Friday, April 29, 2016

Underseen Crime Flicks Now Streaming on Netflix

I'm going to see Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room this weekend (and looking for J. David Osborne on screen), but if you're home-bound and looking for crime flicks now streaming on Netflix, here's a list of some of the best and, in my opinion, underseen stuffs now available.

The Bank Job - Roger Donaldson - Before he was Mr.-all-badass-action, Jason Statham made this odd-duck of a heist picture that managed to be many things at once and none of them at the same time. Here's what I said long ago... Far more than the sum of it's parts. Not really sure why it worked as well as it did. Not a show-stopping heist flick, not a particularly street-wise gangster epic, not a kick-ass action spectacular and not a richly-detailed dramatic period piece either. Smarter and funnier too than I had any expectations for - a marketing snafu or puzzle, I suspect. Somehow, less than the top of any of it's respective genres, it managed to be competent at each and fill an unlikely void in the flavor spectrum. Not a hard way to spend an afternoon at all.

Drug War - Johnnie To - To is a little hit or miss for me, but this one succeeds on every level. Great set up, style, tension and the release when it comes leaves everything on the floor. Here's what I said earlier... When an industrial scale methamphetamine manufacturer and distributor is apprehended in China, he agrees to help the cops take down a cartel in order to avoid the death penalty. As he works alongside the policeman who busted him, an interesting evolution occurs in their dynamic. They go from mortal enemies to uneasy allies and by the time they've each saved the other's bacon more than once the viewer isn't sure where their loyalty lies. And that's great. The end of the film is pretty fantastic and I don't want to let on anything about it or how we get there, but it was great. Best moment: a Mission Impossible-style double sting operation that requires the stone-faced cop to shift gears hard to play the role of a flamboyant and gregarious smuggler. It's a jolt.

A Hijacking - Tobias Lindholm - Looking for an intense, human, characters-put-through-the-wringer drama? Hooo-boy. This one'll do it. And I don't want to suggest that it'll ruin your weekend - it's a legit thriller, but it's gonna hammer on your nerves pretty mercilessly. Here's what I had to say earlier... A Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates and this film follows the lives of the hostage crew as well as the head of the company that employs them and owns the boat as they negotiate a resolution over the course of many weeks. It's pretty tense. Just a bunch of real people in a terrible, no-win situation. Am I selling you on this? It's quite good, but I dunno what else to say... It's a bit hard to watch at times, but not overdone, not a big manipulative climax orchestrated to wring a lotta tears or make you wanna break stuff, just steady, assured, observational film making that puts the viewer through some awfully effective tension. Best moment: everybody sings 'happy birthday'.

Mean Creek - Jacob Aaron Estes - You like adventure flicks about groups of kids forced to deal with death or crime, but wish Stand By Me had gone full dark, no stars? Well friends this one might be just your cuppa. It's gonna play rough with your feels, but I think you're gonna be glad you went through it. I'm a fan of killer kids stuff like Larry Clark's Bully, Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Nick Cassavete's Alpha Dog, but this one is special to me for its use of even younger children, and its ability to make them believable and sympathetic (as opposed to aloof, idiotic, spoiled or simply assholes like the previously mentioned fare) so when the hammer drops at the end we aren't spared an ounce of hurt.

Metro Manila - Sean Ellis - Like idyllic exotic locale and urban squalor? Do you want armored car heist and family drama? This is your jam. From an earlier episode... Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is a rice farmer who moves his family to the big city when he is no longer able to support them working the fields. The urban jungle is no kinder to them, but both parents are desperate enough to work dangerous and demeaning jobs to support themselves and their family, she as a topless dancer in a sleazy club where prostitution is pretty much a job requirement and he as a driver in an armored car service where he'll be a target for criminals with nothing left to lose and who don't mind shooting it out for a chance at the cash and valuables he's moving them from point-a to point-b (and if you've ever seen another movie, it'll come as no surprise that he faces just as much or more danger from his co-workers who want that money just as much as anybody else). After digging the Filipino export On the Job (also streaming now) so hard earlier this year, I was ready to dive into another crime flick from the hard heart of the city and this one delivers, even if it swerves a little hard into the innocents forced to do bad things genre at times. Beautiful and gritty and emotionally engaging - highly recommended.

Monument Ave. - Ted Demme - A neighborhood film that owes the same debt to Mean Streets they all do, the strength of this one is in the cast lead by Denis Leary. Essentially a hang-out picture that slowly escalates to tragedy, it's certainly not an edge of your seat, fast-paced white-knuckler, but there's plenty of room and time given for the characters to get you invested so that yeah, it hurts at the end. Neat trick. I wish Ted had stuck around longer and given us more pictures.

New World - Hoon-jung Park - You like classic-structure gangster flicks or undercover cop stuffs? This is the one for you. Straight ahead, but unsparing and willing to go there with some elements and (crucially) unwilling to stop with others. Here's what I said earlier... An undercover cop working for years inside a Korean crime syndicate sees the end of his mission approach with the the filling of the power vacuum after the death of the syndicate's head. His mission is to influence the 'election' of the new head. So, the setup is kind of a mash up of gangster pictures from The Godfather to The Departed, but remember, this is contemporary Korean crime cinema - so kindly take your expectations and stick em in your ear. It's no non-stop thriller like The Chaser or The Yellow Sea and it's not the twisty-De Palma-esque fare of Oldboy or Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, but it is distinctly other from its Hollywood counterparts. It is solid. It is brutal. It is - holy shit, did you see that? - remember what I'd said about the uniqueness of Korean crime flicks and the general absence of guns? Well, that absence pays off beautifully, amazingly, stunningly, in the climactic confrontation. It is the Best moment: The hit sequence. Holee shit. The elevator fight at the end of said hit sequence. Amazeballs.

Paris By Night - Philippe Lefebvre - One shift on the beat of a Parisian vice cop Weiss (Roschdy Zem) and his driver/partner for the night Deray (Sara Forestier). Over the course of the night Weiss deals with an encroaching internal affairs corruption investigation, tying his loose ends up and putting ducks in a row while keeping up his underworld overlord status by rattling cages and jerking chains as needed. It's a tour of seedy clubs and neighborhoods lit entirely by neon and strobe - it's one of the best looking films I've seen in a long while and I could have enjoyed the running time's worth of simply following Weiss through the bowels of Paris, but low, a satisfying story emerges - a mystery if you will - and whaddyaknow it doesn't suck.

Point Blank - Fred Cavaye - Need a slightly faster-paced tour of Paris? This one is a chase flick that just moooooves from jump street. Nothing going on here except first-rate thriller film-making. Doesn't waste a minute, and wrings every ounce of potential tension out of the unraveling plot. A great just-go-with-it chase flick that could teach its high-budget competition a lot about celluloid excitement-making.

The Sweeney - Nick Love - For those of you who need your crime flicks to have a healthy dose of action and an unhealthy attitude toward fascism, well this one is for you. Seriously, this one's about a brutal cop in filthy Harry mode and if you're not on board for summadat, go ahead and skip it, but I can absolutely get on board for this type of fare sometimes - here's what I had to say earlier... 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.

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