Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

Blackhat Michael Mann - A cyber attack on the world's most secure... blah, I'm bored already. But it's a Mann picture - okay, I'll give it a go. Aaaand... Chris Hemsworth plays perhaps the unlikeliest hacker in cinema ever (and yeah, I saw that Sandra Bullock movie) - good hair, good skin, super fit and physically intimidating (like survives in maximum security prison just fine thank you fit and intimidating) - you get where I'm coming from, and the film already feels soooo dated with tech talk - I have no idea what they're talking about ever in any show/movie/book that involves tech talk, but every single one of 'em feels dated as soon as the scene is half way through, and it's a super dumb feeling to watch people on computers in a movie (difficult to make compelling onscreen action out of clicky-clack-scoul), and Blackhat is definitely not a 21st century equivelent of Manhunter (as it feels it wants to be) - but... it is oddly compelling. That is after the first half of the film, when it becomes a fugitive revenge adventure. The movie even pulls a sometimes-the-old-ways-are-still-the-best Skyfall-esque climax where the uber-techy adversaries settle things with a super low-fi prison-yard-tactics knife fight (here's a fucking plot hole for you - Hemsworth just stole millions of dollars and he goes to 7-11 to stock up on body armor and weaponry?). I'll give it to Mann that he drops you into situations without preamble like almost nobody else. The film still makes room for extraneous relationship stuff and dull exposition, but at least has the decency to globe trot us while doing so. Of course it looks amazing. Mann's digital film making is beautiful - even his shittiest movie (Collateral) is gorgeous to look at. And I don't think anybody does better large scale gun battles than Mann and he gives us one here that is the Best moment: shootout. Mann orchestrates large scale urban warfare masterfully - the audience understands the dynamics of the thing - the teamwork, the difference between offensive and defensive shooting, etc. I'd watch this film again just for that scene.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry - John Hough - Couple of cool counter-culture criminals (Peter Fonda and Adam Roarke) rip off a small town super market with a Friends of Eddie Coyle style hostage heist and a plan to lose the law in a long-distance backroads chase only they didn't count on her. Who's she? Some nutty broad who don't like getting her ego bruised any more than the hot shit asshole driver she shacked up with the night before. Turns out Mary (Susan George) is a girl with a reputation around these parts and when Larry (Fonda) tries to slip out the door in the morning without so much as a thank you maam she hijacks his heist and grinds up his getaway, insisting her way into the crew with feisty feminine malarky. The film is mostly malarky. Am I the only one who resists Peter Fonda in every role? Something I find very off-putting about his brand of counter-culture matinee idol bullshit. And George? She's pretty much acted off the screen by the dull scenery. Between them is enough chemistry to fail a remedial high school class. Plus Fonda has got some particularly harsh sounding sexually-tinged threats that I hope sounded a little more like harmless fun in the 70s that he regularly tosses at her "I'm gonna braid your tits" or "Every bone in her crotch, that's what I'm gonna break." If there's a redeeming element to the picture it's Roarke as the the stoic, damaged mechanic committed to helping Larry achieve NASCAR success and Vic Morrow as the tenacious and crotchety law man on their ass. Between the two of them they rescue chunks of the picture, but I'm pretty certain that I wasn't supposed to be rooting for the establishment here. Best moment: the final one. Though again, I'm not sure I was supposed to feel the way I did about it.

Justified Season 5 - Graham Yost - U.S. Marshall Rayaln Givens (the always welcome Timothy Olyphant) continues down his path of destruction, daring the world to do him in before he can shape it to his own purposes and this time out it's his allies nearly as much as his enemies who want him to stop. One season from endgame, I'm mildly curious where it's going. The show has a terrific cast and writing, but has never broken into my top shelf favorites category because the tone has gone for cartoonishly badass (which, hey I dig just fine) instead of emotionally potent. Still for what it chooses to be, nobody's better. The writing is sharp, the cast is more than game and the story has moved (necessarily) out of the confines of Harlan County, KY. Season 5 brings in the extended Crowe clan in its best bid to give a shit about character headed by Michael Rapaport's Daryl Crow Jr., hearted by Alicia Witt's Wendy Crowe and, reminding everybody that Mud had two terrific child performers, Jacob Lofland brings the heft I've always wanted more of from Justified. His Kendal Crowe is the emotional lynch pin that creates the most intriguing dynamics of the season between Olyphant, Witt, Rapaport and Amy Smart who plays a social worker who comes between Givens and the Crowes. Other notable season regulars include Dale Dickey, A.J. Buckley, John Kapelos, plus Jeremy Davies returns for a particularly juicy scene. Special notice too for real life siblings Wood Harris and Steve Harris who inject a much needed flavor of criminal flare and a promise of more to come next season from Mary Steenburgen. One of the strongest seasons for sure. Best moment: it's hard to top Walt Goggins smoking in a hotel room.

