Monday, January 29, 2018

2017 in the 90s

Albino Alligator - Kevin Spacey - A trio of criminals experiencing some post-heist bad luck hold the late night patrons of a bar hostage while the hunt for a cop killer closes in on them. It's a tense, tight little picture with a ridiculously good cast including Matt Dillon, William Fichtner, Faye Dunaway, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Sinise and Skeet Ulrich. I wish Spacey had made more like it.

Another 48 Hours - Walter Hill - As big a dump as it seemed primed to take on the original, things could have been worse - mostly thanks to the supporting cast including Bernie Casey, William Tighe and Brion James. The best thing about Hill's comedic buddy crime flicks holds up here as well - he treats them more like crime thrillers than comedies. Unfortunately the sparks between stars aren't near as bright as the first time around.

Bad Influence - Curtis Hanson - Psycho sexual thriller without any actual sex between the leads - if you squint you can see the moment James Spader realizes he wants to play Rob Lowe's part for the rest of his career.

Basic Instinct - Paul Verhoeven - This trashy, glitzy, macho, cheesy, cocaine binge of lurid high-concept pulp-fiction fuckfest is perfect. Michael Douglas's dick gets him in trouble again (the guy's nickname is 'Shooter' and namename is 'Nick' furshit's sake), but Sharon Stone owns this picture. She was a force of un-nature and deserved all the success this thing brought her.

Black Dog - Kevin Hooks - Split difference between Dukes of Hazzard and redneck Road Warrior with a musician playing a musician. It's not half as fun as it ought to be.

Breakdown - Jonathan Mostow - Kurt Russell is an everyman whose wife is abducted by J.T. Walsh, M.C. Gainey and the dude from the Bon Jovi video in this city-slickers vs. hicks high-desert edition thriller that remains surprisingly potent twenty years later. In fact, I'd say it's improved with age. Partially perhaps for the distance from the marketing which led young me to expect non-stop Duel-esque trucker action while this one is more of a slow burn that succeeds on its actors' faces - throw Jack McGee into that group of first-rate b-listers populating and elevating this affair.

Buffalo '66 - Vincent Gallo - Billy Brown is a convict just out of prison with nobody to meet him at the gates. Has there ever been a better nod to the audience about how things are gonna go then Billy turning around as soon as he's outside and banging on the door 'cause he's got to go to the bathroom? Billy's a compulsive liar evidenced by the phone call he makes to his mother on his first day out - hasn't told her he was in prison, but rather that his work as a CIA operative has kept him incommunicado for the last couple of years. To further the lie that he's a success he tells her he's married before saying he's going to drop in to visit his his parents. Oops. On the way back to his parent's place he kidnaps a young girl named Layla and forces her to pretend to be his wife so mom and dad will have to believe his outrageous story. Turns out mom and dad don't believe him even with Layla there, but they're so annoyed by their son and so self-involved they play along with the whole thing just to get him out of their hair quickly (that's how I read it). Over the course of the uncomfortable home visit with handsy dad and vacant mom Layla and Billy begin to bond for reals. He may have actually met his soulless mate. Both of them are so damaged and vulnerable they'll look for what they need anywhere I guess. The final act reveals Billy's real mission after getting out - to murder the professional football player who Billy blames for ruining his life by losing the Super Bowl he'd bet a large sum of non-existent money on. All the grating redundant copped Cassavetes mode bickering and begging of the first two thirds drop away for a super stylish third in which Billy makes some serious decisions about the rest of his life. Christina Ricci deserves a lifetime achievement award for surviving while super duper supporting cast includes Ben Gazzara, Angelica Huston, Jan-Michael Vincent, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette and Kevin Pollak.

Bugsy - Barry Levinson - Too cute to be seriously invested in, but fun enough to watch again every fifteen years or so. The neurosis of a notorious gangster trying to step out of the shadows of the criminal underworld and be some kind of celebrated figure in square society probably feels a lot more familiar now after than it did twenty-five years ago, but the historically documented details make more than adequate fodder for two hours' worth of entertainment.

Cape Fear - Martin Scorsese - Outside the opportunity for Robert De Niro to have fun with temporary tattoos I'm not really sure what attracted the talent involved to remake the 1962 adaptation of John D. MacDonald's The Executioners.
Clay Pigeons - David Dobkin - Joaquin Phoenix is a small town lothario implicated in a couple of local murders whose best bet for clearing his name is for Vince Vaughn's serial killer to keep up with his hobby. Janeane Garofalo and Phil Morris are FBI agents on the trail of the murderer and Scott Wilson is the befuddled sheriff trying to make sense of the situation. The film opens with a comedic horrifying tone as Phoenix's friend Gregory Sporleder tries to pin his own suicide on his pal - revenge for sleeping with his wife. The Old 97s' Timebomb plays over the opening credit sequence of Phoenix covering up the staged to look like a murder suicide and sets an accurate tone and brisk pace that holds up the rest of the run time helping this comedic thriller of modest means and aims succeed.

Clean, Shaven - Lodge H. Kerrigan - Peter Greene stars as a schizophrenic man just released from a mental hospital and trying to re-claim his young daughter from her adopted family. Kerrigan would return to this kind of first-person crime and mental illness drama again with Keane starring Damien Lewis and both are an audience endurance exercise with special payoffs for those who stick it out, but you know I wouldn't hold it against anybody who bailed out. They're intense, unrelieved visceral depictions of the moment from inside a damaged mind. Not something you're going to escape into though your own life may seem a sweet relief once out.

