Thursday, February 15, 2018

2017 in the Aughts pt. 2

A History of Violence David Cronenberg - The first of three collaborations between Cronenberg and leading man Viggo Mortensen came at a critical point in both careers. Cronenberg, having take a harder art-house leaning in the 90s and early part of the new century, this was a juicy return to violent pulp fiction that was still a departure of sorts - no sci-fi elements - the horror elements more psychological and grounded in a recognizable reality. This was also the time Mortensen was king of the world if he wanted to be. After twenty years as a supporting player in big movies he had the heroic lead in the Lord of the Rings films and seemed a probable bankable action hero who could've easily parlayed that prominence into a latter career's worth of big movie-star vehicles, but God bless him, he's still using that bankability to get small, (often foreign language) pictures financed. Neither gave us what we thought we wanted, but have consistently given us what we needed. Don't get me wrong - they gave us a bloody thriller and a hero picture, but was it any studio exec's wet dream? I think not. It's downbeat and not in a romantic standing over the grave of a loved one in the rain way. It's got a a palatable revenge climax, but it ain't really sexy and nobody gets out of the situation redeemed. Plenty of small moments reward multiple viewings. Extra credit if watched on VHS. Notable cast includes Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt and Greg Bryk. Biggest takeaway may be wanting to always order coffee like Stephen McHattie though.

The Horseman Steven Kastrissios - Dad-revenge flick of impressively awful violence. Well-trod territory and not exactly necessary, but hoo-eee did it make me squirm. Took me two tries to get through it in fact. Nasty stuff.

Inside Man - Spike Lee - Denzel Washington's cop squares off against Clive Owen's bank robber for a tricksy game of hostage negotiation. Motives ulterior and positions interior set this one apart from the average smash and grab thriller. Y'know what? Liked this better the second time I saw it. First time I spotted the trick immediately and the title bugged me, as did Jodie Foster's accent, but repeat viewing - it's a fun heist picture that stays out of its own way just enough to work.

Kill Bill vol. 1 - Quentin Tarantino - The superior.

Kill Bill vol. 2 Quentin Tarantino - Still worthwhile, but that 'emotional core of the story' that QT promised Vol. 2 would deliver - doesn't really resonate on any level worth comparing to the thrills Vol. 1's Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves sequence did. Daryl Hannah's Elle Driver gets a hell of a great pair of scenes that are easily the highlight of this half.

Killshot - John Madden - Not anywhere near the top of the heap of adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels, but nowhere near the bottom either. This plays it straight like the Leonard films of yore and I suspect its reputation may improve in time as it will be included in lists of not-terrible-movies-of-latter-career-Mickey Rourke or

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang - Shane Black - I pretty much have the following exchange in the back of my mind all the time.,,

Well, maybe you should try to get in touch with him. I got 5 bucks says you could still get him.

Really? That's funny. I got a 10 says pass the pepper. I got two quarters sing harmony on "Moonlight in Vermont".


Talking money.

A talking monkey?

A talking monkey, yeah, yeah. Came here from the future. Ugly sucker. Only says "ficus".

Last Great Wilderness - David McKenzie - Caught up with this one on the strength of Starred Up, Young Adam and Hell or High Water and it's not really in the same league as his best work, but it is pleasingly strange and unpredictable. A slow burn I thought was worthwhile. We can still be friends if you don't.

The Lookout - Scott Frank - Similar to the way Reservoir Dogs sparked a slew of lesser imitations in the 90s, Memento inspired a string of crime flicks with weird plot gimmicks. This one even has a protagonist with memory/cognitive function problems who writes himself notes he relies upon to get through his daily life. It's not bad though. I mean, you ought to give it a chance based on Scott Frank's name alone, but upon re-watch it held my interest better than I feared it would. Jeff Daniels should've had more opportunities to do crime flicks is my main takeaway and for the involved talent's standing against Elmore Leonard adaptations I'd say for Joseph Gordon Levitt: The Lookout > Killshot , Scott Frank: Out of Sight > Get Shorty > The Lookout > Karen SiscoIsla Fisher: Life of Crime > The LookoutCarla Gugino: Justified > The Lookout > Karen Sisco.

Miami Vice - Michael Mann - I'm at the point where I pretty much watch this one once a year and it gets better every time. By now it's just one of my favorite American crime movies of the decade. As with Heat this one is basically a remake of another Michael Mann property with plot, characters and scenes lifted whole-cloth out of previous material (with Heat see L.A. Takedown and the Dennis Farina TV show Crime Story). Yeah, I'm not even talking about the Miami Vice TV show either. Nope - Robbery Homicide Division. Watch Miami Vice and then episode eight of RHD's one and only season and tell me he wasn't just warming up. It's okay by me though - obviously the dude has stories stuck in his head that he needs to get out and keeps telling 'em 'till he's satisfied.

