- John Huston
- Startlingly good ensemble cast. Atmospheric film noir at its best. Sterling Hayden
has the blue-ribbon hang-dog face of the era, a defeated handsomeness and fatalistic posture, but this film also allows him to throw his weight around just a bit. I've never before been so impressed with his looming physicality and the brute at bay behind that five o'clock shadow, but he's only the hub of this picture connected to a half-dozen sturdy as hell spokes populating a workaday criminal underworld infused with as much romantic fatalism as any other picture you'd care to stack it up against. When John McIntire
's Police Commissioner gives his press release about Hayden's desperado on the run, he refers to him as a cornered animal without an ounce of humanity left in him, and the images of McIntire's granite righteousness making easy condemnations are juxtaposed with Hayden's mug suffering through his last moments and we all understand that the statement is ass-backward. Best moment: Sam Jaffe
puts another nickel in the juke while the cops pass by the window outside.
Blood In Blood Out: Bound By Honor
- Taylor Hackford
- Epic Americana thwarted by heavy hands. Man, it should have been fantastic - based on writings of Jimmy Santiago Baca
, set in the under-exposed Latino neighborhoods of Los Angeles and spanning more than a decade in the lives of three blood relations on vastly different tracks, it was aiming high. The forced affectations of Damian Chapa
would be forgivable, as they work with his character - the half-Anglo cousin, Miklo, who has a lot to prove - as much as the super-cool-to-hot-blooded Benjamin Bratt
's el Fonzie schtick fit Paco's alpha-male identity, if
they had aged and developed along with Miklo, as he comes into his own. Instead, the third act finds the much-tested and more confident Miklo working harder than ever to sound correct, and he's doing his part to escalate the over-sell of everyone else on screen. The second act does improve dramatically when the film becomes a prison drama rather than vatos in the barrio
, but damn, as soon as Miklo is back out on the street it devolves into all-yelling all-the-time and the quality goes way down. It's a shame too, because underneath all the strained Latino accents is a compelling story that unfortunately is largely smothered by bad acting, and awkward pacing. Best moment:
Miklo's blood in.
Boys Next Door
- Penelope Spheeris
- The opening of the film prepares viewers for an unsettling experience by dumping some grisly details about notorious serial killers on us before introducing Roy and Bo (Maxwell Caulfield
and Charlie Sheen
), two blue collar um, boys next door - maybe not rich or popular at the high school they just graduated from, and maybe kinda resentful about their prospects, but they ought to make up for their non-homecoming-king status in pure handsome. Except, uh, no. Instead, they decide to take a graduation weekend trip to L.A. before they begin the second, and most likely last chapter of their lives working in a local factory where they've already got jobs lined up to begin on Monday. Only, things don't go the way they expect them to, which is funny because these guys seem to have never seen a movie before, even though they behave as if they thought they were starring in one. A weekend getting faced in Hollywood bars turns into a series of misadventures that quickly devolve into murders and our local heroes have crossed into the sights of some of L.A.'s finest. This one falls well short of its ambitions. If those opening facts about serial killers are supposed to prepare us for what's to come, they kinda fuck it up. If those opening bits were to be dumped and, instead, we just jumped right into the action that would probably make the film more intense, 'cause stacking Roy & Bo's exploits next to say Ed Gein'
s can't really lead to a favorable shock-factor side-by-side comparison for our duo, it can only make them a disappointment. I wonder if those bits were insisted upon by some nervous studio executive - it feels that way - though, even with the intro excised, the film has problems. For one, it can't make up its mind what the problem with the kids is. Are they reacting to peer and societal rejection or are they just bad seeds? (Roy does confess to Bo, out of the blue, that sometimes he has urges... bad urges.) We feel for them when they're kicked out of the popular kids' graduation shindig, and they wax lyrical about their blue-collar futures, but then we're invited to want to see them shown up when their attitudes toward women or homosexuals is exposed, and instead of feeling complex, the film feels divided against itself. It's got a nice finale, though, one that, I'm sure, went a ways toward giving Charlie Sheen the bad boy image that he rode through fare like Ferris Bueller's Day Off
and Major League
. Best moment:
Roy & Bo take a leak through the chain-link fence of the factory before heading out of town - literally pissing on their future. Get it?