Cliffhanger - Renny Harlin - Park rangers Sylvester Stallone and Michael Rooker have bad blood between them, but an important job to do rescuing people stranded on a mountain. The 'stranded' are actually thieves who've just ripped off the Denver mint and need the aid of experienced mountain men to help them track down the briefcases full of money they lost on the mountain during their plane crash. It remains an above average action flick that takes a high concept premise and manages to mostly ground it to the point that you believe the John Lithgow beating the hell out of Sly final fisticuffs. Still solid.

The Corrupter - James Foley - I remember 1993, seeing The Killer and Hardboiled and the A Better Tomorrow movies and thinking Chow Yun-Fat was absolutely the coolest gunslinger in cinema. Then he and John Woo got sucked into the Hollywood machine and started making "real" movies, (read - in English) and it went downhill pretty fast. But the first couple of get to know ya films Chow Yun-Fat made for Western audiences, The Replacement Killers, (get it?), and The Corruptor were not half-bad, the former, (helmed by Antoine Fuqua) was an attempt to indoctrinate Occidental audiences with the ultra-stylized Hong Kong brand of two-fisted bullet shucking, which Yun-Fat remains the ultimate icon of, and the latter was an attempt to form the icon of bullet ballets into a classic American hardboiled street cop with a rainbow of gray in his heart. And it worked alright. Gone were the uber-choreographed action pieces, replaced by grittier, nastier violence and uh, Mark Wahlberg, (at one of the higher points of his career).

The Crying Game - Neil Jordan - So there's this scorpion that wants to cross a river... Been a long time since I'd seen this one, so happy to report you don't have to be surprised by the plot to be surprised by the characters even when you realize they're only staying true to their nature... even when that's going to put them in danger and maybe get them killed. And is it just me or is Jim Broadbent the best, warmest thing on the screen?

Cure - Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Kôji Yakusho plays a detective investigating a series of gruesome killings committed by people without motive for or memory of their actions in this moody piece of cinematic terror.

Desperate Hours - Michael Cimino - A remake of William Wyler's adaptation of the novel by Joseph Hayes. Love me some Mickey Rourke and damn, but Cimino made some terrific pictures, but this isn't one of them. An on the run escaped con, home invasion, hostage movie ought to have more tension and sizzle than this. Also starring Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, Lindsay Crouse, Elias Koteas, David Morse, Kelly Lynch and Dean Norris.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder - Renny Harlin - My second favorite Christmas movie? I won't go that far, but it's the rare bigger, louder sequel that manages to keep John McClane's character intact before he becomes a bullet-headed tough guy. Not really worthy of its predecessor, but a super-solid action picture on its own merits. Yippee Ki-yay, moviegoer.

Die Hard With a Vengeance - John McTiernan - Director McTiernan is back as is Bruce Willis, but John McClane has almost left the building. Gone are his family-man vulnerabilities, replaced this time by being on his home turf and doing his actual job (though he's on suspension when the movie opens) and, as action movie franchises are bound to add eventually, a partner. We're in luck though because Samuel L. Jackson is more than match for Bruce and while the script may be recycled from an abandoned third Lethal Weapon sequel it's easily better than all the best bits from the third and fourth Lethal Weapon movies combined. It doesn't have any action set pieces as memorable as anything from first or really even from the second, but it manages to keep a good pace with an ever changing objective in the cat and mouse goings on. Jeremy Irons and Sam Phillips share some credit for the success of this one too.

Eve's Bayou - Kasi Lemmons - A lot of strong material and elements in here, but on this revisit I found the extraneous baggage and some of the melodrama more distracting than my original viewing. I still recommend it if you've not seen it though.

Gang Related - Jim Kouf - James Belushi and Tupac Shakur play a pair of vice cops making a living running the streets mostly for personal profit - when they rip off and murder a drug dealer who turns out to be undercover DEA the gravy train blows a stack. Not nearly as morally scorching as it'd like to be, but not as bad cop redemptiony as I feared it could be. A shame Shakur's final picture was a shrug.

Glengarry Glen Ross - James Foley - An office full of middle-aged mostly gone-to-seed real estate salesmen have the pressure turned up to produce results which has each of them considering crime as a possibility. The testosterone, and desperation are palpable, the cast is eating it all up and I'm just along for the ride. As prescient for our times as when it originally came out - for capitalism, for toxic masculinity - the script by David Mamet adapting his own stage play is dynamite. Here's a tidbit, Alec Baldwin's coffee is for closers scene wasn't in the stage play... huh Call this one Foley's Fifty Shades of Thinning, Gray Hair.

Grosse Pointe Blank - George Armitage - What happened to John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler after the events of Say Anything...? Well it's fun to imagine he ran off to join the marines and then do wetwork for the CIA because he had an irresistible itch to kill someone before striking out on his own as a killer for hire when he found he had not only a taste, but a talent for murder. Every time I revisit this one I mentally brace myself to be cold to its themes and prepare myself not to enjoy its treatment of murder for money or shit the coming-home-for-a-highschool-reunion tropes, but nope - I like it every time. The cast too - Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Hank Azaria, Jeremy Piven, Dan Aykroyd and motherfucking Benny The Jet Urquidez. Plus Michael Cudlitz's hallway confrontation poetic button "for a while" is gold.

