Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Small Crimes

Plenty of high-profile, big-time crime flicks out that I haven't had a crack at yet, but y'know what - I've gobbled up some low-budget, small-profile crime flicks new to Netflix and Redbox and shit recently. Here's what I thought.

The American Side - Can't be a crime fan without loving with consistency the private-eye sub-genre and all of its tropes or at least going through a faze, but the whole thing seems to come out of a by-gone gilded age of mystery fiction and you've got some fucking hoops to jump through to engage me with it now. Co-writer/director Jenna Ricker and Co-writer/star Greg Stuhr tackle the medium-boiled American private detective genre with admirable choices in tone and look and scale for twenty to thirty minutes and get me all excited before letting the story go off the fucking rails into DaVinci Code territory for Tesla nerds and doing terrible tease-y things to my crime boner for the last hour plus. Fuuuuuuck. I watched the whole thing. I'm not sure why. The cast maybe? Jeez every time you look up there's a Harris Yulin, Robert Vaughn or Robert Forster on screen, or fucking Matthew Broderick or Janeane Garofalo and I'm distracted for about five minutes till it's time for the next cameo. Exactly how many actor friends' chits did they call in for this production?

Carnage Park - Writer/director Mickey Keating's crime/horror period piece makes the most of its meager budget in two crucial ways - the cast - which includes the indispensable Pat Healy, the next big that guy James Landry Hebert as well as Ashley Bell and motherfucking Alan Ruck - and it does not skimp on the quality gore. When a pair of bank robbers with a hostage in the trunk flee onto the private property of a sick motherfucker with a sniper rifle, a penchant for booby traps and an understanding with the local law enforcement pretty much everybody is going to die horribly. The humor works sometimes and the shock value runs out fifteen minutes before the climax, but again what keeps this thing worth watching - the onscreen talent and bloody disgustingness. It's special.

Cash Only - Writer Nickola Shreli is Elvis, a small time hustler/semi-legit businessman whose attempt at an arson score ends tragically and sends him into a tailspin he spends the rest of the economic running time trying to outrun for the sake of his little girl in Malik Bader's small time slice of nasty. Each dumb-fuck move Elvis makes is leavened by his ability to think on his feet and conjure cash from improvised scams. This one simmers until it boils over abruptly in the last act and leads to my nomination for Stabbing Scene of the Year. Fuck. Nasty. Gross. Nice.

The Frontier - First time feature writer/director Oren Shai has got a hell of an eye and uses it here to realize a timeless world populated with familiar desperadoes and criminal types chasing a dirty dollar. A drifter (Jocelin Donahue) gets on at a hotel/diner run by Kelly Lynch and serving regulars like Jim Beaver and everything and everybody seems connected by unseen threads and threats. Everybody's got a secret and nobody's got much of a functioning conscience. Double double toil and trouble, crosses multiply with every cast member out of central crime casting. Neither as sharp or nasty as similar fare enamored with mid-century Gold Medal books (stuff like Blood Simple or Red Rock West - but then what is as sharp/nasty as those?) it's still a worthwhile entry in small town drifter noir. Give it a go. Here' hoping Shai is the next John Dahl.

Marauders - Steven C. Miller, king of Redbox fare starring Bruce Willis for 10 minutes, has put together a hell of a good-looking picture, pulpy enough to overlook silliness inherent in the material, but polished enough not to completely embarrass itself when asking for an emotional response from its cast. The plot involving dirty cops, bank robberies and corruption and wartime shenanigans is twistier than it needs to be, but the pace is steady and it's full of attention grabbing sequences including a drone shot over Cincinnati that appears to drop through the roof of an SUV full of heavily-armed thieves as it's pulling up outside a bank - the camera then goes 360 degrees and out of the vehicle staying with the heist crew as they move in formation through the bank. Cool little touches to the heist scenes - pre-recorded instructions for tellers rather than speaking during the robberies and when it's time to get bloody, Miller doesn't hold back. Solid cast too. Christopher Meloni does his TV schtick, Dave Bautista gets to have fun as a hulking FBI agent with hand tattoos, Adrian Grenier stays out of his own way and the surprise is how effective Johnathon Schaech is (poor guy's had to prove himelf to me each time out since I first got to know him during the 90s in those Gregg Araki movies that I hated... I kept giving Araki another chance, but I'd written Schaech off. Sorry, John. Biggest thing to be excited about here - Miller's future as a director of low to mid-level violent genre stuffs who can deliver the goods and get shit done on a tight budget and deadline.

The River - Writer/director Jamie M. Dagg's story of a white man's inability to trust the justice system of countries where he is a minority is... kinda silly-sounding when you break down the plot. White dude vacationing in Laos gets in a drunk fight with another white guy and kills him, then shits himself and tries get out of the country any way he can while the police search for him on junks, bicycles, river crossings and buses. Not quite Midnight Express... or The Fugitive... or even Wish You Were Here - but an effective enough small-budget chase thriller about a dude legitimately concerned about the risk of turning himself in... the final payoff is I dunno - unearned? But Dagg and star Rossif Sutherland make commendable use of locale and portable technology for cheap thrills. Eyes open for next effort.

Too Late - Writer/director Dennis Hauck's debut feature is the pick of the bunch here, but not without its drawbacks. Let's stay positive up front though. I love the idea of this flick - 5 single-uncut*-shot scenes presented in non-chronological order tell the story of a private investigator looking into the murder of a young woman. The formal experiment is the real star here and the simplicity with which many of the scenes unfold mute some of the monumental orchestration achievements - one shot has a character placing a phone call which is answered by another character within the same shot by use of a telescopic camera zoom, said answering character then hangs up, exits his building and gets in his car which arrives at the scene of the placed phone call in time to conclude the vignette, another scene involves multiple locations and following a character through in and out of rooms, through crowds, up into a boxing ring where a fight is in progress and back and another involves multiple interiors including a strip club and a music venue (both featuring live performers) - it's audacious and bold and works very well and quietly... except when it doesn't. And oh boy, when it doesn't. The quality of the cast varies greatly - at the center is the ever-dependable and always compelling John Hawkes (the only character in every scene) who is joined by solid performers (Natalie Zea, Robert Forster, Vail Bloom and Dichen Lachman are particularly strong, while Jeff Fahey, David Yow and Joanna Cassidy are always welcome) and a handful of not-sos (Rider Strong and Dash Mihok are painful to listen to and Brett Jacobsen has either has uniquely unwieldy lines or is simply outmatched by the elevated writing - either way, I suppose that falls on Hauck's shoulders). The story too - like the speech - is, er, elevated (read - movie logic), the situation and characters within it are the things of fiction, not to be mistaken for actual people or believable behaviors - and that's okay - that's what we want from movies often. So hey, don't go looking for something particularly mindblowing here - when the final puzzle pieces are fit together, if it don't quite land like Chinatown, that's okay. I'm very much looking forward to revisiting this one for it's DePalma-ish camera and dream-like world - I loved the structure - the way the story unfolds and damn, I wish more films took the monster sized swings for the fences that this one does.

*I spotted a single cut within the final segment that I'm not sure about - can't tell if it was there to cover a mistake, drive home an emotion or what - but it's nearly seamless. It shouldn't have distracted me as badly as it did.

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