Monday, February 19, 2018

2017 in the Aughts pt. 3

Revanche - Götz Spielmann - Holy shit this will break your heart if you've got one. And if you do you know that a proper breaking once in a while is in order to keep it from getting too calloused to function - after all vulnerability and risk are prerequisites to real human experience.

Road to Perdition - Sam Mendes - Before he and Daniel Craig made James Bond their long term project Mendes (and Craig) made this adaptation of Max Allan Collins's prohibition era gangster graphic novel as a follow-up to his Oscar winning American Beauty. Like Skyfall and Spectre this is a good-looking violent picture, but there's little to praise outside of the presentation. The emotions never land, the action doesn't thrill and the performances are adequate, but not engaging - Jude Law's creepy crime scene photographer comes the closest to making a lasting impression. I revisit once in a while to see what I might've missed, but it doesn't really improve. Notable cast includes Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker, Ciarán Hinds and Stanley Tucci.

Robbery Hommicide Division season 1 - Barry Schindel - One and done season of police procedure produced by Michael Mann and starring the under-utilized Tom Sizemore. Shit, I wish it'd lasted long enough to get better. It's got a lot of the Mann-ish touches and interests that I love to dig into and more heavy weaponry shootouts than your averaged prime-time network TVs, but after finally catching up with it I have to say I'm not really surprised it got the axe - just not enough personality to distinguish itself from the glut of network procedurals. Never one to waste an idea Mann recycled the plot of episode eight for the Miami Vice movie... so, not for nothing.
Savage Grace - Tom Kalin - God bless Julian Moore. As a performer she's fucking fearless and can be the single saving grace in otherwise forgettable pictures... I don't think she quite saves this take on the sensational true tragedy of the Baekeland family, but she sure gives a big ol' swing for the fences. Eddie Redmayne and Stephen Dillane round out the oedipal ingredients.

Secuestro Express - Jonathan Jakubowicz - When kidnapping is your day job you've probably got a decent movie to make out of your life. Are all days on the grab as eventful as this one? Surely not or you'd quit your job. Bleak little movie set in Caracas where Mia Maestro gets snatched off the street by a trio of workaday abductors and daddy Rubén Blades has to raise enough money to buy her back. All kinds of games of escape and psychological warfare are engaged in and brutal threats made and a few made good upon until the end credits roll and nobody is better off than before the beginning ones.

Sexy Beast - Jonathan Glazer - Never gets old, never not great - in fact each repeat viewing gives me the chance to focus on some other performance or aspect of sick perfection. This time around - editing. Holy shit, but you could've had the performances and the script and not half of the swagger and piss without the editing. Fucking great job, John Scott and Sam Sneade.

Shoot 'Em Up - Michael Davis - After my initial disappointment when it first came out, I was happy to see it'd improved in the subsequent decade. Mostly due to tempered expectations both of the film and the particular genre of slapstick, gun violence movies. Sheeeit, how refreshing was it to go back and watch this thing that's not all green-screens and bullet-time tricks. In the end it's just a dumb fun, sleazy, violent Looney Tunes episode (though Clive Owen as Bugs Bunny isn't half as charismatic and charming as Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk - even with a perpetual carrot in his mouth). Not great, but better than it used to be.

The Square - Nash Edgerton - One of those terrific movie watching experiences where the weight drops in your stomach and just keeps sinking and applying pressure throughout. Never a break-neck pace, or o sexed-up premise, just a slowly accelerating spiral down the drain. Hopes not particularly high for Gringo, but you'd better believe I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt as the feature film follow up from Edgerton.

Street Kings - David Ayer - So all the stuff I said about Dark Blue could pretty much be said here. In the end the harsh portrait of a bad man trying to do a good job is undercut by more splashy action movie shit we've seen before. Say what you like about Keanu Reeves, I'm not hanging any blame on him for the short comings this time around. If the opening moments of Street Kings are any indication, age - gray up top, a few extra pounds around the middle - may eventually lend Reeves the extra umph his onscreen presence sometimes lacks. I'm not even sending Chris Evans any shit here, but fuckin Cedric The Entertainer does not belong in this picture. And John Corbett? Too many years as a dreamy, sensitive type are working against you, sir. Terry Crewes, Common and Jay Mohr don't step up to Forrest Whitaker's game though he's stuck in an unfortunately transparent role and Hugh Laurie just doesn't have anything to do (though somebody like Noel Gugliemi doesn't have to do anything to make a picture better - that guy is screen presence). A big disappointment considering Ayer's obvious yen for Ellroy's vibe. Anybody who saw Training Day and Dark Blue back to back would be hard pressed to ignore the effect that working on Ellroy's script must have had on his own. Plus, Ayer's directorial debut Harsh Times showed showcased a knack for slipping some serious hard-edged emotional impact up under your flack jacket... Everything that came before was written years ago, but upon rewatch, I've warmed considerably to Street Kings while I stick by my gut reaction that it could've been so much better. It's got a helluva first half, but mostly falls apart in the final act. Not as good as Dark Blue, but it's growing on me.