Hard Eight - Paul Thomas Anderson - PTA's taste for father/son stories goes all the way back to the beginning with this faux-Sese debut about a gambler named Sidney played by Philip Baker Hall (the character's name famously a nod to PBH's character in Midnight Run) who takes in John C. Reilly's sad sack loser and teaches him how to make a living out of losing money. Picking up strays is something of a habit with Sid - he's also got Gwenyth Paltrow's cocktail waitress/prostitute under his wing and when sparks catch between the adopted kids it's good and not so good. Samuel L. Jackson's creeping influence in Reilly's life also concerns him. Before long there's paranoia and blackmail and violence, but along the way it's just a treat to watch the neon reflecting off car hoods, and panning shots of dice tumbling through casinos. And always a treat to see Philip Seymour Hoffman square off against the elder three-named Phil for a few minutes. Not sure what slot this one will ultimately hold in PTA's body of work, but it's a damn fine picture and proves he had the goods right out of the gate.

Hard to Kill - Bruce Malmuth - Steven Seagal's name in this one? Mason Storm. Holy fuck, that's hard. Also has my favorite moment of any Seagal movie ever - Kelly LeBrock as a nurse in the coma ward sneaking a peak at his comatose penis and whispering to him "Please wake up." You can take that to the bank.

Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man - Simon Wincer - If you don't remember this one you're in the majority, if you actively hate it, you may be right, if you love it you're probably an American male within two or three years of my own age. It's a silly, crass, brutish urban cowboy picture that wants to be Butch and Sundance, but settles for... well, fuck it, Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson aren't settling for anything. They're fucking awesome. Yeah, I love this shit. Kiss my ass.

Heat - Michael Mann - I think this one is more of a cultural force than it's given credit for. I believe we're witnessing the emergence of a generation of film makers and crime writers for whom Heat was The Godfather of their impressionable youth. And it deserves to be. Bummer though that its perhaps most immediately recognizable legacy is a meme of crazy-eyed Al Pacino screaming to Hank Azaria about Ashley Judd's great ass and how he's got his head "all the way up it!"

Hidden Agenda - Ken Loach - A political assassination drama about the Irish struggle for independence from the stalwart Loach and featuring Frances McDormand, Brian Cox and Brad Dourif seems like it ought to be more memorable. It's solid, solemn-toned, dignified and measured of pace. Not sexy.

Hudson Hawk - Michael Lehmann - The most Bruce movie of Willis's career. I'd put money on that. It's a live action, violent, profane Looney Tunes episode with Bruno as a Bugs/Daffy mashup, Danny Aiello as Porky, Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant as Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, James Coburn doing Elmer Fudd and Andie MacDowell as your mom in the nineties. Honestly, I thought this thing was a huge hit and universally loved until sometime after Y2K when I learned it was a critically panned, box office bummer that had been more or less popularly ignored. I feel we're on the cusp of a revival though. Everybody who knows this movie rocks gather round me.

In Too Deep - Michael Rymer - Omar Epps is a rookie cop undercover for five minutes when he gets the idea he's the only one who can take down LL Cool J's gangster "God". Credit for moving the plot along, but it may give you whiplash how quickly he's in (too deep). Good cast including Stanley Tucci, Pam Grier, Hill Harper, Richard Brooks, Nia Long, Don Harvey and David Patrick Kelly. It's no Deep Cover, but it's better than a lot of other imitators.

The Interview - Craig Monohan - Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin as a suspect and a detective respectively engaged in a contest of wits and hidden motives. When Weaving's unassuming everyman is hauled in for questioning about a stolen automobile, but ends up including multiple murders and Internal Affairs. The interview-duel subgenre of film's success depends on electric dynamics between the cast and structure of the story and this one hits several high points, but doesn't entirely succeed for me. The final reveals are good and worth it, but some of the middle is kind of a slog and probably the reason nobody's ever told me I needed to seek it out.

Jackie Brown - Quentin Tarantino - After the in your face swagger of Pulp Fiction's energy and general shakeup of respectable American film making as well as the pulp vulgarity of his reputation and the army of imitators that had already been capitalizing (mostly poorly) on the appetite his first films had awakened in mainstream audiences it's lovelier than ever to return to Tarantino's most mature, measured and well-constructed film and remember what a disappointment it was to many. Based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch and featuring characters that appear in other Leonard adaptations (including Michael Keaton who would reprise the role of Ray Nicolette the next year in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight and Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro as Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara - roles later given to Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes in, the set 20 years before, Life of Crime) it's at once perhaps the best Leonard crime adaptation (the westerns are another conversation) and the best QT crime flick. Also arguably the best of Taratino's female protagonists in Pam Grier whose titular Brown is a grounded in reality badass instead of Uma Thurman's Bride or Zoe Bell's stunt woman. Pure pleasure.