No, actually, it's a nice scene.
Season 1 - Tom Fontana
- After the first episode I thought perhaps I'd found a keeper - the costumes and sets looked mostly good (which is huge in a period drama), the characters were rough and the violence more so, and the errant knight angle was not stressed as much as the trailers had bludgeoned me to believe. The second episode went darker, though I had a strange sense of dejavu which turned out to be from the main story following the first two episodes of Deadwood
rather closely, but it stopped there. And I wish I had too. After that it sadly became just another body of the week procedural (albeit, one with some nice period touches and a few strands of serialized story that occasionally flared brightly) that pitted one man against the corruption of the big city. Worse, he was way into using "science" to solve crimes. Seriously, I lost count of how many corpses this guy trundles off to a doctor's house for an autopsy or some other really time-consuming bit of deduction - and the findings are always right. Man, if you're going to go down the ill-advised road of 'new-technology-to-solve-crime' you have
to have the guts to be wrong or have your faith in technique way misplaced once in a while. Or, shit, get all mystical and esoteric like Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks
or Claire DeWitt in Sara Gran
's books. I wanted to quit many times, but was oddly compelled to finish the season despite ceasing to be interested rather early, and by the end, I'd run entirely out of shits to give. Best moment: Franka Potente
dispatches of competition.
- Simon West
- Here's the credit I'll give Sylvester Stallone
- guy knows his audience and what they want from him. And his Expendables franchise is so precisely calculated to meet those expectations you can watch the gears move in the screenplay as if it were super-imposed onto the screen. Far from being a detriment, it is exactly that element of self-awareness that raises the experience to a level just short of meat-head meta, and kept me watching till the end. Did I like the movie?
Not really, but I was kinda fascinated by it, and there were a few moments of inspired goofiness laced throughout (including Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme
cranking up the homoerotic elements of action movie mano-a-mano to parody level and the one-liners, sheesh, the one-liners are groaners on such a deep level they're like a cleanse of your spirit from the last thirty years of action film making - best one: Jason Statham,
dressed as a monk and about to stab some motherfuckers at the altar, "I now pronounce you man and knife.
") The level of gung-ho dumbness is stupefying, but it's hard to make that a criticism when it is so plainly what they are striving for. Best moment:
the opening compound siege is like a lost Mad Max
- Sam Peckinpah
- Long time favorite revisited. Doc McCoy hires himself out to a corrupt politician, and, in exchange for early parole, must rob a bank. Things don't go as planned and Doc and wife Carol's strained relationship is put through the wringer in tense, violent vignettes that escalate across Texas until they shoot the holy shit out of a dilapidated old hotel near the border. If you've never seen this one you've deprived yourself. C'mon,
I mean, Peckinpah, Steve McQueen
and Walter Hill
each trying to make Jim Thompson
's source novel their own thing - what's not to love? Best moment:
Doc buys a shotgun.
A Good Day to Die Hard
- John Moore
- Oh my. It's come to this. I am a staunch supporter of your right to like the Die Hard
sequels. They've generally been solid and enjoyable escapist action flicks, if unworthy to wear the Die Hard
mantle. Here's what I do: imagine everybody is being sarcastic when they refer to Bruce Willis
as John McClane, 'cause, y'know, he kinda looks like that guy from Die Hard
. Then I'm free to enjoy the mayhem without thinking that I am actively de-valuing one of the pinnacles of the genre with each new body on the heap. But they've finally done it. The franchise has come full circle and this faux-McClane character is now absolutely the guy that made the original John McClane such a welcome breath of fresh air for action heroes. This new dude is
the joke that then-comedic-actor Willis was telling us in 1988. I remember people going into that flick saying "Really, the guy from
Moonlighting is going to play a badass?"
