Friday, January 10, 2020

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 151-200

Age of Shadows - Kim Jee-woon- Gorgeous Korean resistance period drama that would make a swell companion to Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows or even Ang Lee's Lust Caution. Don't go into it looking for the type of bonkers action I've been recommending some of the Korean gangster pictures for (though this one does have a pretty stunning action set-piece in the middle) instead settle in for a damned handsome picture with measured pace and terrible consequences.

All Square - John Hyams - A feel-good-ish sports movie about a bookie (so it's crime) played by the somehow still under-utilized Michael Kelly demonstrating yet another mode in which he shines, who starts taking action on little league games. Sounds like low-hanging fruit for comedic pay-off and it's not afraid to take a hard swing at lazy pitches, but it's got more heart and is nastier too than I'm guessing you'd guess (because I guessed) it would by based on that premise. Think Bad Santa, Slapshot, The Bad News Bears, White Men Can't Jump and... The Color of Money(?). Shit, give it a shot. I think you'll like it. Shit, did I even mention Pamela Adlon? I love her!

The American - Anton Corbijn - There are several passages in this measured, handsome, stately upper-middle-brow assassination thriller that are simply pleasurable to look at and the film really does just string them along until it finishes and you might forget what happened soon after, but this one would make my list for the opening vignette alone. It's a great little short story all its own, the implications of which reach well beyond the edges of the frame and are exactly the kind of shit I need in my globe-trotting action-man stuffs. Jeez, if James Bond ever had a chapter like that things would feel much different. I mean they are very different things. I usually prefer this type. Based on the novel by Martin Booth.

American Animals Bart Layton - True story of a group of suburban boys taking their shot at greatness by stealing some valuable books from a library and selling them to European gangsters told in a combination of dramatic recreation and talking head interviews with the real life characters (offenders, victims, family members). It's funny, alarming, suspenseful and manages to leave room for competing reactions like amusement, dread and withering scorn. Layton, the dude who made the great true crime doc The Imposter a few years ago is back with another true crime tale that plays with documentary/drama form and has impressive results

American HustleDavid O. Russell - There's a scene two-thirds through this one that will violate your mother so well, she'll most likely come back for more. It's a sequence so perfectly constructed and fluidly executed that I'm tempted to believe the whole film was designed just to facilitate it (which would be worth it). And I'll be honest... it kinda pisses me off how fucking good that scene is. A more cynical man might assume it was designed by some bullshit screenwriting how-to-algebra, but me... I am not that man. I'm choosing to just enjoy it and the rest of the movie for all that it delivered - great performances (I was nervous because of all the bad hair and fashion-out front imagery, but it turns out the costumes and dos aren't the performances themselves), swell use of soundtrack and yeah, the whole shaggy-doggedness of it is pretty charming in the end. It's not a tight thriller, it's not even a period drama, it's a standout collection of memorable moments strung together with industrial strength double-sided tape.

The Bad Batch - Ana Lily Amirpour - Director Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a fever dream feature length music video without a song (a genre I can certainly love - Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man qualify) - so I was interested in her next project, but still unprepared for how hard I'd fall for her post-apocalyptic cannibalism revenge western. Like its predecessor The Bad Batch is pure style, but it's also got unexpected moments of emotional resonance. Suki Waterhouse is an outland wanderer falling victim to, coming to the aid of or exploring the kingdoms erected by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jayda Fink. Along the way our road warrior encounters more human detritus including Jim Carrey giving his best performance in many years. It's ugly, gorgeous, vulnerable, trippy and not a little badass.

Black SeaKevin McDonald - What ever happened to the adventure movie? Why don't we see more fare like this? A dirty dozen of out of work sailors put together a crew in a hurry to recover Nazi gold from the bottom of the ocean under the nose of various world governments. It's a dangerous, dirty job, but the recovery is the least of their problems - once recovered, can they survive each other especially after it dawns on them that the fewer survivors the bigger the shares? Damn, this one was a breath of fresh air. Great cast - Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy and Michael Smiley and a crew of 'that guy' faces. Great premise. Great looking small-scale, large-scale adventure/thriller. I want more. Best moment: just the shot of the whole crew riding a bus on the way to the job - everybody lost in silent contemplation of their lot or goal or absolutely nothing - they got me. Probably haven't responded to a sequence like that since I saw Reservoir Dogs as a teenager.

BuyBust - Erik Matti - Matti's been burning up my radar since On the Job and this one is another terrific Manila-set thriller that just doesn't let up. It suffers slightly from coming out the same year as The Night Comes For Us and also drawing predictable comparisons to The Raid, but there's no way this one isn't a great time for fans of those films too. Where's my Anne Curtis / Gina Carano vehicle?

Calvary - John Michael McDonagh - An irish priest hears the confession of a man who says he was a victim of sexual abuse by a long-dead clergy member as a child and who plans to return in a week's time to kill the 'good' priest (Brendan Gleeson) as an act of vengeance/protest. Thankfully that's about it for plot - the priest spends no screen time pondering the sanctity of the confessional and his duty to keep secret the identity of the confessor (ala A Prayer For the Dying) - instead the soul of the film is the priest wrestling with his sacred duty regarding the well-being of the man who has promised to do him harm. As each day of his potentially final week passes, his faith and character is tested by each of his parishioners in their own fashion and as I steeled myself for the easy and obvious path the, up till then, compelling was surely about to take, I was constantly surprised by its refusal to go for anything trite. Gleeson is a film-making asset of boundless potential and the McDonaghs are proving themselves the most adept at using him for maximum impact. Supporting cast is strong as well. Best moment: Gleeson talks with his daughter (Kelly Reilly) about her recent suicide attempt.