Judge Dredd - Danny Cannon - In a post-apocalyptic future where government agents called judges act as cops, judges and executioners in one terrifying package - dealing out not terribly nuanced justice on the scum of the last urban vestiges on earth - Dredd is a living legend and a true believer until he's framed for murder and banished to a wasteland labor camp. Of course he escapes and comes back to set things right only to find he's been betrayed by... wait - is it a spoiler? No. If you've seen a movie, you've seen this story - but there are reasons to seek out this very silly picture - not least of which is watching Sylvester Stallone hod his breath and clinch his butt in tights for the entire run time. All kidding aside, it's got some fun story elements which are admittedly difficult to at, requiring the viewer to scrub away the spandex and plastic glossy/gritty art direction and Rob Schneider's comic relief. Especially fun is Armand Assante chewing the scenery and any movie boasting a cast that includes Scott Wilson, James Remar, Jürgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Diane Lane, Joan Chen and Ewan Bremmer can't be all bad, can it?

Kalifornia - Dominic Sena - An artsy yuppie L.A. couple played by David Duchovny as the writer and Michelle Forbes as the photographer set out on a road trip to visit infamous murder sites and write a true crime book about them. They put out an ad for a ride share situation looking to split the cost of gasoline and break the relational monotony that is bound to arise. Answering the ad are a pair of jen-u-wine white trash dirt magnets in the form of bearded, snorting Brad Pitt and eternally cowed, but hopeful and sweet Juliette Lewis. The class war is on as Duchovny comes to stack his urbane, modern masculinity against Pitt's primitive, brutish brand and Lewis openly aspires to the refined, educated sensibilities of Forbes's confident modern woman. Of course it turns out Pitt is exactly the type of character Duchovny is writing about and has turned the story of the trip into an automatic best seller for the documenting couple if they survive to tell the tale. Sena would go on to direct big budget low class fare like the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake and Swordfish which you're free to take or leave, but with this modest budget crime thriller he earned his chance to take a shot at the big time. It's lurid and trashy and feints at being about more than it is just like its pretentious writer protagonist, but in the end it just wants shoot a gun and get a little dirty just like its pretentious writer protagonist, and that's exactly what I wanted to.

Killing Zoe - Roger Avery - One of the first post-Tarantino cash-in crime films, this one benefited from being so fast out of the gate and from being directed by QT writing and producing partner Avery. I bet I saw it five times when it first dropped. But holy crap this one has not aged well. The story about American safe cracker Eric Stolz going to Paris to help his buddy rob a bank on Bastille Day with zero preparation outside of getting loaded the night before the job because his French partners consider themselves romantic figures - if they were serious criminals doing like preparation and homework shit that would be so bourgeois. Once on the job nothing goes as planned mostly because nothing was planned, but once it really jumps the rails and turns into a Dog Day Afternoon Stolz is caught between the increasingly violent actions of his buddy and Julie Delpy, the cute bank teller/hostage who happens to be the part time hooker he kinda had a crush on after transacting with her the day before. Dilemmas, man. The whole sloppy vibe to the bank job and the hedonism that precedes it were really kinda fun to me when it first came out, but as a middle aged dude with my middle class life I am not amused, you hear me? Not amused. Especially the treatment of Delpy's character. I admired and still do QT's lack of need to make his protagonists likeable and relateable, but sheeeit, I was actively rooting against the whole crew after the way they treated Delpy. Fuck you guys.

Kiss of Death - Barbet Shroeder - A remake of the 1947 Henry Hathaway film of the same name that puts right on the poster why remakes aren't always a bad idea - how many pre-1980 movies could you automatically improve simply by adding Nicolas Cage? Or hey, by adding Richard Price as a screenwriter? David Caruso is an ex-con whose keeps bumping into the furniture whilst tap dancing down the straight and narrow. He agrees to a one-time deal hauling hot merchandise to make some much needed money and cover his pal Michael Rappaport's exposed back side and wouldn'tcha know he gets busted by Samuel L. Jackson's scarfaced cop. To avoid going back to prison he instead goes undercover to help take down Cage's bad guy who can't stand the taste of metal in his mouth. I don't know what anybody complains about watching this flick, but I never see it getting love. The cast is on point, the script is sharp and the stakes are perfect for this kind of middle-budget crime thriller. No, the fate of the world isn't on the line, and yeah if Caruso goes back to prison, I can kinda live with that, but supermen we are not dealing with - and I like it. Round out the cast with Philip Baker Hall, Stanley Tucci, Ving Rhames, Kathryn Erbe, Helen Hunt, Anthony Heald and throw a moment to Kevin Corrigan and it all helps this become one that I enjoy more with each revisit.

L.A. Confidential - Curtis Hanson - Who'da thunk that the director of Losin' It would be the guy to turn in the most elegant, mature, cynical and all around gorgeous take on James Ellroy material? The film is a high mark in the careers of Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger and James Cromwell as well as being the big time launch of faces like Russell Crowe's, Guy Pearce's and Simon Baker's. And when you've dropped names like Danny DeVito and David Strathairn into supporting spots, it can only help. But as visually appealing and well-acted and paced as the film is, I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize the brilliant job done by the script. The script is perhaps the greatest adaptation achievement I know of - at once getting at the heart of the material while tossing out huuuuge chunks of the book's plot and inventing plot to better serve the medium (film as opposed to novel). Need I say more than Rollo Tomassi? I didn't think so. Brian Helgeland was the go-to guy for crime novel to script adaptations for a good stretch and tho his track record is very uneven (he adapted both Michael Connelly's Blood Work and Dennis Lehane's Mystic River for Clint Eastwood and is responsible for turning Richard Stark's The Hunter into Payback and Payback: Straight Up - two very different films, please, if you haven't seen the latter, do), he's got a lot of goodwill left to burn through for L.A. Confidential. While (James B. Harris's Ellroy adaptation) Cop benefited in comparison coming from slighter material, L.A. Confidential, the novel, was a famous artistic turning point for the author. In ambition and scope and density it was previously unparalleled in his work, and to even attempt an exercise in reduction on a lauded beast like this one takes brass balls. To pull off a work of such quality is nearly unheard of. The film sticks to Ellroy's oft-used three-pronged protagonist structure, switching the drive between the politically ambitious Edmund Exley, thuggish Bud White and celebrity addicted "Hollywood" Jack Vincennes and works equally well if treated as a story belonging to any one of them, weaving their distinct drives into conflict and cooperation in a tale of corruption and progress equal to Chinatown.

The Last Seduction - John Dahl - A woman rips off her doctor husband after setting up and executing a prescription drug deal. She flees the big city and starts a temporary life in nowhere'sville middle-America to lie low while her husband sets a private investigator on her trail because he's starting to have bones broken by the criminal types he owes money to. To entertain herself while suffering through this po-dunk purgatory she starts an affair with a local who wants more from their time together. The final and arguably strongest of Dahl's opening run of three crime films (preceded by Kill Me Again and Red Rock West) it is absolutely the best role of Linda Fiorentino's career and she bit down on it like a pitbull. Her stone-cold bitch routine does not cover a warm center, if anything, she acts more tender and vulnerable when it suits her to cover up a heart of ice. She navigates the misogynistic waters she swims with the intelligence and appetite of a predator disguised as a survivor. Ho-ho-holy shit do I love the character, the performance and the film over all. Fiorentino is supported by Peter Berg, Bill Pullman, J.T. Walsh and Bill Nunn, but it's the fucking Linda show as soon as she appears on screen.

Light Sleeper - Paul Schrader - Willem Dafoe is a partner in a ring of upscale drug dealers dealing with yuppie white collar clientele. It's a well-oiled and calculated, low-risk business model and he should be rich by now. His partner Susan Sarandon is and she's about to quit the drug trade and start a square business that she can gracefully retire on. Something is whittling at Dafoe's soul though. He's in some kind of midlife crisis. He's not sleeping well. When he re-invests in a relationship with a former girlfriend who's no longer doing the drugs he's making a living on his interior doubts begin to manifest in outward deviations from the safe bet his life has become. Everything about this film is perfectly in the middle - the characters aren't rich or poor, young or old, good or particularly bad - but the middle can't hold and everything is about to change. I liked this film as a youngster, but I really, really like this film as a middle-aged dude. The middle chapter in Schrader's vice trilogy between American Gigolo and The Walker.

Long Kiss Goodnight - Renny Harlin - Geena Davis plays an amnesia victim whose perfectly constructed American dream of a life is threatened when she begins to have violent memories resurface. She hires Samuel L. Jackson's private investigator to dig up what he can on her former life with the freshly emerging clues, but they don't get far into their investigation before enemies from her past show up and try to murder her. Part The Bourne Identity, part Midnight Run - the stage is set for an explosive chase movie, a buddy roadtrip with an escalating body count and all the blood and banter you'd expect from a Shane Black script. After Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and The Nice Guys proved nobody handles a Black script's rhythms like Black can, you add Renny-I-am-the-nineties-Harlin's behind the camera action chops and a supporting cast that includes Brian Cox, David Morse and the delightfully sleazy Craig Bierko and it'll be a lot of fun learning the truth about Charlie.

Mad Dog & Glory - John McNaughton - Robert De Niro is a New York City police photographer whose reputation for being quiet and shy has earned him the ironic nickname Mad Dog. One night he stumbles into a robbery turned hostage situation and talks the gun-wielding thief into walking away, diffusing the situation and quite possibly saving the life of hostage Bill Murray whose macho trash-talking was only escalating the situation. Turns out Murray is a gangster with aspirations of being an entertainer and to show his gratitude to Mad Dog he sends Uma Thurman's Glory (a young woman working off a family member's debt any way she can) to spend a week with the schlub. Over the next several days an unlikely bond develops between De Niro and Thurman and when Murray comes to reclaim his property things get tense. This quiet little flick is perfect. From the inversion of the stars' casting to my personal favorite original screenplay by Richard Price, director McNaughton who made terrific crime pictures by turns stark and gritty (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) to lurid and sleazy (Wild Things - also featuring Murray) is at least equally effective in heartfelt and sweet mode. The escalation of conflict is thematically satisfying and the supporting cast is filled out by Mike Starr, David Caruso, Kathy Baker and Tom Towles. Some day I hope this unsung little masterpiece gets its due.

Marked For Death - Dwight H. Little - I'm never going to get through the entire Steven Seagal body of work - as a teenager when he was at his popular peak I wasn't interested - but a certain fascination with films of the time has me checking out some of these titles and it's hard to imagine there was anything more Seagalian-ly satisfying than Marked For Death. Silliness aside it looks pretty good, has sturdy, workman-like action, plenty of tits and blood as well as pretty nasty villains. So, I kind of get it. I won't deny enjoying these films 20-30 years later the same way I do top-40 radio hits of the day (though I hated some of them at the time) - they're potent reminders of an era, but I wouldn't call myself a fan.

