Thursday, March 24, 2016

Year in Crime Flicks March 2016

Big Bad Wolves - Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado - This one is a wish come true for everybody who thought Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners should've been a comedy. The cognitive dissonance achieved by juxtaposing the lightness of the comedic tone with the horrific story elements and brutal violence felt more like driving too fast in a car with bad shocks and no brakes down a winding hole-pocked mountain road than strapping into an expertly calibrated dizzy-making carnival ride. The resulting stomach cramps are similar, but the memories are filed in very different cabinets to be summoned for opposite uses. Which is a shame because clearly writing/directing team Keshales and Papushado are skilled film makers who can summon tension, humor and horror without breaking a sweat (their violence is particularly effective and ghastly). In fairness I have to consider that the Israeli film may have lost something in the translating, and I'm hoping their upcoming adaptation of Brian Garfield's novel Death Wish (same as the original Charles Bronson flick) employs those skills with better results. Best moment: blowtorch scorch.

Cobra - George Cosmatos - Somehow I'd gone my whole life without experiencing this one and honestly I watched it the way a lot of folks watch American Idol - to enjoy somebody putting themselves on the line and not knowing how badly they're failing. That sounded meaner than I meant it to, but even as a kid I knew from the poster and trailers that this was a terrible film and I was embarrassed to be its target audience. With decades of buffer I was curious to see what levels of badness it had actually achieved and was a little surprised how unironically enjoyable a lot of it was. Kitsch value for sure with the soundtrack, the fashion and a lot of the dialogue, but I'm starting to understand Sylvester Stallone's appeal and at the end of his career this may survive as the Stalloniest movie ever. Dumb fucking movie on every level - but un-self conscious and unpretentious, naked ambition only to give us what we fucking crave. It is the action movie we deserve. Best moment: pick any time Renie Santoni is onscreen. Nobody told him he was in a dumb movie. That guy elevated the material in every scene.

Elevator to the Gallows - Louis Malle - Debut narrative feature from Malle about two sets of doomed, murderous lovers crossing paths and fates on the way down. The film also features an original and improvised score by Miles Davis. I got to share more thoughts on The Projection Booth podcast. Best moment: Maurice Ronet reaching through jimmied elevator doors stuck between floors. His arms stretch out and find nothing to hold onto before being sucked back to hell - pretty fantastic image.

The Gambler - Rupert Wyatt - Yeah I've seen the James Caan flick, but I don't remember it well enough to say how similar they are. The new movie may have been written by William Monahan, but it's is closer to I Heart Huckabees than The Departed in realism and tone in Mark Wahlberg's body of work. It's a weird flick and a glorious mess the likes of which only comes along once in a long while. I'm not recommending you prioritize seeing it, but it is peppered with Mametian/Price-esque speeches delivered by dramatists who are paid to talk for a reason, none more so than John Goodman. Best moment: the fuck you speech.

Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema - Ralph Ziman - Vibrant and appealing film about a young hustler who grows into a man of the people stripe of criminal toeing the line of legitimacy in post-freed-Mandela South Africa. Equal parts crime flick and social history - it's full of terrific moments like the Best Moment: a group of young kids take inspiration from the movies to commit real crimes and recreate the armored truck heist from Michael Mann's Heat.

The Gunman - Pierre Morel - A terrific cast and good looking photography can't quite overcome the script or the inclinations of the director of Taken. Having not read Jean-Patrick Manchett's source novel The Prone Gunman, I'm not qualified to compare the two, but the reputation of the book doesn't match up to the film. Which isn't to say the film is a complete waste of time - a handful of well-executed action scenes keep it from being that... far better than those in Taken whose time-deaf editing denied me pleasure from the basest of appetites I'd hoped to indulge. Best moment: the bullfight sequence is nicely staged and kind of nuts.

Snow On Tha Bluff - Damon Russell - Slice of life, found footage/mock-doc about an Atlanta drug dealer (and drug dealer robbing) Curtis Snow who plays a version of himself in the film. Naturalistic, unselfconscious performances all around help blur lines of reality and fiction for maximum emotional engagement.

Uptight - Jules Dassin - A brilliant update of The Informer based on Liam O'Flaherty's Troubles novel set in Detroit and opening on the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. It chronicles the struggle of revolutionaries and blue-collar workers just trying to get by alike as they capitalize on and react in fear and anger over the assassination. Who-ee it's an intense atmosphere and a heartbreaking film which, in the great noir tradition, focuses not on the heroes or antiheroes of the moment, but rather on the ratfinks and Judases and small-time opportunists trying to make their way by unseemly means. Dassin made some of my favorite and angriest films noir of all time (Brute Force, Thieves' Highway, The Naked City) before being blacklisted and having to leave the country to find work (he made perhaps his best known film as a non-French-speaking American ex-pat - Rififi) before returning home years later to finish his career making other types of pictures. Uptight stands out among his later work as an angry, but mostly sad, and very humane film about the times.

Vengeance - Johnny To - Plot, schmlot, Johnny Hallyday enlists the help of a trio of assassins to help him kill a whole lotta motherfuckers who killed his daughter's family. An embarrassment of amazingly shot violence couldn't keep my eyelids from sagging in between as homage was paid to decades' worth of smooth-criminal filmmakers from Jean-Pierre Melville to John Woo in maudlin fill-in-the-blank bits of backstory and manly bonding. Its 109 minute run time feels much longer, but every time the bullets jump and the frame per second rate slows the fuck down I am allllll To's. When that guy sets up an action sequence I forgive the foreplay. Best moment: garbage dump finale.

Viva Riva! - Djo Munga - No grand statements here, just a particularly vibrant and sensuous setting (Kinshasa) for a rise and fall of a gangster picture. Great chemistry too between Patsha Bay and Manie Malone. The energy, the urgency and the Congo locale - all rubble and glamour - make it a highly enjoyable flick I'll want to revisit again soon.


Eryk Pruitt said...

Apparently Curtis Snow has either filmed or written SNOW IN DA BLUFF II and III. In the meantime, we'll have to settle for his Instagram posts.

Kieran said...

THE GUNMAN. Ugh. The story is about a zillion miles away Jean-Patrick Manchett's masterpiece. Shall I send you a copy, bruddah?

jedidiah ayres said...

Especially if it's under 200 pgs!

Kieran said...

ok, i'll get it to ya soon.