CamDaniel Goldhaber - Madeline Brewer's sex-cam operator has her online identity stolen and suffers real-world consequences (loss of income, personal security concerns, having to come out to her family and community as a sex worker), but that's really just the tip of iceberg in this De Palma-y thriller. Maybe it's my age, my squareness and general generational anxiety about technology and sex norms, but I was unnerved and upset by many of the film's concerns that I wouldn't have been as a younger man. Make a good double feature with King Kelly.


Captive - Atom Egoyan - Eight years after the abduction of his daughter Ryan Reynolds' Matthew hasn't moved on with his life. Still, a break in the case causes flare ups of all the old pain to feel fresh and the implications for the missing girl's fate lie way beyond awful. Mix Egoyan's ability to pull complex emotional chords from grim-shit-with-kids fare (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, The Devil's Knot) with his adroitness with the perverse and hooo-boy does this one have some punches in store for you. Most surprising to me was how hard this one leaned into the thriller aspects and considering the cast features Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood and Kevin Durand I suspect it was a project a lot of folks were hoping would be a commercial breakthrough for the Canadian veteran film maker. Between this one and Remember, Egoyan had a pretty good decade in crime.

Cold Weather - Aaron Katz - When Doug (Cris Lankenau) a bright, white twenty-something moves back to Portland to live with his equally bright and white sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), after dropping out of college, he lands a promising overnight job at an ice factory where he strikes up an acquaintance with a co-worker Carlos (Raul Castillo) and they bond over shitty work and Sherlock Holmes novels. After Doug's ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) shows up unexpectedly and re-connects she just as abruptly drops off the map and the sibling and the co-worker look into her mysterious absence. I've heard this flick described as mumble-core noir which is pretty much right on the nose and a dis-service at the same time. It's a genre-deconstruction that addresses, among other things, the mindset needed to be a detective - you have to care a little bit and be tenacious and willing to look foolish - plus the fact that it helps if you've got nothing else really going on in your life and the economic freedom to pursue your whims. Doug is a bit like the anti- Bruce Wayne - not wealthy, per-se, but still privileged enough to not feel any particular urgency to generate income - which frees him up to abandon a job in order to play a hunch. The film doesn't take any stance on whether Doug's mindset or position are a strength or weakness, but acknowledges both view-points through other characters. The film meanders and takes a while to get to the investigation proper, but once there hits genre beats and delves into familiar tropes like stakeouts, pornographers, ridiculously complex coded messages and mysterious men in hats carrying briefcases, but Katz handles suspense and action sequences effectively bringing us into the heart of the scene and character's mindset regardless our opinion of or investment in the stakes of the big picture (it would make an interesting double feature with Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice which more or less does the exact same thing, but dissects the genre corpse from the other side)... begging the question - are mysteries as entertainment inherently silly or is there some root value in the act of and predilection for inquisition? Best moment: the final scene is pretty brilliant. I'd say divisive, but folks not on board with this flick's premise probably won't make it to the conclusion.

Don't Breathe - Fede Alvarez - A trio of young thieves have a hot lead on easy score - a disabled vet with cash from a legal settlement hidden somewhere in his house. What they didn't count on was the lethal capabilities of the old blind soldier, nor the far reaches of his mind for revenge. A classic switcheroo where the villains become victims, the set up is pretty simple, but the extended suspense sequence that makes up the bulk of the film is so relentless and well done that minor quibbles with logic and tone are easily forgiven, plus fuckin Stephen Lang deserves some serious recognition for his almost completely silent performance as the glorious bastard with an inglorious baster.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within - José Padilha - The Elite Squad films are big and loud and ass-kickers that deal with crime and law enforcement in the slums, but also in the halls of power of Rio de Janeiro. They are good-to-great James Ellroy/Sidney Lumet type fascism and corruption thrillers if those are your type of thing. They're most certainly mine. Padilha's Bus 174 arrived on the heels of Fernando Meirelles' City of God and for a minute there Rio was the setting I most wanted to visit for crime stories. Yeah, the RoboCop remake wasn't great, but thematically it absolutely made sense to have Padilha at the helm. These feature pre-fat-Pablo Escobar from Narcos Wagner Moura center frame too, so go watch 'em and let's talk.

Far From Men David OelhoffenViggo Mortensen plays a French school teacher must take Reda Kateb's accused criminal to be tried and almost certainly executed, across a rugged mountainous region of Algeria in 1954 during the Algerian war. Based on Albert Camus' The Guest, this one's my favorite of Mortensen's post-Lord of the Rings vehicles that showcase his multilingualism (see also Everybody Has a Plan, Jauja, Alatriste) and it's a small wonder of a film for distillation of eternal human struggles into a scenario, a gesture or a line of dialogue. Everybody is doing great work here. It's beautiful to look at too and a score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis don't ever hurt.