Men of Respect - William Reilly - An Italian gangster retelling of Shakespeare's MacBeth sounds like a great idea, but uh, nope, this one falls well short of its potential. But holy crap, look at that cast - John Turturro, Dennis Farina, Peter Boyle, Rod Steiger, Stanley Tucci, Vincent Pastore and Steven Wright. Damn.

Menace II Society - Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes - Twenty-four years later it's still an effectively grim slice of life featuring a terrifying Larenz Tate performance, but my biggest takeaway is sadness over the fizzle of the Hughes Brothers' promising career. Those guys were so sharp and vital and brimming with voice... here's hoping for a mighty return to form some day.

Mulholland Falls - Lee Tamahori - Dug it in 1996, dug it more in 2006, dig it so hard in 2017. There are shootin movies and hittin movies and this is a by-god hittin fuckin movie. The greatest scene has big, bruiser, but looking sharp in a suit and hat, Nick Nolte as head of an L.A.P.D. anti-organized crime team single-handedly beating the ever-living shit out of Daniel Baldwin's slick and smug F.B.I. unit with a ball-bearing sap while telling him all the things he can/will do because this is his town, motherfucker: "This is L.A. This is my town. Out here you're a trespasser. Out here I can pick you up, burn your house, fuck your wife, and kill your dog. And the only thing that'll protect you is if I can't find you. And I already found you." It's a beatdown for the ages. Rounding out the crew of beefy cops are Chazz Palmintari, Michael Madsen and Chris Penn while the supporting cast includes John Malkovich, Treat Williams, Melanie Griffith, Andrew McCarthy, Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Connelly. Throw in a Pete Dexter script and the director of Once Were Warriors and yeah, it's safe to say this is way up my alley. Also, in an overt nod to the James Ellroy-esque fare Palmintari's character's name is Elleroy Coolidge.

The Negotiator - F. Gary Gray - Samuel L. Jackson is a respected Chicago P.D. hostage negotiator who takes his own set of hostages in a desperate attempt to clear his name when he feels he's being set up to take the fall for police corruption and the only man he'll deal with is the city's other top hostage negotiator Kevin Spacey. The two are thrust into a battle (or is it cooperation?) of wits and will in what could be a supremely silly cop thriller, but buoyed by a sharpish script and performers who understand the value of heightened-reality and who treat the film's low-brow premise with middle-brow aspirations manage to deliver an engaging popcorn flick nobody should hate themselves for enjoying. Super solid cast includes J.T. Walsh, Ron Rifkin, Paul Giamatti, John Spencer, Dean Norris, Regina Taylor and my guy Davis Morse.

New Jack City - Mario Van Peebles - Much more a time capsule of late-eighties/early-nineties street-crime thriller exploitation film-making than a the socially-conscious document of street crime of its time that it clearly wants to be (or wants to be perceived as), but that doesn't hurt its entertainment value one iota. One of the perennially enjoyable drug-war, street view pics from the era that stands with confidence beside brethren like King of New York and Deep Cover as no-shit classics of the genre.

The Newton Boys - Richard Linklater - I think my initial cool reception of this one was my looking at it as a punchless crime thriller rather than a charming Linklater picture. As a crime thriller it's a dud with hardly a held breath in its run time, but given twenty years' perspective I realize what kind of a magical thing it's always been - a completely guileless, good-natured adventure story about bank-robbing brothers featuring a young cast of look-at-em-thens that fits into the let's-hang-out-heavy ouevre of one of American cinema's greatest shaggy-dog-innovators and most consistent table-turners of the last half century. It's not Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it's not Young Guns, it's not (thank God) Mobsters, it's The Newton Boys and it deserves your re-evaluation.

One Good Cop - Heywood Gould - Disappointing directorial debut from screenwriter Gould (Fort Apache the Bronx and) who shared credit with fucking Paul Schrader on fucking Rolling motherfucking Thunder for fuck's sake. Sturdy premise - titular upright copper pitted against street scum while trying to raise the orphaned children of his KIA partner - and good talent - prime Michael Keaton, Anthony LaPaglia, Rene Russo, Benjamin Bratt, Rachel Ticotin and even Kevin Corrigan makes an appearance (love that guy) - are ultimately squandered in a movie that can't quite commit to a focus. The hardboiled street cop stuff is often surprisingly good, but its potency is continually undercut by the intrusion of the family drama instead of heightened by it, while the home front stuff is never given enough dimension to make us resent its intrusion on our gunfights.

Q&A - Sidney Lumet - Between Q&A and Mulholland Falls, Nick Nolte may have had the most James-Ellroy-esque presence of the 90s without ever appearing in an Ellroy property. A shame that we didn't get to see him as Dave Klein in the failed to get off the ground production of White Jazz, but sheeit we'll always have Mike Brennan, his young Dudley Smith-type character, in this sturdy as hell installment in Lumet's NYC institutional corruption cycle (it's probably my favorite sibling among its brethren Serpico, Prince of the City and Night Falls on Manhattan). And Nolte is certainly the best thing in the movie, but perhaps the film's biggest similarity to an Ellroy take on the material is the three-pronged POV with Timothy Hutton as an idealistic prosecutor and Armand Assante as the criminal operating more honorably than the law and order types who want his head as a trophy. Great supporting cast that easily could each have their own films between Charles S. Dutton, Luis Guzman and Paul Calderon. It's pretty terrific.

