearly modeled on fare like Blood Simple and Red Rock West, it's not as funny or as intense as either, but it's a measure better than most of the Mayberry on Meth with a side of murderous mayhem mowing down the middle of the road and most of the credit goes to Malkovich who carries the horrors and indignities of the day with a hard-won combination of world weariness and grace not many could pull off. Throwing in supporting roles for Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt is usually a good idea too. Best moment: fit hits the shan in the trailer.

88 - April Mullen - A couple of minutes before she shoots the waitress, Gwen wakes up at a diner suffering some bodily damage and no memory of who she is or why she might be carrying a loaded gun. A couple of minutes after shooting the waitress she's on the run from cops, killers and her own conscience, piecing together the events of the last several days and continually returning mentally and physically to the titular number. Take the no-memory -every scene a new mystery- conceit of Memento, subtract everything that made that exciting and fresh, add an overbearing soundtrack and you've got a drippy piece of pulp fiction that not event the considerable presence of Katharine Isabelle can redeem. Not that it's a complete waste. Isabelle, who almost has her very own genre by now, makes a few moments work great, Christopher Lloyd is nutty fun and Michael Ironside is welcome anytime, but generally you've got better things to do. Hoping director Mullen has got a better picture in her - flashes of high octane energy here and a handful of stylish compositions just can't save the ship. Best moment: Gwen steals a car.

Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson - When his former girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up out of the blue to enlist his help, hippie detective Doc Sportellow (Joaquin Phoenix) puts every ounce of his will and cunning into the case. Unfortunately Doc's will and cunning are both measured in ounces and keep him running smooth and aloof and slightly untethered from reality. The purple haze that envelops Doc blows him around 1970 L.A. into all the best bits of paranoid conspiracy tales - sex, drugs, celebrity and smuggling. The sooner you ditch the plot the more you'll enjoy the ride. It's so ridiculously Byzantine and looped through its own asshole, you'll get whiplash if you hold on too tight. Deconstruction or parody? Easy target or easy viewing? Not sure I understand its place in Anderson's ouevre and pretty sure I don't care. The cast is so damn much fun I look forward to many subsequent viewings. Phoenix plays off each insanity embodied by a character actor like he's the silver sphere in a pinball machine and never worse for the ware. Course you can't escape comparisons to The Big Lebowski and I'd throw Cold Weather in there as well, but Vice is more ethereal and less weighty than either and evaporates off your brainpan super quick. Best moment: Doc and Bigfoot bullshit. Special consideration goes to Josh Brolin for standing out this far in such a stellar cast. He is the funny.

1 comment:

Dana King said...

As always, more things to look into that I might have missed otherwise. Thanks.