Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 in Flicks: June

12 Monkeys - Terry Gilliam - Hadn't seen this one in a decade. Pleased to say it holds up and might even improve. Amid the frenetic energy that is a trademark of Gilliam's films, it's easy to think of the atmosphere as chaos, but this viewing drove home for me just how tightly constructed it is, and how absolutely in control Gilliam always was. Best moment: Bruce Willis finishes Madeleine Stowe's voice message from memory ten seconds after she leaves it. Always gives me chills.

Blue Collar Paul Schrader - Terrific working class drama about three auto workers in Detroit who decide to rip off their corrupt union. In classic crime fiction tradition moderate to good intentions lead to hell, heck and hades in short order, and the final scene between Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor will hit you pretty hard. Keitel is always watchable, while some of Pryor's asides into comedic territory fall flat, even if the anger beneath it never does, but it's Yaphet Kotto who really shines here. So light a touch with so much natural gravity - I think they call that charisma - and I'm genuinely curious why he never became a huge fucking movie star. Best moment: Union muscle break into a house to intimidate the residents and find Kotto waiting for them with a baseball bat.

Breaking Bad Season 5 - Vince Gilligan - Stage is set for the final act, and what a slippery, bloody stage it's become. If "I am the one who knocks" was the single most sum-uppable line from season four, "Say my name," does the job in season five. Walt has walked a long road to be the villain he's become, and Hank... Hank's destiny intrigues me almost as much at this point. Jesse? My Spidey-sense bodes ill for him. He may be the Shane Vindrell (Walton Goggins' tragic figure from The Shield) of the series. Can't wait to see the end. Best moment: The multiple-assassination sequence, the giant magnet, Mike's scene by the river  - all stood out huge, but I'm going with the train heist and its immediate aftermath as it sums up the excitement and fall-out of crime (and Walter's crime specifically) so perfectly.

Gangster Squad - Ruben Fleischer - The trailers were clearly aiming for an L.A. Confidential vibe, but looked far closer to The Untouchables in tone. After seeing the film I'm gonna say it's really more like Sin City than anything else. That is to say - style is the substance, and therefore it can't really be loved and defended or hated and attacked on any level worth investing in. Your flash judgement, like it or not, will be the correct one. Leave it at that. So I'll say this - it looks fantastic, it has a wonderful comic-book atmosphere and sharp editing, and is as hollow as a glass ornament. The story doesn't matter. It wants to be a gangster pic at heart, but not having a heart, becomes a glossily beautiful advertisement for gangster pictures instead. So, if you have an appetite to watch a better gangster film afterward - it succeeded on some level. If you never ever want to watch another - give it a week, a month, hopefully you'll come around. Best moment: Josh Brolin's rescue of the damsel near the beginning. Great-looking, editing that crackles, ridiculous bad-ass action.

Harlem Nights - Eddie Murphy - The reputation on this one finally reached critical mass and I had to give it a go. The reputation, as it reached me: misogynistic, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, vanity project for writer/director/star Murphy. The reality, as I experienced it twenty-odd years past what could have been Murphy's brightest shining moment: foul-mouthed - yes, tho I liked a lot of that. Mean-spirited - no, tho some justifiable anger not bothering to be covered up. Vanity project - yes, but, let's face it, faaaaaaarrrrr from the worst example of that kind of thing that I can think of. In fact, faaaaarrrrr from the worst example in Murphy's career (I'm looking at you Party All the Time). No, by vanity project, this one was just a chance to dress natty and work with heroes like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, plus shoot a gun, get the girl and be the smartest guy in the room most of the time. Misogyny - pffffbbt. As Mike from Breaking Bad put it, "That's what I get for being sexist," when regretting sparing the life of a woman, who, had she been a man, he certainly would not have. Not a great movie by any means, but a lot better than the reputation its carried, I enjoyed several scenes quite a bit including just about every time Danny Aiello is onscreen in what's usually the thankless role of that terrible white guy keeping the minorities down - his first interaction with Pryor was just about my favorite scene, but... Best moment: Della Reese puts the hurt on Murphy and forces his hand... on her foot.

Hit & Miss Season 1 - Paul Abbott - I like Chloe Sevigny, a lot. She's got a drop-dead sultriness, and a sultry dead-eyed-ness that hints at so many salacious possibilities in any and every scene. So, how great a vehicle for her always simmering, occasionally exploding presence than a television show about a pre-op transsexual hitman/woman blindsided by the news from a dying ex-lover that she/he is the father of an eleven year old son, and that he/she has been named special guardian to the expiring lover's four children? Still with me? Well... the appeal of that high-concept is short-lived and then the project is saddled with it. Some shows can move past their elevator-pitch and become something bigger (who would call The Sopranos that show about a gangster seeing a shrink, now? And who thinks of Alias as Felicity-the-spy anymore?) On the other hand, that initial audacity can burden a budding project with baggage that just clutters and sinks it before it can bloom. Does Hit & Miss rise above and become something, or drown beneath its own weight? Eh, I'm not sure. So many of my favorite shows haven't really hit their stride till the second or third season, so I'm going to give the next season a shot, but similar to Rescue Me or Paul Abbott's other show Shameless - the poles of family drama and crime drama, rather than creating an electric tension that the two co-exist within, stretch each element to near transparency and exist as two separate watered-down elements that don't (yet) overlap and barely even touch in the middle. Best moment: Mia divulges his/her secret to a love interest. The show does give him an honest emotional response and the space to work through his conflicting feelings.