A Rage in Harlem - Bill Duke - From a novel by Chester Himes, this one features Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones (Stack Pierce and George Wallace respectively) only in minor roles while the bulk of the action revolves around Robin Givens' southern moll who's shown up in Harlem with a trunk full of money she liberated from the scene of a massacre and has to fend off suitors, con men, cops and killers who all want a piece of her and the loot. I think Coffin Ed and Grave Digger should have a TV show of their own, but until then, this is my favorite screen adaptation of Himes material - it's a loud, brash pulpy splash of sound and color with Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Danny Glover and look out for Wendell Pierce.

Raising Cain - Brian De Palma - As a teenager in the early 90s John Lithgow's performance was frightening, today it's pretty cringe-worthy, but God bless him and De Palma for absolute-adherence to going big. Most of the moments that make this film worthwhile take place in the second half of the run time and none are all-time great De Palma moments, but I still give it a thumb up for the undeniable potency of a handful of images and the sophistication of the camerawork.

Revenge - Tony Scott - Because of the decade the star and the director it's tempting to think of Revenge as a failed wanna be blockbuster (the first box-office dip in rising star Kevin Costner's leading man trajectory) but the secret ingredient that really sets the tone is Jim Harrison's source material and script. It plays more as a new-hollywood western that could've been directed by Monte Hellman and starred Marlon Brando or Warren Oates than a cookie-cutter lust and revenge thriller. It's also full of wonderful small characters and character actors (Sally Kirkland, James Gammon, Miguel Ferrer, John Leguizamo, Tomas Milian, Joe Santos - not to mention Anthony Quinn and Madeleine Stowe) and off-beat moments that make it unwieldy as a thriller, but wonderful as a well-observed slice of Ameri/Mexi-cana. It remains a high mark for both star and director. I like to imagine the guy who just made Top Gun telling executives eager for another one just like it "Yeah, I'm totally gonna do another fighter pilot movie" and then using outtakes from Top Gun for the opening credits before 'retiring' it and leaving us this weird bro/ro-mance about alpha male bullshit that fucking ends with an apology.

Robocop 2 - Irvin Kershner - I'm late to the Robocop franchise and I'd been told to ignore everything after the first one (which, yeah, I totally get - it's wonderful), but I went ahead and tucked in to number two, and so help me, enjoyed it too. As much as I did the first? Nope. Not even close. But amid the retread of Omni Consumer Products privatization of Detroit story line and the probable short-shrift given to exploring the horror of Alex Murphy/Robocop's existence the satirical regular commercial breaks remain wonderful, the performances over the top and fun - unfortunately Nancy Allen doesn't have much to do and Peter Weller is less dead pan funny in this one, but goodness Willard E. Pugh steps up in a big way with a biiiig performance as the frustrated mayor (to be fair, I probably would've hated the performance in 1990, but I was tickled by it today). Plus Tom Noonan is always wonderful and Gabriel Damon as a young thug is particularly strong. The special effects are delightful - love that late-eighties/early-nineties gunshot-wound-in-Armani-suit aesthetic and the robot battles look like old school Harryhausen style stop motion that maybe(?) failed to inspire awe upon its release, but at least ignites glee today as a retro breath of fresh non-CGI air.

Robocop 3 - Fred Dekker - Without Paul Verhoeven's sensibilities, Peter Weller's performance (or even 2's Frank Miller nutso vibe) and turning the hard-R legacy in to a PG-13 franchise with a cute kid sidekick it's easy to see why we didn't see any more theatrical versions for twenty years. Still I enjoyed additions like CCH Pounder, Rip Torn.

Seven - David Fincher - Style remains everything in the stillWimpressively-dank atmosphere of David Fincher' first serial killer flick. From the affectations of speech to the eternal rainfall of the soggy, gray urban landscapes and the endless flashlight probing of crime scenes it's a B-movie procedural only distinguishable from the plethora of prime-time killer catchers by its smartly-dressed sets and characters and sharply-shot scenes. Which is no knock. I like B-movie fare and I enjoy Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker's quality craft and I have to remind myself that it's okay to be annoyed by a film's outsized reputation and legacy without being annoyed by the film itself. I like it. I do.

A Shock to the System - Jan Egleson - Adapted from a novel by Simon Brett by novelist/screenwriter Andrew Klavan this satire of 1980s corporate culture is neither as black or funny as middle-aged (not really) American Psycho could/should be, but it does feature Michael Caine in the fore and that's never nothing.

Shopping - Paul Anderson - As lively and kinetic as neither Trainspotting or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Shopping can still be appreciated for arriving earlier and setting something of a template for both superior and disparate pictures that would land a few years later and each launch a slew of lesser imitators. Shopping also boasts a tremendous if under-utilized or pre-realized cast including Jude Law and Sadie Frost up front and supported by Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Eamonn Walker and Marianne Faithfull. It's also too bad that the film launching the career of such a staunchly committed genre director would be the only crime offering in his body of work (save the 2000 supernatural-tinged, serial killer hunting TV offering The Sight which I haven't seen). Though considering how infrequently I find myself pleased by his take on material and aesthetic choices, maybe that's not so bad.