The Fast & the Furious franchise (Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, Furious 7, Fate of the Furious, Hobbs & Shaw) - Justin Lin, James Wan, F. Gary Gray, David Leitch - How far do you think you could take a Point Break ripoff set in gearhead subculture instead of the So Cal surfing scene? Could you take it to Tokyo? Rio De Janiero? London? Abu Dhabi? The Arctic? Could you manage an ensemble to rival The Avengers for size, storylines to rival daytime soaps for incredulity, locales to rival James Bond for globetrotting and enough onscreen testosterone it takes an ocean of Axe body spray to neutralize? You could if you were Vin Diesel. You are not Vin Diesel. I don't even think Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel any longer. Vin Diesel the man will die someday. The idea of Vin Diesel will be around long after any of us in large part thanks to this unlikeliest of action juggernaut franchises that he has held together for twenty years so far. Will the Diesel/Johnson schism finally destroy the family? Only time will tell, but I don't even know where to begin with what these fucking movies have done to and for a generation of film fans. They've blown up all objections and weaponized every criticism and managed to have a fuck-ton of fun along the way.

Gemini Aaron Katz - Slick looking, low-budget murder mystery serving as a tour of L.A. glitz and a rare movie about movie stardom that isn't off-putting in its treatment of celebrity culture. Solid cast includes Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, James Ransone, Michelle Forbes and Ricki Lake. Lola Kirke holds the center effortlessly and, while the low-grade thriller resolves and dissolves with a little less intriguing post-film brain itch than Katz's previous deconstructionist detective flick Cold Weather, I'd absolutely be down for a hangout picture with Kirke and Kravitz's characters.

Get the Gringo - Adrian Grunberg - Or, Payback 2, as it was probably pitched, works and fails for the same reasons its spiritual parent did. It's Mel Gibson being a scumbag who we align ourselves with because he's smarter, tougher and more up-front about his corruptibility than the other scumbags in the picture. Going for it: Gibson, who could do this schtick in his sleep (and may actually be unconscious throughout),  as the unapologetic hardboiled asshole, and the outrageously corrupt and scary world created. Working against it: the voice-over insistent on underscoring the humor, and making the character a teddy-bear deep-down after all.

Hold the Dark - Jeremy Saulnier - Jeffrey Wright is a naturalist and wolf-expert summoned to a small community in the Alaskan wilderness to track and destroy a pack of wolves blamed for the disappearance of a local child. Riley Keough plays the child's mother who wrote and asked Wright to come hunt for her and Alexander Skarsgård is the father on his way home from war in the middle east. Wright soon discovers the awfuller truth behind the kid's death and assists James Badge Dale's local policeman in the hunt for the real murderer while Skarsgård's own search leaves a shocking number of bodies in its wake. I'm being a little cagey describing the plot because there are some fairly shocking developments that deserve to be discovered rather than spoiled, but I will say it's a moody, spooky, brooder of a film steeped in the still and dark of the wilderness where beauty and ugly meet and mate and make offspring you don't really want to encounter. An adaptation of William Giraldi's novel by Macon Blair, it's got more subterranean elements than I noticed on my first viewing. This picture didn't settle with me and it continues to itch. I keep wanting to go back and sit with it again and some more. Regardless its ultimate place in my personal ranking of Saulnier pictures it shows some ambitions I wouldn't have guessed at and showcases his commitment to unsettling depictions of onscreen violence. This is a recommendation.

I, Tonya - Craig Gillespie - Margot Robbie kills it as Tonya Harding the hard-knock girl fighting for her shot at the top of the delicate princess-image-obsessed sport of women's figure skating. The crime that her name is synonymous with gets plenty of attention and certainly if Nancy Kerrigan's story were made into a movie it would feel waaaaaay different, but whether or not dramatic events convey the truth behind the facts they tell a hell of a story. Allison Janney is terrific, Sebastian Stan is very punchable and Paul Walter Hauser continues to play variations on this character and I never get tired of it. The film's got that Scorsese rock 'n roll rhythm to the narrative and editing working for it, but the whole thing really belongs to Robbie and she's wonderful. Going places, I think.

In Order of Disappearance - Hans Petter Moland - When Norwegian snowplow driver Stellan Skarsgård's son dies of a drug overdose his parental spidey-sense tingles as he can't recall his boy ever being particularly in to heroin. Since nobody else will he takes it upon himself to dig deeper into the death and by the time he's found the criminals who killed his son he's enmeshed himself in a multi-national gang war and will prove to be an unexpectedly resilient and persistent fly in the ointment in this comedic bloodbath. Particularly enjoyable amidst the snow and carnage is the slow-burn frustration of Pål Sverre Hagen's vegan crime boss The Count as his business goes to shit and infidelity to his strict plans for his young son's immaculate, organic existence demonstrated by every subordinate and ex-wife is uncovered. Kristofer Hivju and Bruno Ganz are the most recognizable faces among the doomed cast and the title refers to the mounting body count. Worth noting Moland also directed the English language remake Cold Pursuit starring Liam Neeson and it's not at all bad either (though I do think the original is considerably funnier). Both films feature gorgeous natural photography of their mountain settings and some of the visuals inspire both existential tingles and nihilistic chuckles.

Killer EliteGary McKendry - Dear Killer Elite: I think I said some unkind things about you back in 2011 and I'd like to take them back now... I don't know if it's because you share a name with one of Peckinpah's final embarrassing outings or that you're an occasionally awkward mix of tough guy fllck tones, but I just didn't appreciate you for what you are. You are a competent unblushing tough guy flick without much style, but with an above average eye for details and more importantly a great cast of tough ugly mugs from which to spout your macho mumbo jumbo (I mean aside from the trio of up front names, you have Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Nable and Aden Young driving up the property values). And While it's true, you're no Heat or Ronin it's clear that De Niro was attracted to you for similar reasons and you can be called an ugly cousin perhaps pining for some shared glory from your room in Grey Gardens. It may also be true that I just don't expect as much from a De Niro or an Owen or even a Statham flick as I once did and you, yesterday's clear-eyed pass, are tonight's drunk-goggled booty call and you performed admirably. So, don't lose my number and feel free to use the front door... I'll even call you a cab. Don't go changing for nobody. See you again soon.

King Kelly Andrew Neel - Put this one in the 'almost gave up on it, but glad I stuck with it' category. It is... abrasive. The opening moments depict the titular character plying her trade - masturbating on webcam for her adoring public - while live viewers leave her comments and prompts on the screen. She flirts with them and they fight among themselves for her affections by leaving her tips and savaging each other. Things hardly improve after that. We follow Kelly through her suburban New Jersey existence as she endlessly documents the mundanity of her life creating drama at every opportunity with her long-suffering family and her hanging-on and/or fed-up friends. Kelly is such a grotesque and insufferable personality you'd be forgiven for bailing early rather than subjecting yourself to her a moment longer, buuuut slowly a plot emerges about the whereabouts of some drugs Kelly muled and misplaced in the trunk of a 'stolen' car and the increasing agitation of the people for whom the pharmaceuticals were intended and the urgency that they are largely failing to impress upon her to recover them. And there's the joke in a nutshell: Kelly, who exaggerates every minor bump in her self-centered agenda into a virtual Kilimanjaro of persecution can hardly be bothered by the only legitimate problem her day has presented her. At least until it's just about too late. We wonder if she's truly clueless about reality or strategically oblivious and more wily than she'd let on, but by the end of the film it wont matter. Actions will have been taken, some consequences will have been ducked others not and the devastation, where it lands in such a consequence-free existence, is the sweet heart of this tough, prickly fruit.

The Last Circus - Alex de Iglesia - How much is too much? No such thing, apparently. When the first five minutes of a film offer you a frenzied fat man in drag and clown make-up slashing his way through the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, you've got to wonder what it's going to produce for a finale. And you owe it to yourself to find out.

Leviathan - Andrey Zvyagintsev - In a fictional Russian coastal town a local man (Aleksey Serebryakov) is under attack by the universe in the form of a local politician (Roman Madyanov) abusing his power to take his land as well as the betrayal of his best friend with his wife. Law, love, strength and even the word of God are tools and resources that should give him comfort, justice, safety and peace, but each is in turn corrupted and twisted into weapons against him. It's a bleakly beautiful flick with no false optimism offered the viewer, just a slow, hopeless grind of a fight against forces greater than you. Oofly pretty.

Like MeRobert Mockler - This crime-spree/social media satire pushes the low-fi/hi-concept visuals to eleven. Addison Timlin and Larry Fessenden's kidnapper/kidnappee couple on the run are one of the best onscreen duos of the year. Never quite know where it's going.

Night Moves - Kelly Reichardt - A trio of aspiring eco-terrorists negotiate the dangerous space between idealism and survival. Shot like a heist procedural, (except the job isn't a robbery - they're blowing up a dam) where the gang comes together, executes the job and then, in the grand tradition, fall apart beneath the crushing weight of doubt and paranoia. Who's the weakest link and what defines that? What is too high a price, what's justified? All questions worth a movie and Reichardt delivers some solid suspense and tension. I love watching her stretch. Reichardt's name belongs on any list of top contemporary American film makers.

PhoenixChristian Petzold - Nina Hoss plays Nelly, a Jewish survivor of Nazi camps returning to Berlin after the war. She has been disfigured and undergoes reconstructive surgery that restores her looks significantly enough that when she tracks down the husband who believes she is dead (and who may have betrayed her to the enemy) he immediately enlists her to pretend to be herself in order to help him get her money (is that clear? He assumes she's just a stranger who looks a lot like his presumed dead wife). Probably not as hard to follow as I made it sound, it's a terrifically twisty assumed identity drama (as is Petzold's latest Transit) full of Hitchcockian suspense that all pays off devastatingly in the final scene. Really, it's all leading to that and it's something else.

The Purge / The Purge: Anarchy / The Purge Election Year / The First Purge James DeMonaco, Gerard McMurray - An annual 12 hours of de-criminalized criminality is a pretty simple and terrific set up for an exploitation film, and for a near future schlock action/horror exploitation premise The Purge franchise sure punches above its weight in the satire department. The initial outing saved its budget by staging eighty percent of the run time inside a single location while all the night's mayhem rages outside the walls of the gated community Ethan Hawke's family lived in. The home-invasion thrills were fine, but it was the prickly premise begging to be explored further that lead to the better pay-offs in subsequent installments. By the time we got around to the third movie we explored the idea of violence as America's most lucrative domestic product with its own tourism economy made up primarily of affluent, young, white Europeans eager to travel to the U.S. for their chance to participate in some divinely appointed righteous bloodshed. Race, class and the integration of religious elements carried over strongly in the fourth film, The First Purge and paid off again. The whole series should seem on the nose and awful, and I haven't seen any of the TV show yet, but I think the films manage to take the ideas and spin them into exploitation gold.

The Queen of Hollywood Blvd. - Orson Oblowitz - A few decades ago Mary was a fresh off the bus Hollywood hopeful who didn't ever make it as an actress, but neither did she pack it in and retreat back home. Instead she dug in and made something else for herself as owner/operator of a seedy Los Angeles strip club of which she is very personally proud. She has maintained the place and operated it with strength of character and will, but she got her start with a little help, in the form of a large loan, from some organised crime types, and as she is planning her 60th birthday celebration she finds that her debt has been called in. In lieu of hard cash she will be required to turn over her beloved club, a price she is unwilling to pay. Rosemary Hochschild plays Queen Mary a stoic hardboiled bad ass with a handful of crucial soft spots for her son (writer/director Oblowitz - Hochschild's actual son) her girls who are just like she used to be, and for the establishment itself, an alternate to packing it in and going back from where they came for many never-quite-weres. As it becomes increasingly clear that she will not back down and hand over what's hers and the negotiations include escalating levels of violence the whole affair begins to feel like a birthday slash death day celebration where the ultimate dignity might just be going out on her own terms. Full of swagger and featuring a steely stylized central performance it feels like a spiritual sibling of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and I dug it a bunch. Good role for Roger Guenveur Smith too as the heaviest heavy.


Rabid DogsEric Hannezo - French language remake of Mario Bava's 1974 heist/hostage/road movie is tense and elegant and turns nasty quick. The heist always goes wrong, right? Bank robbers pursued by police take hostages and drive across countryside arguing, plotting, sizing each relative-stranger up and weighing their options - none of them good. It's 100 minutes of tension relieved in an orgy of blood and ill-intent. Don't like remakes? Fuck you, it's really good.

Remember - Atom Egoyan - Very deliberately paced and maybe a hard sell - Christopher Plummer as a dementia-stricken widower on a revenge mission against an Auschwitz guard Martin Landau helped him track down online - but if you can stick with it for a slow first half this thing really simmers and then scalds at the end. Watch for it to seriously pick up about the time Dean Norris shows up. Best thing Egoyan's turned out in a while.

Revenge - Coralie FargeatMatilda Anna Ingrid Lutz does the heavy lifting in this rape and revenge tale so gorgeously, sumptuously shot that if it were made by a man I'd be tempted to dismiss the whole project as a really bad idea. It's more than a little uncomfortable to be enjoying how great everything looks here - yeah Lutz is part of what looks and continues to look great throughout the film - when objectification itself is clearly in the crosshairs, but that's a big part of the point, I suppose; rejection of the notion that once violated a woman's sexuality is not tarnished - she's not defined by victimhood any more than by anyone's notions of purity. I've seen a few detractors say that the unlikely physical feats accomplished took them out of the film - lessened the emotional impact - and I guess I'd say the heightened style of the visuals just highlighted for me that the emotional impact wasn't supposed to be of the mournful devastation type that I'm apparently a little conditioned to expect from this type of story, that neither the character nor the film have any intention of stopping their story to dwell on the wrong done and instead will be pushing ever forward and even enjoying the bloody comeuppance that's hers to deliver. By the end everybody has had their bodily violations and in one particularly nice touch she literally brands herself in an act of healing where another meant her harm. Best bit has to be the finale though - just beautifully shot, gore drenched two-way hunt to the death.

Sabotage - David Ayer - The film opens with a DEA team raiding the mansion/compound of a drug cartel on US soil, killing a lot of people and blowing up tons of shit. What becomes apparent soon is that this is not an officially sanctioned action, or part of an investigation - it's straight up armed robbery. The team abscond with $10 million in cash and blow everything else up to cover up the crime, only when they go to retrieve their loot, they find that they've been ripped off. By whom? One of their own? A boogie man higher up in the government? The cartel they targeted? A rival organization? This is easily the darkest character Arnold Schwarzenegger has portrayed and it's interesting territory for an icon of action righteousness to be exploring even if it is a bit late in the game (I'll say this for the film - they use Arnold's age and time-fucked features to good effect). Also, Ayer makes so many small and crucial decisions well - the look of characters, locales, and shots - but Sabotage is a frustrating experience because for all the elements it's got the goods on, it pisses away so much potential on bad over-macho acting (I get it, that's part of what's being explored here - this hyper-masculine subculture - but I cringed just like I did at it in The Hurt Locker - it's hard to do well) and just awful lines these poor guys (and gals - you've never seen Olivia Williams like this, I guarantee) are given to say... shudder. Still, I believe Sabotage will surprise you, if you stick with it. The final scene especially is a haunting coda to the could have been and will probably demand a re-examination of the film you just sat through. I will definitely be re-watching this one. Curious whether I'll be doubly frustrated or like it more the second time. Or both. Regardless, it remains Ayer's high-water mark for me and he may never return to deliver the bonafide crime classic I was sure that he someday would. He switched it up after this one heading into a war movie (Fury), urban fantasy (Bright) and Suicide Squad which sounded awesome (super hero Dirty Dozen), but mostly sucked a camel's ass (though I don't really blame him). The best moment here remains the end invoking thoughts of Sam Peckinpah and Rolling Thunder.

'71 - Yann Demange - A young British soldier is separated from his squad and spends a harrowing night hunted on the streets of Belfast in the year of Our Lord 1971. Jack O'Connell followed up his electrifying performance in Starred Up with another emotionally rich performance at the center of an exhaustingly tense film. And Demange has crafted the rare movie that works as a thriller and as the machine that generates empathy. He hasn't stripped politics from the story entirely, but has chosen rather to focus on the human beings living in the tension of the day to day reality policy makers can afford to ponder from a comfortable remove. Something like a cross between Carol Reed's Odd Man Out and Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday, this one solidified my admiration for O'Connell and has given me a new name to get fucking excited over in Demange. Best moment: the riot is terrifying.

Shot CallerRic Roman Waugh - Writer director Roman Waugh returns to the "non-criminal-type thrown in the deep end of the prison system and rising to prominence via violent means he never wanted to utilize, but y'know, you do what you gotta do to survive" sub-genre of prison movies, but with far better results than his previous effort, Felon. This time Nikolaj Coster-Waldau puts on the muscles and tattoos and emerges on the streets transformed, a leader in an Aryan gang, forced into a life of crime by the organization with reach far beyond the walls of the institution. Gnarly violence and good performances from Jeffrey Donovan, Holt McCallany and Jon Bernthal help sell it.

A Simple Favor - Paul Feig - Anna Kendrick's vlogger single mom Stephanie tries to connect with Blake Lively's Emily because their sons have become friends at the private school they attend. The mothers are friends, but not really equals - Stephanie is a doormat and Emily uses people and when she asks Stephanie to watch her son one day and then disappears. When Emily's body is discovered Stephanie begins digging into the case and a mystery in Emily's past that she can't help, but dig into. This one was a pleasantly nasty surprise from the typically harmless comedy-leaning Feig and company. I really enjoyed watching and wondering how dark it was going to go.

Slow West John Maclean - After stirring up trouble back home, Kodi Smit-McPhee's young Scot with a major heart-on for Brooke Williams' wee lass makes his way across the wild, wooly west to find her. He is accompanied on his quest by Michael Fassbender's mysterious stranger whose motivations are unclear - is he a protector or just another cold-blooded bounty hunter hoping the boy leads him to his quarry? Along the way their trail is picked up by more bounty hunters (led by the always interesting Ben Mendelsohn) without ambiguity to their aims and things get plenty messy at quest's end. Every shot in this sun-dappled western smells like fresh air and lush forest fecundity. The flourishes of color and poetry are juxtaposed with appropriate touches of blindsiding violence and terror. Both make lingering impressions in this beautifully rendered piece whose tone is clear and resonant after the last gunshots have rung. Best moment: getting stoned around the campfire.

Small Town Crime - Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms - John Hawkes plays a disgraced alcoholic former cop who comes late to the rescue of a young woman whose story he can't help himself from digging into. He thinks solving the mystery of her death might save his life and he sobers up just enough to get around to poking his significant nose where it doesn't belong. The writing/directing duo apparently never met a cliche they couldn't use or abuse and probably spent a lot of time watching Shane Black movies for good measure. They make all these overly familiar elements work by being self-aware enough to know how far to push each element. They manage to make if funny, but not goofy, suspenseful, but not overly serious and cool without getting into douchebag territory. This is thanks in large part to the terrific cast - especially Jeremy Ratchford, Robert Forster, Clifton Collins Jr., Anthony Anderson and Octavia Spencer.

Stuber - Michael Dowse - Kumail Nanjiani is the titular Stu - a part time Uber driver trying to make ends meet and Dave Bautista is the hardcharging police detective Vic who, months after the murder of his partner gets a break in the case on the day he is recovering from lasik surgery and can't see well enough to... pretty much anything, but certainly he's in no shape to drive. Luckily his daughter has pre-programmed his phone to call him an Uber to get to an important event that night. Stu is shackled sometimes literally to Vic as he follows the trail of the bad guy who killed his partner (Iko Uwais). This one hits all the usual hardboiled cop beats, but with comic twists (for instance the obligatory strip club scene is in an all male revue club that Vic is too blind to notice "Lot of security here" he notes as they walk around backstage among all the muscle bound guys and the climactic shootout takes place in a Siracha factory blinding just about everybody) and along the way themes of masculinity in crisis and trying to protect your loved ones vs. just being an asshole are explored, but mostly breezy laughs are had amidst the refreshingly R-rated violence. Thank fuck. I don't know why this one bombed and why it was critically dismissed (I even saw it included in a worst movies of the year list) because it's a great throw-back to the crime comedies I grew up loving (48 Hours, Running Scared, Midnight Run, Red Heat, The Hard Way etc.) and I was loving it all the way.

