Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: February

Blue Caprice - Alexandre Moors - Hypnotic if not quite harrowing portrait if not strictly a dramatization of the mindset if not the expressly the events that led up to the Beltway Sniper shootings carried out by John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo in October of 2002 around Washington D.C. As John, Isaiah Washington delivers a helluva performance, all bitter paranoia and badly wired or at least overcooked paternal impulse that mix into an evil plan to bring down the... something... system(?) he feels victimized by. The film is dreamlike and impressionistic in its approach focusing on mood rather than plot-points and that works ultimately in its favor, becoming a dull-edged and suffocating nightmare rather than a by the numbers ticking clock thriller. Good supporting turns too from Tim Blake Nelson and Tequan Richmond as Lee buttress Washington's towering simmer (that a contradiction?) while splashes of casting color from Joey Lauren Adams and Leo Fitzpatrick just made me wish for more of them than I got. Best moment: Lee takes care of a baby - it's a great moment balancing terror for what might happen to the child left long-term in his care and profound sadness at what might've happened to the young man with a better father-figure.

Charlie Countryman - Fredrik Bond - Charlie (Shia LeBeouf) is a young man without direction who impulsively sets out to see the world (or at least Bucharest) and find his place after the death of his mother. On the transcontinental flight, Charlie has an exchange with the older man sitting next to him and when the stranger expires midflight, Charlie becomes the speaker for the dead charged with delivering a message to the gentleman's smoking hot daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) who is married to a jealous and dangerous man twice her age (Mads Mikkelsen). While abroad Charlie stays in a hostel, goes to raves and becomes a marked man while following his heart. Stupid, stupid, heart. Man, this one felt like a film out of time. Seemed like the rejected Danny Boyle/Ewan McGregor Trainspotting follow-up project, what with the music and camera moves and energy and all the earnest youngster-ishness in exotic locale going on. I appreciated the film's  big-hearted optimism and age-appropriate romanticism - better than a stagey nihilism or hipster cool - and who knows, twenty years ago, this might've been a picture I took to. But today I'm too tired and irritable and motherfucking, shitshoveling mature to go for this kinda thing. Best moment: Charlie decides it'd be better to have a cool death than a boring life. It was admittedly, a nice moment.

Edge of Darkness - Martin Campbell - When homicide detective Thomas Craven's daughter takes a shotgun blast he assumes was meant for him, he finally has the excuse he's been waiting for to rage against the machine and cry some bullets. Somehow, it takes nothing more than a single verbal refusal to take some personal time to make the father of the murder victim the lead (only) investigator on the case, and let's face it, when Mel Gibson is in full-on scowl mode, I'm not going to get in his way. I'm partial to puffy, middle-aged slabs of beef in suits and known only by their last names growling at each other in especially coarse vulgarisms (I really am, a dear genre to me), but the Brits, the Aussies (hell, even the French) they consistently do it better than my homeland. So I really wanted this American feature film re-make of the British mini-series (also from Campbell) to succeed. It's even got grizzled, growly Aussie Gibson at the center, solid built to be a baddie Danny Huston and swollen, rumbly Brit beefstick Ray Winstone in a prominent supporting role, but let me be clear: this... this is a dumb fuckin movie. There really is a palpable contempt for the dipshittedness of the audience on display here that I took unusually sharp objection to. I don't watch movies that I want to fail. If I'm sitting down with your flick, I am lending my moral support to help you entertain me, but this is just a lazy, crazy bid for my manly money that made me want to watch something flamboyant to wash the grit out of my eyes with. Best moment: Gibson and Winstone growl over a fire.