A Simple Plan - Sam Raimi - Remember when Sam Raimi's career looked like it might be heading in an interesting direction? Before it got side-swiped by Spider-Man, Evil Dead retreads and other 80s horror remakes? He made a couple of crime films nearly back to back and while I appreciated bits of the Cate Blanchett southern gothic vehicle The Gift, I've got fucking no complaints about A Simple Plan. It's a simple story of good people realizing the 'good' scrapes off that moniker pretty damn fast and they'll straight up murder a motherfucker or three for a little money. It's nasty business.

Snake Eyes - Brian De Palma - Always enjoyed Snake Eyes on a purely technical level from that amazing 13 minute opening shot to all the favorites from De Palma's bag of tricks. It also features a premium to-eleven Nicolas Cage performance and if you can't enjoy one of those, then check your pulse, you might be dead. What strikes me more with every revisit is how competently told the story is and how emotionally effective Cage's dirty cop Ricky Santoro's moral trajectory lands. Don't get me wrong, the technical achievements far outweigh the thriller aspects, but c'mon people don't watch Georges Méliès today for the stories, but for the pure imagination and innovation of the craft, and that's exactly why De Palma will always matter.

State of Grace - Phil Joanou - Just one of my favorite crime flicks period. Terrific cast including Sean Penn (who had a hell of a run there), Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, Robin Wright, John Turturro, R. D. Call, Burgess Meredith and John C. Reilly in a memorable early turn a year after his debut opposite Penn in Brian De Palma's Casualties of War. Penn plays Terry a criminal on the run after a botched drug deal ends in murder who returns to the old neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen and reconnects with his best friend (Oldman) whose older brother (Harris) is now the boss of the Irish gang who're trying to hold their own against the Italians. Bonds are tested, flames re-ignited and the blood pumps primed for a finale that leaves few standing and none upright.

Sugar Hill - Leon Ichaso - Sets itself apart from its obvious peers New Jack City and King of New York with a throwback jazz score and focus on family dynamics over murder montages, but relies heavily on the montage to set the story up only slowing down for some longer scenes in the back half. A pretty rise and fall of a street king story that features a standout scene or two from Wesley Snipes and especially Clarence Williams III.

Suture - Scott Mcgehee, David Siegel - The creative team who would later bring us The Deep End gave us this stylish Hitchcockian feature debut starring Dennis Haysbert and Mel Harris as half-brothers who meet for the first time at their father's funeral and whose physical resemblance is so striking that one decides to fake his own death by murdering the other and passing the corpse off as his own (also the plot of the underseen Everybody Has a Plan with Viggo Mortensen in dual roles - look for it). Only the plan doesn't work. The targeted brother survives the assassination attempt, but with a bad case of amnesia and an assumed identity (also the plot of Wolfgang Peterson's Shattered, a ridiculously guilty pleasure of mine - look for it) and the murderous sibling has to find a way of salvaging his master plan. The fact that a black actor and a white actor portray identical brothers and that the film is shot in black and white ought to give you some idea of the degree to which style is leaned upon to carry the day, but it worked for me. Should have a larger cult around it.

Switchback - Jeb Stuart - I saw this directorial debut from the screenwriter of Die Hard, Lock Up and The Fugitive when it was released and except for a minor crime statistic quibble promptly forgot everything about it. Twenty years later I was more than pleased to revisit it and find it a much better (still B-movie) than I originally thought. The story of an FBI agent tracking a serial killer through the mountains runs parallel to that of two drifters (Danny Glover and Jared Leto) thrown in together braving bad weather and worse reception in roughneck bars, and rundown motels. There is little suspense about the identity of the killer and as much as I like Quaid as a performer his on screen time takes a far back seat to the pleasures of Glover and Leto's. Solid performances from R. Lee Ermey, Ted Levine and William Fichtner and certainly fun seeing Walton Goggins show up for a scene help. Writer/director Stuart has only one other directorial credit (Blood Done Sign My Name) which came thirteen years after which seems a pity after how much I enjoyed revisiting his debut.

Thelma & Louise - Ridley Scott - This visit finds me somewhat less taken with the leads - the accents are my nit to pick today - but digging the setting and supporting players more (except Brad Pitt who also belongs in the bothersome accent camp). Mostly I dug Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen and there's no denying the southwest landscape is romantically and majestically shot. I like Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in general, so I expect next time I see it it (or I) will have aged into another new stage of life and maybe I'll respond more positively again.

2 Days in the Valley - John Herzfeld - Another post-Pulp Fiction ensemble of opinionated hipsters, glibly gabby hitmen and frustrated film makers tied together by a series of unfortunate events over the titular time frame. I remember enjoying lots of these Tarantino wannabes at the time and being puzzled by their luke-warm to hostile critical reception and upon revisiting most of them are pretty bad. I'm happy to say though that this one holds up and has probably even improved some with age. Yes, it's derivative with it's cast of characters and funhouse-mirror timeline, but it's also kind of charming with its low-key approach that feels less Tarantino now and maybe more Altman-esque. It's low-rent fare, but sometimes you just need a place to crash for a short stay. I wish we'd had more roles of this sort for Jeff Daniels who is a standout performance here.

The Underneath - Steven Soderbergh - Soderbergh's first heist film is a remake of Richard Siodmak's film noir Criss Cross (or actually another adaptation of Don Tracy's novel) and it's a minor work, but it's worth a look for the opportunity to witness some fledgling flourishes which would shortly become Soderberghian trademarks and for a fun performance from William Fichtner as the heavy.