Sweet VirginiaJamie Dagg - Jon Bernthal plays an ex-rodeo rider who manages a motel and carries on an affair with Rosemarie DeWitt in small Alaskan town. Christopher Abbott plays a guest at the motel, a killer hired by Imogen Poots to get rid of her boorish husband, Jonathan Tucker. When the insurance company doesn't pay out and Poots can't pay off Abbott, he sticks around waiting for his payday and looking for opportunities to make other monies and intimidate locals. I liked Dagg's debut, River (starring the tallest Sutherland) well enough, but Virginia is a big step up in quality and control of tone - I never really knew where this one was headed and it had some solid and pleasingly unpleasant surprises along the way. Bernthal isn't doing his typical tough guy schtick in great little bit of switcheroo casting and Abbott is a standout in the cast and a genuinely frightening screen presence.

Thin Ice - Jill Sprecher - Expectations (or lack of) working in its favor. This one took me completely by surprise, but it's a terrific little noir (even though the ending doesn't deliver the promised goods - the way say Fargo had the sack to). An everyman fucks up a little bit and keeps on going, just swabbing out the whole bowl before he's flushed permanently down the toilet. It's pathetic, loserville shenanigans with a nastily believable edge. The grasping, the dodging, the desperation are all pulled off with the simpering nice guy smile of Greg Kinnear and it makes me wish we'd gotten Dick Van Dyke's seedy side on celluloid - lord knows Fred MacMurray's was worth it - and Billy Crudup gives us a nicely unbalanced menace. This was a damn good picture that has the element of surprise going for it in my case. You? Now you've been hyped. You'll probably hate it.

This is Martin Bonner - Chad Hartigan - Alright, everybody, take a deep breath and stretch. Strrrretch. Touch your toes. Do some splits. Feeling limber? Good. Now you're ready to read about This is Martin Bonner on a crime fiction/film blog. It is perhaps the stretchiest stretch of the definition of a crime film I've yet made, dealing only tangentially with the issue of crime as it is about two men - the titular Martin (Paul Eenhoorn) a case worker with a rehabilitation ministry and Travis (Richmond Arquette) a newly paroled convict in Las Vegas - trying to make choices with limited options about the next rest of their lives. That said, it is easily one of the best films I saw that year. And how did it win me over without the lurid appeals of my typical criminal fare? With heart and soul and two quiet and amazing performances. Both Eenhoorn and Arquette deliver a fuckload of humanity in the simplest dialogue and facial expressions and writer/director Hartigan is so in control of the tone and pace of this shit that the climactic scene involving three characters ordering lunch at a diner is nearly as nerve-wracking as the silent heist sequence in Rififi. So, indulge me. This is a great little flick.

Too Late - Dennis Hauck - Hauck's debut feature is an exciting high-wire act of filmmaking that is thrilling when it succeeds, but is not without its drawbacks. Let's stay positive up front though. I love the idea of this flick - 5 single-uncut*-shot scenes presented in non-chronological order tell the story of a private investigator looking into the murder of a young woman. The formal experiment is the real star here and the simplicity with which many of the scenes unfold mute some of the monumental orchestration achievements - one shot has a character placing a phone call which is answered by another character within the same shot by use of a telescopic camera zoom, said answering character then hangs up, exits his building and gets in his car which arrives at the scene of the placed phone call in time to conclude the vignette, another scene involves multiple locations and following a character in and out of rooms, through crowds, up into a boxing ring where a fight is in progress and back and another involves multiple interiors including a strip club and a music venue (both featuring live performers) - it's audacious and bold and works very well and quietly... except when it doesn't. And oh boy, when it doesn't. The quality of the cast varies greatly - at the center is the ever-dependable and always compelling John Hawkes (the only character in every scene) who is joined by solid performers (Natalie Zea, Robert Forster, Vail Bloom and Dichen Lachman are particularly strong, while Jeff Fahey, David Yow and Joanna Cassidy are always welcome) and a handful of not-sos (Rider Strong and Dash Mihok are painful to listen to and Brett Jacobsen either has uniquely unwieldy lines or is simply outmatched by the elevated speech - either way, I suppose that falls on Hauck's shoulders). The story too - like the speech - is, er, elevated (read - movie logic), the situation and characters within it are the things of fiction, not to be mistaken for actual people or believable behaviors - and that's okay - that's what we want from movies often. So hey, don't go looking for something particularly mindblowing here - when the final puzzle pieces are fit together, if it don't quite land like Chinatown, that's okay. I'm very much looking forward to revisiting this one for it's DePalma-ish camera and dream-like world - I loved the structure - the way the story unfolds and damn, I wish more films took the monster sized swings for the fences that this one does. *I spotted a cut within the final segment that I'm not sure about - can't tell if it was there to cover a mistake, drive home an emotion or what - but it's nearly seamless. It shouldn't have distracted me as badly as it did.

