Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 In Crime Flicks: February

13 - Gela Babluani - Dig this cast: Ray Winstone, Michael Shannon, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Ben Gazzara. Now, tell me that Babluani is remaking his original and excruciatingly excellent 13 Tzameti as an English language feature, and ask me if I'm interested. Afterward ask me 'What went wrong?' I'll answer 'nearly everything.' I don't want to spoil anything for folks who've not seen either film, but the real star of the original flick is the mechanics - the nuts and bolts film making that reveals the dark depths of the hole our hero has fallen down, ticking off the beats of the plot with precision, and cinching the noose slowly then all at once for maximum suspense and horror. This is a time when the impact of an unknown actor is the probably the strongest, and frankly, seeing all those faces we know gives us clues about who to pay attention to and our experience suffers (the one way I could think of to do this with big names would be to cast a huuuuuge star in an inconsequential role and kill em right off the bat). Best moment: Well cast siblings Winstone and Statham clear the air.

Arbitrage - Nicholas Jarecki - Great understated little noir about a guy with his nuts in two different wringers at the same time, and featuring good turns all around from the cast. Won't say how it ends, but I will say that it makes a feint at giving you something you're not going to want before replacing it with another, far-better thing. Best moment: the final one - realizing what's been gained and what's been lost.
City On Fire - Ringo Lam - Did Quentin Tarantino rip this one off with Reservoir Dogs, or just make it better? Don't particularly care. I really enjoyed going back to late-eighties Hong Kong and remembering why Chow Yun-Fat was such a movie-fucking-star. More than tough guy schtick, more than a good brooder, he's intense with a light touch. Even through the odd to awkward comic moments that don't really play now (if they ever did), his irresistible charisma covers a multitude of sins. And this is no John Woo flick. It's not bullet ballet, it's a crime drama with a handful of action set pieces including a terrific knife-wielding heist sequence and foot chase through and under the streets. Sure, I'd go with QT's undeniably similar debut as a desert island pick, but this here is some good shit. Best moment: waiting for the elevator as the heist unravels.

Compliance - Craig Zobel - Ick factor up to eleven in this 'how far will it go?' thriller, er, iller, when a young woman working at a fast food restaurant is accused of stealing and subjected to a series of increasingly invasive, debasing questions, searches and procedures directed by a policeman via telephone and carried out by her manager. Of course, the caller is not a cop, the charges are non-existent and the purpose of the exercise is some kind of sexually charged power trip, and we, the audience know this very near the beginning of the film, which makes for a very uncomfortable experience. A good one though. I'd like to declare right here that I would never ever do or tolerate being done the things the characters in the movie do, but I think I'll stick with, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I.' Best moment: Pretty much anytime Ann Dowd is on screen. She plays the complicit villain/victim as someone I absolutely recognize as a human being. She has the most complex role and hits every note true. Actually, the trinity of Dowd, Dreama Walker and the always excellent Pat Healy (check him out in Zobel's other flick Great World of Sound) do a lot of brave and heavy lifting here and make it look easy.

Give 'Em Hell Malone - Russell Mulcahy - There can be only one. Actually, it appears, there can be an entire career's worth of these disposable genre pics delivered with palpable enthusiasm and a craftsman's skill, if not much vision, and that's not a bad thing. Not on the level of oh, say John Carpenter, but belonging to the same family (maybe spiritual cousin of oh, say David Twohy), Mulcahy is probably somebody I ought to include in the the This Gun For Hire series. When I look at his body of work I see highs (Highlander) and lows (Highlander II: The Quickening... friends don't let friends see Highlander II... The Quickening), but a sincere and (I'll say it again) enthusiastic approach to genre storytelling. So, Malone is light-weight, silly and utterly forgettable, but, like a drive-through milkshake, just the right thing for a particular moment (check it out if you're looking forward to Sin City 2), and nobody associated with the project loses credibility. Best moment: the opening shootout is as over the top and stylish as the film's going to get. You'll know if it's for you in about thirty seconds.

Hell On Wheels Season 1 - Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton - Post-Deadwood westerns not wanting to drown in calls of bullshit or utter indifference have got to step up their game, and I'm pleased to say that this one does. Not quite the same level of perceived authenticity (from this loudmouthed, utter ignoramus's pov), but a slightly heightened reality that's consistent to itself that works just fine. A reconstruction, westward expansion, revenge tale at heart, the more it leans on its terrific supporting cast, the stronger it is. Best moment: Every time Tom Noonan is on screen. That guy plays the hell out of his role and keeps you off balance with your moral support so well. Also, between Noonan, Wes Studi and Ted Levine making memorable appearances I keep looking for Michael Mann's name to turn up somewheres.

Iceman Interviews - Arthur Ginsberg - A collection of three interviews with Richard Kuklinski 'The Iceman' - contract killer of (probably) over 100 people (possibly more than 200) - who served the last twenty years of his life in prison. His claims vary a bit from interview to interview, but they made for interesting history lessons. Looking forward to Michael Shannon as Kuklinski in The Iceman later this year. Best moment: The otherwise, uh, icy, Kuklinski chokes up talking about his family... genuine? con? showman? I sat up and paid attention.

John Dies at the End - Don Coscarelli - Okay, I have to squeeze tighter than most to make this one fit in a crime film roundup, but the heroes of the tale are paranormal detectives/warriors of a sort and I'll take that as justification enough. Having zero knowledge of David Wong's source material is probably a bonus for just going with and enjoying the film. I have a suspicion that fans of Wong's will be chagrined that so much was lost in translation. I don't know this, of course, but the film is so dense with detail, back-story, side-story etc. that I imagine it comes from a far more fleshed out universe. The film, on its own though, rockets from nonsense to nonsequitur to non-stop leaps of imagination at a pace that lets you wonder and scratch your head only enough to be mildly, enjoyably perplexed before its on to the next plot point. I think the film wraps up rather nicely and cohesively, but I've not spent much time mulling it over connecting dots or looking for inconsistencies. Best moment: Clancy Brown battles a meat monster by cell phone.

Nobody Else But You - Gerald Hustache-Mathieu - A crime writer finds inspiration for his own Black Dahlia (James Ellroy is name-dropped a couple of times for comparison in the film) in the story of the murky circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of a model who believed herself to be the second coming of Marilyn Monroe. I hung in there, but this one, despite a collection of swell small moments, never quite drew me in. Best moment: loved the cheesecake montages with Sophie Quinton. Most fun of that sort since Gretchen Mol's re-creations in The Notorious Bettie Page.

The Outfit - John Flynn - Just the most badass and satisfying crime film I've seen this year. Adapted from Richard Stark's novel, it's Robert Duvall's turn to fill Parker's iconic shoes, (as Earl Macklin), and damned if his take ain't the most human I've seen (yet to catch Jim Brown, Peter Coyote or Jason Statham). It's a criminal procedural that spends zero time boring us with setting up the big operation, and instead just throws us into multiple operations so professionally slick, yet uncluttered and un-clever, that they play like common sense. You don't have to be a genius to be a high-functioning criminal, but owning a set of balls and not being a complete dipshit help. Money is trump in this world. Macklin's brother has been murdered and it's not love (or even revenge) that drives his actions, but an obsession with righting the scales. He wants to be compensated for the loss of his brother and if the outfit won't pony up what he figures is due, he's gonna take it out of them forcibly. Best moment(s): (a Buying a car turns into a confrontation, and (b Macklin and Cody (the really fantastic Joe Don Baker) prepare to go down shooting.

Southland Season 2 - Ann Biderman - The promise of season 1 is delivered upon with this mostly episodic slice of L.A. street cop life. Not perfect, but easily the best cop drama since The Shield and The Wire went away. Now entering its fifth season, I know I've got a lot of catching up to do, but I hope that the opening each episode in the heat of the moment, freeze-framing and having a heavy-handed voice-over on what 'cops' or 'detectives' know or should know or learn gimmick has been done away with. In fact, I think it's that single detail that makes me cringe so hard every damn time that keeps this otherwise very strong show with a fantastic ensemble cast (standouts being: Michael Cudlitz, Regina King and C. Thomas Howell) from cracking my big favorites list. Best moment(s): A riot breaks out over a police shooting of a teenaged car thief - scary. Nate and Sammy talk to a ten year old kid on the street who insists that they 'make it look good' in front of the neighborhood's watchful eyes - they cuff him and throw him in the backseat - light touch, humor and heart.

Sweet Leaf - Julian Grant - Grant's projects are infused with such energy and genre-loving verve, whether it's sci-fi (RoboCop: Prime Directives), horror (The Defiled), animation (The Doctor's Wife) or crime, they're irresistible to me. His latest revolves around an ill-conceived and incompetently executed robbery that's supposed to solve the problems of a handful of low-rent half-assed criminal tourists. Things go bad. Really bad. And as the gang turns on its own we wonder who, if any, will get out alive. Best moment: the final five minutes of this film gave me such a raging heavy-metal suicide-trip hard-on, I wanted to go again.

The Tourist - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - Movies with terrible reputations fascinate and often surprise me - hell, I liked Heaven's Gate quite a bit, Waterworld is some goofy fun, and I even have fond recollections of Ishtar -  so it was with a pretty open mind that I sat down with this one. Holy crap, what the hell happened? How the shit did this turd get made? My theory - von Donnersmarck was hot off of his international hit (the quite good) The Lives of Others, and attracted two huge movie stars (and a really strong supporting cast) to shoot in gorgeous European locations with probably a lot of foreign investors to spread the risk and everybody wanted a piece of it. If you look at the writing credits, it's clear that something smelled rotten long before Denmark as there are four credited writers (including Julian Fellowes and Christopher McQuarrie), and it probably (just guessing) went into production without a finished script. What could go wrong? It's clear that a glamorous, romantic thriller the type Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart might have made with Grace Kelly or Eva Marie Saint, buuuuut let's just say that this is no North By Northwest, Charade or even The Man Who Knew Too Much. It's a mess, pulled in too many different directions by stars with zero chemistry and at least two separate movies they seem to think they're making. Best moment: the closing credits.

Also enjoyable returns to William Monohan's London Boulevard, Andrew Davis's The Fugitive and John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China.


Martin Stanley said...

The Outfit is an absolute cracker. A diamond of a crime thriller. One of the most underrated films of the 70s.

jedidiah ayres said...

It's one I've been trying to see for years. It was hard to find

David Cranmer said...

Iceman Interviews is nothing short of spellbinding. And I agree on the hidden gem that is The Outfit.