That was the thing, wasn't it? He was so damn vulnerable. Persistent, yes. Resilient, absolutely. Cock-sure hard-ass? Not at all. Not sure why I'm distinguishing between installments five and four, A Good Day to Die Hard
(which I really did enjoy), but I am. Maybe four was just more fun. Maybe there was appreciably less flag waving. Maybe it went bigger not broader. Anyway, I enjoyed that one. But this one? It's a terrible movie. Best moment:
elevator fight. I always like a good elevator fight, though, come to think of it, this one isn't as good as the one in Die Hard With a Vengeance
- Stephen Frears
- If Ernest Hemingway
's The Killers
had been a novel instead of a short story, the adaptation might've looked more like this than any of the (three?) films it's so far inspired. Willie Parker (Terrance Stamp
) ratted out his chums in crime ten years ago, and has spent the last decade preparing for his sins to catch up with him. In fact, he's so prepared that he completely unnerves the pair of hitmen hired to collect him and escort him to Paris (out of Spain) so he can die in front of the man he sent away with his testimony. Not that Willie wants to die, he's just okay with it. He's not terribly bothered now that his life has surely entered its final week - he's not even sore at his killers - and the three of them (Stamp, John Hurt
and Tim Roth
) get to know each other fairly well over the course of several days spent avoiding Spanish officials and trying to get over the border with their live (for now) cargo. Is Willie truly at peace? Is he fucking with them? Is he turning them against each other and looking for his opportunity to escape? Should they admire him, be wary of him? Re-examine their lives? It's a great little psychological thriller and completes Frears' amazing trio of crime films (along with The Grifters
and Dirty Pretty Things
.) Best moment:
The hotel room is already occupied. The long scene that follows is fantastic suspense film making.
James Ellroy's City of Demons
Season 1 - James Ellroy
- Do you know anything about James Ellroy? Have you read any of his books? Did you enjoy them? If so, then you'll probably dig this show, if not, I don't know what to tell you. Guess what? His mom was murdered and he kicks off the season with a retelling of that story... y'know, in case you haven't yet read Clandestine, The Black Dahlia, My Dark Places
or The Hilliker Curse
. The second episode covers cases he explored in books like Crime Wave
and Destination Morgue!
but I didn't mind, his schtick is good. Frankly, I don't think these brief documentaries carry the emotional heft of his prose, but it's interesting subject matter and he's a kick to watch and listen to. The third and final episode of this first season (is there a second?) deals with serial killers - a subject Ellroy expresses his disdain for multiple times during the episode, and that is actually one of the most enjoyable bits of the whole series. Best moment:
Ellroy rolls his eyes in pleasure from the juicy bits Barko the crime dog spills to him.
- Neil Jordan
- I think this was the first picture I ever saw Bob Hoskins
in. It was, at least, the first time I ever took notice of him, and re-experiencing it twenty-some years later it's easy to see why. That guy is such a presence that no matter he's short, balding, rather squat and round-shaped, I do believe he might even be sexy here. He plays George, a con just released from prison, having done his time quietly and having not once spoken the names of any of his criminal associates, who just wants to start building a life again. He's got a teen-aged daughter he's not seen in many years, and reconnecting with her is his chief goal. To make ends meet, he gets a job driving an escort named Simone (Cathy Tyson
) around London to her many evening appointments. The heart of the story is the relationship that develops between the two of them, and the plot kicks in proper when Simone asks George to use his minor underworld connections to locate another call girl who's gone missing. George and Simone are both connected to the missing girl through a gangster named Mortwell (Michael Caine
) and George is reluctant both, to get involved and to sniff around anything connected to Mortwell. Guess what?
He should be. This is a tasty, modestly-scaled thriller, stocked with real people and believable motivations, and I wish they made more like it. Best moment:
Hoskins escorts Tyson out of a hotel where she's worn out her welcome.