Kill the Messenger - Michael Cuesta - Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb the investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who pissed off some powerful folks when he published a series of articles claiming that the CIA had been funding Latin American guerilla warfare by smuggling cocaine into the US and laid at its feet complicity in the crack epidemic that ravaged urban communities in the 1980s. Webb shook things up, won a Pulitzer, scooped the competition and said bold things. He was the little guy telling the big guys what fuckers they were and then the fuckers fucked him back. The film ends with Webb disgraced and his career destroyed, and Webb's story ends in suicide, but shit... it's kind of a rush to drop a truth bomb in the elevator. The cast is solid and includes the always welcome Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta, plus why aren't you working mores Paz Vega, Barry Pepper, Gil Bellows and a rare and appreciated narrow-side-of-the-barn turn from Oliver Platt. The drama feels familiar, but not quite rote. You'll feel the tension, but not on the level of something like Michael Mann's The Insider. The details of the story are impossible to confirm, but it's got a ring of truthiness to it and its earnestness is more than okay in the moment without tipping into heavy-handed prestige picture territory (though, that's almost assuredly what was initially intended). The film is a good companion piece to FX's The Americans, or Don Winslow's The Power of the DogBest moment: Webb visits blanca drug king Robert Patrick's pad for a formality free interview and raid.

Next of Kin - John Irvin - Heralding from the Bluegrass State Truman Gates (Patrick Swayze) is a blue collar cop made good in Chicago, respected by his peers on the force he's a rare bridge between the dispossessed from which he came and the ruling, or at least higher, classes of big city society. When his younger brother Gerald (Bill Paxton) falls victim to big city street crime, the killer almost assuredly works for the local Italian organized crime family, but proving it legally is nigh impossible. Truman works the law while his older brother Briar (Liam Neeson) works a more direct path to justice engaging in a personal war against the mob. Swayze's moment happened at perhaps the pinnacle for bad movie hair and unfortunately it's too painful a reminder for some and a huge obstacle for others to circumvent on the way to engaging honestly with his body of work, but Next of Kin holds up as a mostly affectless straight up crime story that deals with the classic themes of family and class, justice and revenge, blood and honor. Plus it's funny to watch Ben Stiller as a yuppie gangster. Best moment: Truman talks down a killer with a gun and a death wish (Ted Levine). The every-Saturday-night-the-same-old-shit quality of the attitude shared by both the cops and the populace tugs at your humanity just a little. Maybe more than just a little. And you thought David Simon invented that.

Rush - Lili Fini Zanuck - Period drama about small-town, small-time cops up against slightly out of their league criminals, willingly compromising themselves in pursuit of something pure starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and in his narc before Narc role Jason Patrick, adapted from the novel by Kim Wozencraft by none other than Pete Dexter - this should have been a walk-off homer, but turned out to be a color by numbers template for future movie cliches. Heart in the right place though and not even knowing that that fucking Eric Clapton song was lurking around an unknown corner could keep a few moments from shining. I mean, you just can't make me not enjoy JJL and Max Perlich, Sam Elliott and how about Gregg Allman? Felt more like a collection of scenes (some of them swell) than a cohesive or clear-eyed narrative - which can work fine if the the tone is nailed and the atmosphere immersive. Just didn't do it. Feels like the cast delivered... blame falls with a combination of script, direction and editing I suppose. Best moment: all the time spent at the honky tonk was fun.


Laura Benedict said...

You watched "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" on purpose? Wow. You have guts. Peter Fonda--I have never liked him onscreen. Don't know what it is about that guy.
P and I watched Nightcrawler this evening. I didn't quite buy Renee Russo bc she wasn't much of a character--though she's a good actor. Gyllenhaal blew us both away. I would watch it again, but look at it as a dark comedy. It got quite funny near the end.

jedidiah ayres said...

Hard to believe that guy didn't get an Oscar nod for that performance. And yeah, it was very funny. I think it was more a character piece than social satire.