Narc - Joe Carnahan - How Ray Liotta didn't wind up with a best supporting actor nomination for his turn as Henry Oak, the most Ellroy-esque non-Ellroy cop ever on screen is beyond me. This is a towering performance without ever going over the top, he's got your attention without having to shout and hey, Jason Patric you gave your career best here too, but Liotta's presence fucking made this picture. He just kept layering the character till your loyalties were nice 'n mixed. Ever so slightly came undone in the sequence involving Busta Rhymes, but totally forgiven for the rest of the picture.

No Country For Old Men - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - The story of a man who thinks he can take the money, run and hold onto his soul - knowing he's tainted just by association. It's a terrific companion piece to Ridley Scott's The Counselor - about a man taking a slightly more pro-active, but equally cautious toe-dip into iniquitous waters and paying an awful price. Hasn't lost a step.

Novocaine - David Atkins - For years I wondered why this little domestic noir wasn't more talked about - Steve Martin plays a dentist who begins cheating on his fiance (Laura Dern) with a patient he knows is scamming him for drugs (Helena Bonham Carter). He just can't help himself. When her unbalanced brother (or is he really her lover?Scott Caan shows up causing trouble and threatening violence he's further sure his little tryst is going to ruin him, but again - he can't help himself. And when he becomes a murder suspect he knows it's too late to help himself. It's a classic noir set up and it's fun to see Martin in this kind or role, but on revisit I realized it's just not very ambitious and that's both why I enjoy it so much and why it's not better remembered - just a plain ol' crime flick not trying to re-invent anything, just giving the genre fans what they want.

Ocean's Twelve Steven Soderbergh - Gleefully dumb. Surprisingly pleasant re-watch though. Soderbergh is at his best when he's just screwing around and this, while hardly his best, has just enough of that 'fuck it' spirit to enjoy.

Ocean's Thirteen - Steven Soderbergh - Not nearly as stupid as Twelve, so less reason to enjoy. Barely worth getting off the couch for.

Open Range Kevin Costner - I'd be perfectly happy for Costner to spend the rest of his career on projects like this. Nothing subversive or tricky going on, just a straight-forward, handsomely shot, violent western.
Oxford Murders - Alex de la Iglesia - Outside of some nifty overlapping, long tracking shots, there's nothing exciting on the level I'd expect from the dude who made Perdita Durango, The Last Circus, Witching and Bitching etc. on display here. I dunno how the project came together, but I hope Iglesia gets the opportunity to make another English-language project that shows off his nutso energy and chops.

Paranoid Park - Gus Van Sant - A teenager who hangs out in a notorious skate park tries to cover up his involvement in the death of a security guard. Once in a while an older director has a proven track record with "youth culture" movies and casting young and inexperienced actors that they have no real business nailing so well - Penelope Spheeris, Larry Clark, Harmony Korine and Andrea Arnold come to mind... whether they make anything narratively engaging out of their access is another question, but with Elephant and Paranoid Park, I'd say Van Sant has found his niche... unless he turns out to be a real pervert I'd say he oughtta keep mining this vein.

Pride & Glory - Gavin O'Connor - Talented cast, a script by Joe Carnahan, my sweet spot type of subject matter and a director with the ability to coax honest and engaging performances out of performers even in silly fare (have you seen Warrior?) still don't quite make this one a winner. I'm sure I'll revisit it again, but for now I just wish it'd been a James Gray movie. Check out the cast though: Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, John Voight, Noah Emmerich, Shea Wiggham, Lake Bell, John Ortiz... shit, I feel like giving it another go right now.

Public Enemies Michael Mann - I stand by this one as my pick for Mann's best of the decade. I don't care if you hate Johnny Depp - it's a beautiful picture - just terrifically shot with that appropriately pixelated digital photography that makes a period-piece feel immediate and vital, which of course wouldn't work if it weren't a Mann picture with the attention to detail given before cameras rolled. Not the character piece that John Milius's Dillinger was, not quite the procedural wonder of Thief or Heat, but an awfully effective portrait of an important time and snapshot of the characters involved in creating the future of big business crime and federal law enforcement. I don't get tired of revisiting this one.

Red Riding: 1974 - Julian Jarrold - Andrew Garfield, David Morrissey, Michelle Dockery, Eddie Marsan, Peter Mullan, Sean Harris and Sean Bean lead the cast in this Michael Winterbottom produced and Tony Grisoni written adaptation of three novels by David Peace based on the a series of  child murders and political cover up and institutional corruption. Holy shit, is it grim stuff, but I loved this revisit (watched all three films in a day rather than a week) so much I'm sure I'll continue to come back around.

Red Riding: 1980 - James Marsh - Paddy Considine takes center stage this time. Fucking hell.

Red Riding: 1983 - Anand Tucker - If you really wanna see the conclusion, and if you've come this far you really should, this final chapter will fuck you up proper.

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