One Eyed Jacks
- Marlon Brando
- Felt like I'd seen this one before, but turns out, no. Must've only caught bits on television and out of sequence a few times, 'cause this was an almost completely fresh experience for me. Brando's appeal has never really hooked me. I got to know him as Fat-Brando first, and wondered where all the amazing stuff, everybody always talked about, was. I'm not sure it's in here, either, tho I really did enjoy the film. Brando's got an undeniable sensuality about him here, but, for my money, the best performance is Karl Malden
's. It's Malden who gets the most complex emotional arc and his face is an excellent conduit for despair, elation, tenderness, deceit, sadness and anger, and it's his presence that makes Brando's womanizing thief capable of rising to martyr-status and a vengeance worth getting behind. Best moment:
The whipping. Yeah, seeing it in context really does make the images powerful.
Only God Forgives
- Nicolas Winding Refn
- The director and star of the subversive action flick, Drive
, are back with an un-thriller that makes Drive
look like a John Woo
joint. The pace, along with everything else onscreen, is deliberate and utterly controlled by Winding Refn. In fact, many will find them utterly stifling and frustrating. I did not. I found them utterly mesmerizing. Every still of the film would look excellent mounted on a gallery wall. The beauty and the ugly, the acting and the dying are so Kubrickian-cold you might try leaving the flick on to chill your home on a hot summer day. The more I talk about it, the more it feels like I've got to say, so I won't go into much here, just for the sake of time and space (if you'd like a few of my immediate reactions to the flick, you can read 'em here
), but I'll mention a couple of points now. It struck me as kind of a high-brow exploitation flick. Exploitation-like in its extremes. Take the villains: sooooo over the top awful, asking a father to pimp out his fourteen year old girl for rough sex, murdering women, expressing open contempt for host cultures, using children to deal drugs, using sexual ties to manipulate their own offspring... and so forth. Now take the hero: incorruptible, a lawman who punishes evil by acting morally outside of the law, swift and unflinching in dealing out justice, compassionate and merciful, invincible, uses an ancient weapon while his enemies use guns, a good dresser and a hell of a singer, an honorable defender of his culture and protector of the vulnerable within his jurisdiction, an ideal, mythical - hell, supernatural - figure. Now take the cinematography: the isolation of colors - every object in frame held in a single color - and immense, inky-black negative spaces in nearly every scene... except one. Notice that when the hero confronts the villain, all the colors drop from the palette, replaced by all blacks and whites. But here's the chief curveball. Ryan Gosling
, the star of the picture, is not the hero (or the villain), but very nearly the damsel in distress here. He's the impotent bystander (notice all the imagery of his hands - his power, his will - how he contemplates them, but does not act in any meaningful way... In fact, his only actions are against inconsequential figures who do not play any significant role) whose soul hangs in the balance while the forces of evil (Kristen Scott Thomas
) and good (Vithaya Pansirigarm
) clash to claim it. Now consider the opening credit sequence: in Thai with English subtitles - a big indicator as to how the film should be viewed. Imagine the same story as a white-hat western with foreign devils despoiling America - our land, our laws, our culture, our young women - until an ideal hero, who embodies our national myth, steps up to right the scales in a completely badass way. It's not a western, but an eastern, and a damn fine, hypnotic nightmare of biblical proportion. I saw someone, who hated the flick, charge that Winding Refn didn't care about anything "I even have this idea that Refn has personal problems. Seriously. Watch this movie and you'll soon be saying to yourself, 'Who the hell is this fucking guy? Is he a monster? A sadism machine? What does he feel? Who or what does he care about?'"
(again, I refer you to this rankling review)
. It's pretty clear to anybody paying attention that the film maker cares deeply - as his hero does - about children and the vulnerable. Consider the punishment meted out by the hero. He lets a father's rage be vented against the monster that killed his little girl before taking punitive measure against the same father for letting his daughter's life go so far off the rails that she was at risk of the kind of fate that found her, and (more) as a reminder not to let it happen to his other children. We are also led to believe that he spares the life of a man who helped plan an assassination attempt on him because the man acted out of desperation to provide for his young and very helpless son. He cares too for his own child, whom he shares very tender moments with, and saves his most white-hot slaying for the one whose child-abuse has led to the tragedies of the film's plot, while punishing, but non-lethally, the man who tried to kill him, but drew the line at harming a child. Final note: the karaoke. Notice that every time the hero sings, it is in Thai and not subtitled, and his audience is entirely made up of policemen - like he's preaching to them, teaching them The Law
. Like Jesus
ending his parables with the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Now think about the non-cop karaoke scene where he systematically disables the senses of a villain - if you're not using your eyes/ears, let's get rid of them
- or the ritual severing of hands (again recalling Jesus' words "If your right hand makes causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
") So, yeah, heavy religious, good and evil overtones... I love that shit, (have you read Fierce Bitches?
) Best moment:
the showdown between Gosling and Pansirigarm - made me think of Jacob (the younger, softer, less-macho and less-favored of two brothers) wrestling the angel - contending with God. It's the final big reveal of theme in the film, in case you weren't yet getting it. Wonderful scene.
Punisher: War Zone
- Lexi Alexander
- I think that after Abel Ferrara
's Driller Killer
, War Zone is the second strange slasher flick I've seen this year. I was going to say 'unconventional slasher flick,' but I happen to think that this one is a very
conventional slasher film, or rather, it's a slightly different perspective on the conventions of a slasher film. The only thing that really makes it strange is the fact that the audience is supposed to be rooting for the killer outright and there are no plucky prey whose corner we're in. This time around, the cast of characters enjoying life, and made to pay for it, happen to be fairly ruthless gangsters, and yeah, generally, you don't feel any remorse for their fates... the only problem is that they are the only ones having any fun in this pic. Like any
. If Ray Stevenson
's Frank Castle smiled (or better - cackled) while dispensing grisly punitive measures it'd be easier to get behind him, but man, the only one who hates what Frank is doing more than the victims seems to be Frank himself. Maybe your Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers are onto something with the masks - the enigma of their emotional state is intriguing - or Freddy Kruger who just fucking loves his work - now that's somebody you can enjoy watching whether you're behind his efforts or not. Dominic West
is still without a great post-McNulty role, but his Jigsaw may be his most memorable - it's big and trying to be fun... it almost is in a couple of scenes too, but mostly it's just the worst American accent by a European actor since the cast of True Blood
saw Steel Magnolias
. Best moment:
lights go out during dinner and the the Punisher skull glows on Stevens' chest - yeah, it looked pretty boss.
- Luis Prieto
- An English language remake of the first of Nicolas Winding Refn's Danish Pusher
trilogy, and a lot of fun (for the audience, not for the characters). The original is a good flick, but nowhere near as good as its sequels, so maybe that's why I really didn't mind such a close to the original remake. The location is changed and the new pulsing-techno soundtrack casts a half-dreamy, half-nightmarish trance over the proceedings as we watch a small-time drug dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle
looking remarkably like and projecting a similar vitality and aura as Vincent Cassel
) lose control of his life in the space a single hellish week. Bronson Webb
brings a more humorous take on the pathetic-ness that is Tony than Mads Mikkelsen
's original portrayal (but holy shit, nothing is more powerful than Mikkelsen's performance in Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands
- you really must see that film - break your heart in all the right ways), but yeah, it's pretty much the exact same movie. I only hope the remake brings a new audience to the original's sequels. Hey, YOU, go see them! Best moment: Zlatko Buric
reprises the role of Milo and is clearly having a blast. So much heart, with so much menace beneath. When he talks to Frank... it's really scary.