Miami Blues - George Armitage - My first introduction to Charles Willeford and Jennifer Jason Leigh. How could I not love this film? Kudos to producer/co-star Fred Ward for keeping the series character Hoke Moseley in the background and leaving Freddie Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin in one of his best-ever performances) front and center. Too bad Ward never got to make more Hoke adaptations, because this one had a lot going for it in tone. Never gonna say it's as good as the book, but it's a really fair translation to another medium, and not a bad way to be introduced to Willeford's weird worldview. Best moment: Susie feeds Freddy a litmus vinegar pie.

Miami Connection - Richard Park - God bless the too enthusiastic to ever be cool. God bless them more if they couldn't even give a shit about being cool. I think that the folks behind the 80s-est 80s movie ever probably did think they were pretty cool, and it's good for an easy laugh or two watching a scene here or there, but, friends, when you watch this opus beginning to end, it's an entirely different thing. The excitement and enthusiasm and just refusal to be self-conscious and put it all out there - your ultimate fantasy - for the whole world to see (and potentially mock) goes beyond being commendable and is actually a little inspiring. What really blows my mind about this weird-ass flick - about five adult men, all of whom are orphans and best friends and room mates and Tae Kwon Do students who play in a band called Dragon Sound and sing songs about being best friends and room mates and Tae Kwon Do enthusiasts and who become the house band at a Miami night club, and in so doing, inadvertently take jobs away from the current house band, who are so pissed about losing that gig that they hire a clan of drug-running Miami Ninjas to (wait for it) kill the dudes in Dragon sound - is that it's not some shot-for-nothing cheapo exploitation flick, it's got some polish and budgetary value on screen. It's no hundred million dollar blockbuster, but it's no Blair Witch Project either. Somebody, somewhere put some good money into it because it sounded like a hit... and it still does... and it may become one yet. Party movie of the year - I predict drinking games and costumed midnight-movie attending audiences in the near future for this rediscovered B-movie classic. Best moment: So damn many to choose from, but I keep coming back to Jim (Maurice Smith) telling his mother and father's tragic story to the fellas. Real tears, folks.

Mud - Jeff Nichols - Who's going to beat this shit? Who, I ask, will step up and eclipse this piece of American film making from Arkansas wunderkind Nichols? Whoever it is, I want to fucking see that shit right now because Mud has placed itself so far ahead of the pack in 2013, we might as well engrave the plaque now. I've not had so much pure enjoyment at the movies in... I don't even know. Where do I begin to talk about it? How about with the setting - southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana - a place that remains mythic yet, this tucked away corner of the civilized world where people still live off the land and fear the encroaching reach of a government that seems like a separate and hostile nation. Though I've never had a lifestyle like the characters in the film, I instantly recognized the setting as an America that I know - the small town details are spot on to the point that I could smell it (especially that air-conditioner-and-cigarettes scent that I just knew was the essence of one particular location). Next, how about character? Matthew McCoaughey's name and image are prominent on the poster, but the film really belongs to Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as Ellis and Neckbone - an effortlessly contemporary Tom & Huck - two river kids who become involved in a very dangerous drama for all the right reasons: Ellis, for honor and Neckbone for loyalty, and their personal struggles with their decisions in the face of increasing danger and the demand of greater sacrifice even as the likelihood of their having been deceived and used grows. It's a great study that explores the best and worst of human capabilities without becoming treacly or bludgeoning. Lastly, how about the filmic chops? This movie will keep even the most astute film goer off balance and unsure, yet confident they are in the hands of a very capable and confident film maker with (more importantly) true vision. Man, vision trumps cleverness 9 times out of 10. Best moment: Impossible to nail down just one, but one of the most striking and memorable for me - Joe Don Baker leads a prayer.

Parker - Taylor Hackford - A piece of advice - don't go comparing this adaptation of Richard Stark's titular iconic professional thief to the numerous previous film incarnations if you want to enjoy it. I mean, who's going to argue for Jason Statham against Lee Marvin or Robert Duvall? And probably best not to take the previous films and try to make a cohesive universe out of them. Nah, best just to judge the picture on its own. That said, Parker is a slightly above average heist flick with a couple of stand out scenes. One of common pleasures of good crime fiction is the feeling of being in the know about the way things really work - no longer a hopeless square - and the best examples in film or literature (which the Parker novels certainly belong named amongst) take us behind the curtain apparent to the casually observing citizen and lay bare the inner workings of a plausible shadow economy - and there are just the briefest glimpses of that to be caught here, while most of the film's weight rests on pretty standard revenge fare and competent, if not particularly inspired, staging and execution. I'll also put myself out there now and say Jennifer Lopez was one of my favorite elements in this picture. She's aged nicely and I'd like to see her work with some first rate material. Best moment: Hell of a hand to hand fight scene two-thirds through.

