Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

Belly - Hype Williams - The actual fuck? This flick has it all and not nearly enough. Not really sure what I was expecting, but this story of boyhood friends whose neighborhood alliance grows into a criminal empire that eventually topples making way the barbarians at the gate plays like a pastiche of every crime flick, music video and ecstasy/acid vision you've ever entertained blasting hip-hop in your car. It's gorgeous and stylish as hell, makes very little sense and its impact is like a cubist ode to Scarface and Donald Goines. Some sequences are brilliant and others are so amateurish they'd make Mallrats era Kevin Smith cringe. The fluidity and versatility of the visual sensibility is juxtaposed with leaden, whispery narration so heavy and uninspired you'll be rushing for the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. The film jumps from groovy club vibes to hallucinatory encounters dripping with real menace in exotic Jamaican locale to scenes of domestic melodrama worthy of Tommy Wiseau to action set pieces part John Woo and part The Last Dragon. I honestly can't decide if Williams is a hack or a visionary director, but it's an experience I will try again some time, though maybe 3am, failing-cognitive-functions viewings are the best way to experience it. Best moment: I loved every moment of the Omaha scenes, especially when Method Man crashes Tyrin Turner's club. Fucking nuts.

Black Sea - Kevin 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? 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.

Casino Royale - Martin Campbell - Honestly I've never been a big James Bond fan. That either elevates the importance of my opinion here or completely discounts it. Either way, this is easily in my top two favorites of the series (the other being From Russia With Love) as it appeals to what appeals to me generally - as opposed to specifically about Bond. For the franchise it's low-fi and nasty and packs a sucker punch of an ending. It works on a meta-level better than Skyfall did, has fun with its own tropes while hitting all the fan-base expected beats. Looks terrific, has great and very silly action set pieces that it manages to convince you are gritty, is populated by always welcomed faces like Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench and sets up Daniel Craig's run in the role with a through line of both plot and character arc. Nice. It's got to be said though - that long poker sequence represents the worst of the franchise's pandering, the worst of gambling movies in general and is so terribly paced and structured I'm tempted to think of it as the film makers going all Andy Kaufman on our collective asses. Best moment: the opening chase sequence is a thesis for the producer's intent for the picture and the future of the franchise.

Chappie - Neal Blomkamp - I'm a defender of Elysium - Blomkamp's critically panned sophomore effort - believing that the exciting bits of that picture (specifically the amazing world-building, the look, feel and tactile immediacy of everything on screen) far outweighed its flaws (heaviness of hand, and casting - Matt Damon was probably just the wrong guy for the role - but I actually loved Sharlto Copley as the heavy - he was terrifyingly incomprehensible), and I reserved the right to remain excited for Chappie despite all the terrible reviews. Holy crap, though, this is a disaster. Disaster may not be the right word. 'Disaster' should be reserved for something that seems like a good idea and goes terribly wrong. I'll give you that making a robo-centric futuristic crime film by the guy who made the 'bots in Elysium is a promising premise, but a RoboCop/Short Circuit mash up (which it is so embarrassingly clearly meant to be) sounds awful from jumpstreet. Still - it's not without bright spots. I submit for your consideration: the world - gah - makes it more the pity such wonderfully realized setting was created in service of shit snack. Also: Hugh Jackman's haircut. It's awesome. I'd like some industrious fans to recut and re-dub this thing and see if there's something salvageable, but they'd have their work cut out for them (probably a kick-ass half-hour short film in there without all the Pinocchio shit). Best moment: any time you can arrange for Die Antwood to shoot neon-colored machine guns in a Jo'burg slum I'm down.

Empire State - Dito Montiel - Director Montiel has got an admirable sensibility. He makes the kind of low-budget crime pictures of appealing scope with a focus on character and atmosphere that I wish we got more of, but intent and taste alone a masterpiece do not guarantee. This story of neighborhood schmoes knocking over the armored transport business is charmingly low-fi and rooted in characters none-too-smart, but not quite farcically portrayed which I appreciate, but the cast is mismatched to the material. Liam Hemsworth is a little bland at the center (could see Channing Tatum or Boogie Nights era Mark Wahlberg being good fits for the role), and Dwayne Johnson is too big and anachronistic a presence in his supporting role (in an 1970s period drama) which causes the film to wobble some. The biggest problem is probably Michael Angarano's big swing at the juiciest role as the fuck up best pal of the main character. He's alternately likable and (appropriately) pathetic, but trying so hard his acting muscles show through some pretty flimsy material at times. Swing and a foul tip here. Props to Hemsworth for moving toward material like this one and this year's similarly-scaled-in-ambition Cut Bank (maybe we'll get a compelling presence molded from him yet), as well as Johnson for the same reason. Paul Ben-Victor is always a welcome presence and Chris Diamantopoulos is effectively menacing. Best moment: Eddie crashes the shift.

Furious 7 - James Wan - Is it nitpicking to criticize the seventh installment in an over the top action franchise about superheroes who drive cars for being a bit bloated and indulgent? Well. It's still a gas and a laugh, but man, the climax of this one was like some Return of the Jedi shit cutting back and forth betwixt foot chases, car chases, helicopter chases and computer hacking. It lacks the clarity of the action in say Fast Five's climactic heist/chase or even the highway tank chase of installment six. But the parachuting cars/mountain convoy assault was inspired and the jumping between sky skrapers was some laugh out loud shit. If a hateful eighth is on the way, they may as well collect my money now. Best moment: Roman don't want to fly.

Killers - Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto - I'm over serial killers. Or though I was until The Chaser and I Saw the Devil took me around blind corners at a relentless pace and revealed exciting new places to take the genre. This one is stylistically assured and a good looking horror show, but it's back to diminishing returns on torture and the 'relationship' of a thrill killer and his internet apprentice. If I never see a pretty lady in negligee screaming in anticipation of mutilation again I'm fine with that. Best moment: the reporter's sexual assault is an off-balance set piece and weirdly compelling. Too bad the rest of the film didn't jump sideways the way that scene did.

Penny Dreadful Season 1 - John Logan - This mashup of gothic horror stories is a pretty brilliant premise, but placing characters from the works of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson and probably several I'm not even picking up on into supporting roles in crisscrossing narratives only opens the door. Once through the looking glass the writers and cast have to make the audience stick around with original material or at least new wrinkles. It's a lush production supported by a game cast and a central story compelling enough to warrant my return for the second season (already aired - anyone? Bueller?). Best moment: couldn't pick just one, but I'm sure it's somewhere in Eva Green's eyes.

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