Season 1 - Ray McKinnon
- Man, I was excited about this thing. I'm a big fan of McKinnon's (and his frequent collaborator/co-producer Walton Goggins
- who doesn't appear anywhere here). I dig his choice of material for theme, for discomfort, for compassion, for direct challenge to your loyalties and prejudices. And all of that is on display in this tale of a man named Daniel Holden (Aden Young
) who is released from prison, on newly discovered DNA evidence, after serving nearly twenty years of a life-sentence for a rape he was convicted of as a teenager. He and his case become lightning rods for politicians and polarizing problems for the small town where he spent the first half of his life. The divisions even run through his own family. His return threatens the family business, now run by his stepfather and stepbrother who joined the family during his incarceration. He isn't what his sister, who never stopped defending and fighting for him, would like him to be. His mother doesn't really know what to do with him. Daniel too just doesn't know what to do with himself. He's both the audience's way in to the story and its central enigma. Tho DNA is on his side, Daniel refuses to do much to defend himself or clear his name. He is haunted by the events that led to his imprisonment, as well as the life he lived inside for the most recent half of his life, and he is grateful for his new chance to live, but it's scary in its own ways, and he seems to feel that he doesn't quite deserve either the nightmare of his prison experience or the sweetness of freedom. His blank quality invites your projections and then, over the course of six episodes, he subverts and, sometimes astonishingly, sheds them. I'd forgive you for finding him too blank to draw you in. I'd forgive you for finding some of the thematic heavy-handedness too much (the first episode, especially, was full of cringe-worthy expositional dialogue). I'd also join you in criticizing some of the shaggy-doggedness of the series' structure, but I, for one, am in-fucking-trigued
to see where Rectify
goes in its second season. The stage has been set for bold drama. I hope it delivers. Best moment:
stepbrother Ted (Clayne Crawford
, in what became my favorite performance of the show) takes Daniel for a bonding session over golf and fails to assert his position over him. Daniel quietly, but decidedly, backs him into a corner with a harrowing and truly unnerving rap-session.
- John Flynn
- Man, I've not seen a lot of Flynn's output, but this one and The Outfit
rank right up there in the strata of Sam Peckinpah
and Walter Hill
. The script by Paul Schrader
is another story of the capacity for violence being unleashed in a weird loner, but William Devane
's Major Charles Rane has spent the last several years being tortured in a southeast Asian prison, so we're a little more ready to forgive his peculiarity than say Travis Bickles', still, it's difficult to watch him refuse to be moved to cooperation when thugs threaten his wife and kid. He's back from the war, a real American hero, but it seems that significant parts of him have changed or just not returned with the rest of him, and it's not until he's got a clearly-defined enemy that he really comes into focus and acts with purpose. And oh, what purpose. Revenge that doesn't have much to do with justice... just blood and pain. It's a hard-nosed and difficult picture, but always electrifying and man, I could watch the- Best moment:
Devane and Tommy Lee Jones
go to a Mexican brothel looking for trouble - over and over again. Fantastic climax.
- Nick Love
- Never having seen the TV show it was based on, I can't comment on its faithfulness or lack there of. But having seen my share of hard-cop fare, I can say with confidence I've seen much better and much worse. But, shit, this is probably the closest we're ever going to get to Ray Winstone
as Ken Bruen
's Sgt. Brant, and thinking of it that way probably colored my experience more than it should have. Jack Regan isn't just hard, he's unreasonably hard. He's cartoonishly hard. He beats suspects with blunt objects. He shoots off their extra fingers. He headbutts a lot of people. He disregards direct orders. Not only does he choke his boss (with one hand, no less), he fucks the boss's wife. He's... he's a lot of fun to watch, especially when he and Ben Drew
's Carter get into one of their mumbling and dead-eyed scowling competitions (every fucking time they're on screen together... which is often.) By the end, I really was enjoying their schtick, especially since the momentum behind the second half was strong enough to sweep aside all objections to reason, due process and good taste. And, The Sweeney
is a terrific-looking
picture. The London skyline is striking and the police station is so slick and state of the art it looks like an Apple commercial. Solid action picture with a bit of grit and plenty of indiscriminately brutal police. Best moment:
The bank-robbery shootout.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration
- John Hyams
- Working my way backward through the series and I've probably now gone as far back as I will. Regeneration
isn't as good as Day of Reckoning
, but it's still an interesting action flick. Hyams clearly has vision for an ongoing series and I'd like to see him get to realize his goals to explore the creepiness of the premise that only got a cartoony once-over in the first flicks of the franchise. It's dark, it's weird, it's unusual, perhaps even unheard of for a franchise to tap so much previously untold potential four installments in. Best moment:
the UniSols square off.