The Take - David Drury - This four-part television adaptation of Martina Cole's novel follows fresh outta prison Freddy (all-snarl and sneer Tom Hardy) on his violent ascent and subsequent fall from the top of the underground. Affairs of family, both blood and criminal, take center stage and every character loves and hates every other character with equal commitment leaving lines betwixt passion and savagery blurry at best. By the end everybody's been beaten, stabbed, screwed or shot by everybody else and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation you haven't been paying attention. Nasty fun.

Training Day - Antoine Fuqua - Slightly diminishing enthusiasm for this one probably mostly due to screenwriter David Ayer's endless recycling of some elements without ever improving them (as opposed to Michael Mann's recycling results). Still a sharp-looking, big-personality violent cop movie, so there's a lot to continue enjoying. Brooklyn's Finest has officially eclipsed this one in Fuqua's body of work for me, but what a collection of faces in here: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Peter Greene, Tom Berenger, Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry, Cliff Curtis, Eva Mendes, Noel Gugliemi, Terry Crews, Snoop Dog and Macy Gray. Oh, forgot about Dre.

25th Hour - Spike Lee - Adapted from the first novel by David Benioff which was released on September 11, 2001. Initially a bad thing for the book's sales, but the prize for making lemonade goes to Lee for injecting the film with so much still raw post 9-11 hometown emotion it still manages to affect - especially the 'fuck' monologue. It's also a great looking picture and easily my favorite of Lee's genre pictures (see also Clockers, Inside Man, Oldboy... or don't). The old-NYC sadness somewhat replaced this time around with Philip Seymour Hoffman sadness. Also a great reminder that Barry Pepper is capable of terrific work and should be given more opportunities to prove it. Cast includes Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa, Patrice O'Neal, Aaron Stanford and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Sheeeeit.

Undertow - David Gordon Green - Slightly diminished appreciation for this one in what's become a glut of rural noirs - mostly of the cheap (super pulpy and trashy - not always a bad thing) or exploitation variety (bad versions of good books, prestige pictures, Oscar bait, poverty porn). This one is still head, shoulders and torso above water level, but the pond is less appealing than it was fifteen years ago.

Undisputed - Walter Hill - When you can't decide whether you want to watch a prison movie or a sports flick, you can sometimes successfully split the difference - Jericho Mile, The Longest Yard - but it's rare. Undisputed doesn't really scratch either itch terribly successfully - little is at stake outside of egos involved - Wesley Snipes's underground prison league champ and Ving Rhames's newcomer legit outside world heavyweight champ - and no real investment in either character's story outside of... they'd rather not be in prison. But as a Walter Hill film it's pretty watchable - the heightened not-quite reality, the macho posturing he's really good at... I won't be rushing out to check out the sequels, but I'll admit it's a sturdy enough platform to build an action franchise around... ooh, you say Scott Adkins is the star of part III? Well...

Way of the Gun - Christopher McQuarrie - While remaining one of my favorite crime films of the new century this latest viewing's chief takeaways were a couple suggestions for improving it - cut the Sarah Silverman opening scene and the voice over. Yeah, I still laugh at Sarah's acidic tongue and the brio with which Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe take their beating, but that opening followed by the voice over smacks of trying too hard to be cool. And it doesn't need to. It's super cool. Terrific cast includes Juliette Lewis, James Caan, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Geoffrey Lewis and Scott Wilson. I hope the years of working for Tom Cruise pay off for McQuarrie in the form of at least one more crime flick along these lines.

What's the Worst That Could Happen? - Sam Weisman - Martin Lawrence stepping into Donald Westlake's Dortmunder role and Danny DeVito as the sleazy, rich guy he gets into a personal game of one-up-man-ship with are an occasionally successful pairing and I can more or less recommend it if you too have any affection for either performer and a low-bar for comedic payoff. I've noticed my standards for comedies don't generally match up to those of my friends and peers which is probably why I watch films almost exclusively alone.

Wonderland - James Cox - Honestly, I can't really tell how good this one is. It hits so many salacious beats and covers a variety of interests of mine with a cast I'm partial to, it seems like I should remember it better. The story of post-porn career John Holmes getting caught up in drug dealing and winding up as a person of interest in a brutal crime is less a  fascinating unsolved true crime than a fairly standard tale of awfulness elevated to legend by its nexus with celebrity, but hey, cast Val Kilmer as king dong and you've secured my interest and good will. I've seen it a couple of times and will most likely see it again. It holds my interest, but doesn't keep stay with me afterward.
You Kill Me - John Dahl - Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hit man who needs help getting his personal life and professional one back on track finds that striking up a romantic relationship Téa Leoni might solve his problems. If that description doesn't make you staple your eyeballs shut I don't even know what to tell you. So why the hell did I even give it a shot? Fucking John Dahl, that's why. Fucking John Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, The Last Seduction Dahl makes a movie I pay attention. And oh man every once in a while some bit about the killer for hire shit, the mob stuff or a face like Dennis Farina, Philip Baker Hall or Bill Pullman's would pop up and I'd be ready to forgive it all, but oh no. Nope, John Dahl, you kill me.

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