Trance - Danny Boyle -  Time has been kind to Trance. The first time I saw it I thought it was too bad that  it'd turned out to be so ridiculous, unbelievable and over the top silly. But it's ended up being one of my most revisited of Boyle's films precisely because it is so over the top and unrestrained and silly fun. Turns out that's what I want from him. A big-screen remake of a 2001 made for television movie (written and directed by Joe Ahearne), is something of a curiosity for somebody like Boyle to take on. What drew him to the material, what did he think he'd bring out of it better than they did the first time around? Regardless the reason, here's what we get: a stylish, twisty heist thriller that's visually fantastic populated by characters that are completely hollow. And that's not a terrible thing. It's fun. It feels like somebody turned Boyle's camera loose on one of those oversized, super-padded indoor playgrounds and he's enjoying the freedom to send it hurling at top speed over, under, around and through any object without any true sense of danger ever being reached. You can't really talk about the plot of this one without spoiling a few dozen big movies you may or may not have seen, but, trusting that, reading this blog, you have seen a genre film or two, I feel free to say: in a con movie - you're always getting conned, in a double-cross flick - guess what, numbers climb higher than two, and in a movie dealing with memory loss, hypnotism or untrustworthy narrators - you should never be surprised. Ever. Hell, I'll go further, any movie-watcher since 1999 shouldn't be surprised by any twist in this film (man, 1999 gave us a bunch of influential perception-fuckery flicks... The Matrix, Existenz, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club...), so don't judge the film on its success or failure to surprise you, but rather on its effectiveness in carrying you through to the finale.

True Grit - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - Mattie Ross sets off from Arkansas into Indian territory, either less vulnerable or less daunted by said vulnerability than you'd think, to find and kill the man who killed her father, dragging in her wake Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) a crusty, cruel US Marshal and LaBouef (Matt Damon) a comically sincere Texas Ranger only ostensibly after the same thing. Taken from the source novel by Charles Portis, this version works in conversation with the first big screen adaptation starring John Wayne as much as the novel does with the popular myth of the American west. Alternately subversive and sincere the story is best viewed as straight up adventure that reinvents the rugged frontier hero as a 14 year old girl and invites you to decide her merit as you see fit. Hailee Steinfeld is terrific in the central role and the Coens, as usual, stock their pond with more fantastic supporting performances than your average bumper-crop of Oscar-bit hams including Barry Pepper, Josh Brolin, Dakin Matthews and even J.K. Simmons as the disembodied voice of just one more otherwise formidable male personality who recognizes they've met their match in Mattie Ross.

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. The film feels so very right for fans of midcentury noir source material 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 ready to be invested in 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. 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.

Upgrade - Leigh Whannell - After being paralyzed in an assault that leaves his wife dead, Logan Marshall-Green's Grey becomes the secret recipient of an experimental A.I. that operates his body for him and then begins suggesting ways to use his upgraded sensory capacity to track down the people responsible for his wife's murder - the trade off is that Grey has to cede over control of his faculties to the AI to do the tasks. This results in several bonkers action sequences where Grey is an amazed, bemused and then horrified passenger in his own body as the superhuman capabilities are paired with inhuman amorality. The mystery isn't terribly intriguing to anybody who's ever seen a movie before, but the special effects are fantastic and the emotional journey the audience goes on along with Grey as the film continually changes genre - sci-fi, mystery, action, horror - is very worthwhile.

Yardie - Idris Elba - Aml Ameen is D, just a kid in Kingston when his older brother is murdered while trying to make a positive difference in his impoverished, crime-torn community and just a few years later D finds himself caught in the same criminal underworld and musical subculture that have claimed so many people he knows. He ends up in London's dub scene/drug scene trying to take care of business and loved ones at the same time. Based on the novel by Victor Headley the feature directorial debut from Elba didn't draw much critical love, but is very promising for crime fans for delivering a solid, if familiar, story set in a time period and subculture not often depicted on film with a good cast, budget and attention to detail. I'd love to see more like this from Elba. Great supporting turn from Stephen Graham too.

Young OffendersPeter Foot - Two teenagers in Ireland steal bicycles to ride to the coast on a search for the kilos of cocaine that were washing up on the beaches in 2007. The film is pretty low-stakes as the pair figure they're not risking much - if they're caught they think they can't be sent to prison as they would fall into the category of juvenile offenders. The pair have crossed purposes with more serious criminals and their penchant for stealing bikes has them in the locked in the sites of a local policeman. Highly enjoyable, good natured light fare... for a change.

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 251-300

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 201-250

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 101-150

Crime Flick Picks of the Decade: 51-100

3 comments:

E. Ellis said...

I watched All Square last night. Man, what a hidden gem. After reading your review, it was exactly what I was hoping for and more. Started The Bad Batch - nasty, nasty - I have to come back to it because it was too late at night.

And I see you are a fan of John Hawkes. What an actor. Saw Low Down a couple of weeks ago and he kills it in that, too. I thought he would be perfect for the movie version of Michael Farris Smith's The Fighter.

jedidiah ayres said...

So glad somebody is checking out ALL SQUARE!

E. Ellis said...

I have to tell you - not to be a suck-up or anything - I don't know what I'd be doing if not for blogs like yours and a handful of others. I go back and forth from blogs like this one and the ones that receive so much attention and if not for the outliers, too little of the stuff you and the others write about would be almost completely missed, especially here in America.

And what is really irritating is how so much commercialized or cookie-cutter writing is celebrated while some great writing out there receives almost zero attention.