Side Effects - Steven Soderbergh - There is a point of view switch halfway through the film, at which point, the mantle of main character also changes and everything about the first half is called into question. That everything about the second half is being called into question in real time as it's being shown to us requires us to suspend judgement until the end, by which time you may not care to re-examine everything that preceded. Which is fine. If a piece of entertainment carries you along to the end enclosed inside a bubble of willful suspension of disbelief, then it's done its job regardless your reaction come punch-line. Whether or not you choose to re-experience it more analytically is beside the point, or rather, an entirely separate and distinct measure of success (the first - that it cast its spell on you - already irrevocably decided). I went for the ride and come punch-line didn't feel cheated at all. Don't feel any need at this point to re-examine it, but it passed the first viewing easily. I really don't want to say anything about the plot, as it is probably best experienced in a cold viewing (like I did). I'll just divulge that it is a thriller and a twisty one... And that I really dig Soderbergh. Best moment: when final judgements are coming down at the end, one character's degree of malicious pleasure and ruthlessness were surprising.

White Lightnin' - Dominic Murphy - 'Inspired by the life of' notorious West Virginia tap-dancing outlaw Jesco White - this flick caught my attention with that line then diverted awfully quick from the straight and narrow of bio-pic narrative until it it climaxed in a fever dream of sin and redemption of the highest murderous backwood order. The opening scenes of young Jesco (Owen Campbell) are really great, especially once he starts his life-long love affair with huffing gasoline. Campbell is a compelling screen presence and I was disappointed to finish out his portion of the film. Edward Hogg's adult Jesco is harder to buy into for the tricky balancing act the role requires. Jesco is under-educated but speaks with a poetic quality, baby-faced and gentle and charming until he's not. Until he's a dangerous, brutal and psychotic - and he's required to be all of the above within the space of a few seconds multiple times in an hour and a half. But if you relax into the character and Hogg's stylized portrayal of the myth rather than the man, there's a lot to be enjoyed here. Shot in ethereal black and white, the whole film is steeped in a heavy atmosphere of dream logic. The dancing scenes are hypnotic and any scene with young Jesco, D. Ray (Muse Watson) or Cilla (Carrie Fisher) are worth looking at. Best moment: D. Ray teaches young Jesco to dance. The emotional and spiritual purity of exuberant expression are conveyed in just a few short steps, a pair of raised arms and an actor's face.


Kevin Helmick said...

Man I really regret missing MUD in theater now! Thanks. Thanks a fuckin lot!
Loved and still love, 7 monkies, Miami. Gangster Squad was real let down, weak story, not story at all really. Falls far below LA Confidential and Sin City, in my opinion.
Just saw Side Effects, thought it was good, well done, good writing and good acting, even though I have trouble liking Jude Law.
I'll have to check out some others on this list, But I think The Paperboy should have been on it as well as Killer Joe, Hick, and a few others.

jedidiah ayres said...

Yeah, Mud is damn special... Here's THE PAPERBOY http://spaceythompson.blogspot.com/2013/02/my-2013-in-crime-flicks-january.html

and here's KILLER JOE

Unknown said...

I've got to catch Mud. There's no filmmaker better than Nichols as far as I'm concerned.

And with Walt, he's always been the bad guy, always.

jedidiah ayres said...

Always has been, yes, but has developed beautifully as a portrait of evil

Josh Stallings said...

Miami Blues takes me back. I cut the trailer and tv spots for it. Love that movie. At the end of the trailer I used "Uzi Price check" joke. MPAA wouldn't allow a victim and toy gun in same frame so I put a graphic down the middle to protect her. Ha. Great list.

jedidiah ayres said...

Josh, I am finding more and more key bits of my development that trace back to you. I am your responsibility, sir. Please publish a complete list of trailers you've cut so I can accurately bill you for therapy.

Court Merrigan said...

Hey, I got a mundane question: what's your source for these flicks? You buy em? Netflix? Streaming or mail DVD? We cut the cable cord recently and Amazon Instant is crap in terms of selection. Trying to figure out what to fill the gap with. So many movies I need to see.

jedidiah ayres said...

Several of them are DVD & Netflix streaming. I've never had cable- always had to wait

Court Merrigan said...

So do you do both Netflix streaming & DVD by mail?

jedidiah ayres said...


Chris said...

Neckbone! Love that kid.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Blue Collar is one of my long time favorites. I've always thought that the noir aspects of it weren't appreciated enough. I like telling people that BC is my favorite noir movie because I like the idea of a noir film set in the unlikely world of a car plant union. It's also one of the most cynical movies ever made.

jedidiah ayres said...

Schrader made a decent film or two, huh?