Escape Plan - Mikael Hafstrom - Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) has perhaps the dumbest job on the planet. He goes to prison until he can break himself out and then he details exactly how he succeeded in a report to the client who's paid him to expose the weak points of their security protocol and infrastructure. They pay him a lot. Still, he enjoys that money for what -a few days? a week? a month?- before heading back into some dangerous, awful shithole for... months at a time. The reason a man might willingly spend his life incarcerated in hellish places? Oh, wait for it, it's a doozy... He used to be a lawyer see, he defended scumbags, but when one of those scumbags got out of prison and hurt people, his eyes were opened and his life had new purpose - keep scumbags in prison, make sure they can't get out!!! And do so, by personally checking out alllllll the prisons in a quest to make them escape-proof. Fuuuuuck, that is one fascinatingly unbalanced, fucked up individual who could be the focus of a much more interesting movie, however... this dumb fucking movie is a fun fucking movie, a movie that succeeds in delivering a running time of explosion and muscle and toughnbess-based entertainment with vapor-thin token justifications offered for the premise as well as the presence of folks like Amy Ryan as the sexy smart partner, Sam Neil as the prison doctor with a conscience or Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as the techno-savvy minority. Who does the film really need? Stallone to be the star, Arnold Schwarzeneggar to be the accomplice, Jim Caviezel to be the evil warden, Vinnie Jones to be the heavy and Vincent D'onofrio to be the traitor. But the real star of a film like this is the super-duper-max, uber-secret prison itself - it's hopelessly escape-proof security and locale as essential as its stupendously silly weakness which Breslin spots in about fifteen minutes, and yeah, the film delivers a nicely nightmarish place with inconsistencies so charmingly outre they're nearly meta. As with his Expendables franchise and the latest Rambo flick (title: Rambo) Escape Plan proves Stallone knows his fucking business, his own appeal and how to overcome obstacles in the life of an aging action hero - looks like Ahnold's taking notes, too (next up: Sabotage). Best moment: the location reveal - reminded me of other over the top prison pulps like John Woo's Face/Off, Duane Swierczynski's Point & Shoot or Anthony Neil Smith's The Baddest Ass.

Everybody Has a Plan - Ana Piterbarg - Viggo Moretnsen plays identical twins Augustin and Pedro - one a city doctor, the other a country bee-keeper/criminal - in Argentina. One's plans have fallen apart and the other suddenly wants to abandon his. A reunion after a decade-long (longer?) estrangement ends with one sibling murdering the other and attempting to resume his brother's identity, only to realize that perhaps the new life's problems are worse than the ones he left behind. This is a steady and measured thriller that's brought to a raging simmer if never quite a boil, and I enjoyed it all the way through - the acting, the pace, the cinematography all swell. Still, it's a shame it didn't have a bit... more of the x-factor to make it truly memorable. It establishes a terrific mood and has a great setting among the river community - both of which I'm sure I will enjoy, perhaps even more upon second viewing, but I'm left with the feeling that this one is a missed opportunity for something really special. Still, this is a very solid 85% and worth checking out. Best moment: Claudia visits the wrong brother in jail.

Lilyhammer Season 2 - Eilif Skodvin & Anne Bjornstad - New York wiseguy turned Feeb-informant and Lillehammer, Norway's favorite new son, Frank Tagliano is stepping up his operations. This year he's expanding his immigration for profit racket, as well as illegal liquor, tourism and capitalism, circumvention of the community's socialist tendencies, and the odd hitman who shows up looking for him. Thank God for second seasons, they really can take a good-enough show to a much better place (see The Sopranos, The Shield, Justified) and that's exactly what's happened here (though I wouldn't put it in the company of those other shows on an overall quality level). Lilyhammer's second season is much funnier and more engaging than its first, but the best turn is the introduction to the fore of the crime element. The escalation in violence and danger infuses the humor with some bite and the cast are far more sure-footed with their (admittedly) odd characters. Looking forward to season 3 more than I was season 2. Best moment: Frank turns the tables on the limey bastards come to rub him out.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers - Havana Marking - The Pink Panthers - an international criminal supergroup consisting of a shadowy inner circle and many many tentacles made up of less and less official members have been pulling off bigger and bigger jewelry heists for decades now, and Interpol and municipal law-enforcement groups don't seem to be making any significant progress in hampering their activities. This documentary tells their story using security camera footage of actual heists, dramatic re-enactments and interviews with silhouettes as well as actors reading 'authentic' answers from actual Pink Panther members. I struggled a bit with how much to swallow whole and how much to simply be entertained, but it is at least a better than average made for television documentary, worth checking out for some of the robbery footage alone. Best moment: driving cars through the mall.

No comments: