Monday, August 3, 2020

You Lie


I kicked off July with San Francisco crime spree weekend watching Steve McQueen ride the ever-cresting wave of Peter Yates' slick and efficient Bullitt, Lee Marvin tear up Los Angeles with Alcatraz bookends in John Boorman's stylish take on Richard Stark's The Hunter and Clint Eastwood fuck up the Scorpio killer's plans in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (the perfecting of the kind picture he'd been working toward with Madigan and Coogan's Bluff). Then I revisited Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. and way undervalued Another 48 Hrs. before capping my city by the bay weekend with a first-viewing of Richard Rush's Freebie & the Bean.

Really hard to stress how underrated Another 48 Hrs. is (by me too - I'll own it). I threw Hill's Red Heat on afterward and the dude just knows the formula for action comedies. Yeah, they're funny, but he never lets the laughs upstage the crime-thriller elements and that helps them age gracefully. I rewatched Martin Brest's Midnight Run and feeling lucky with the crime comedies gave Julie Anne Robinson's One For the Money starring Katherine Heigel as Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but alas my winning streak was over. 

A couple more revisits for the month that improved on my initial impressions; Richard Donner's 16 Blocks and David Fincher's Panic Room. 16 Blocks starts off with Bruce Willis as a sad sack cop riding out the end of his less than illustrious career. Oh man, he's beautiful with his receding hairline, (now you see it, now you don't) spare tire, and droopy mustache. He's the guy that gets called in to sit on a crime scene until it can get cleared and he seems happy to booze among the bodies until his shift is over. In fact it becomes clear that his getting stuck with the shit job of transporting Mos Def's small time criminal from lockup to his grand jury testimony at the courthouse was all part of the plan of David Morse and some dirty cops who have no intention of letting Def's Eddie Bunker - yeah, that's his name - get there. But Willis has one good day left in him and boy oh boy did he choose the wrong day to shine. A little more convoluted than it needed to be, but really a much better effort than I gave it credit for when it first came out. Now, on the far end of Bruce giving up I long for the days of 16 Blocks. 

And Panic Room's improved mainly because I now have tempered expectations for Fincher. On the heels of Fight Club I was a little let down by this pretty straight-forward and simple thriller about Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart riding out a home invasion inside the um panic room of their brand new home while a trio of thieves try to break in. The procedural beauty of it really stuck out to me this time, it's a this is how this works and this is how this doesn't fix the problem thriller and is bolstered by a solid cast including Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam as the dudes Jared Leto's rich kid with a scheme brings along to pull of the job. 

I watched the Mission: Impossible flicks with my son and man oh man, what a treat that was. Biggest standouts for us were John Woo's II, Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol and Christopher McQuarrie's Fallout. Each picture's got it's own reason to be there though and it was fun to watch them all in quick succession. I think my personal ranking now would go: Ghost Protocol, Fallout, II, Rogue Nation, Mission: Impossible and III

Also very much enjoyed a run of Class of films from the 80s & 90s

Class of 1984 - Mark L. Lester - This story of an idealistic young teacher driven over the edge by disciplinary issues revolving around a rowdy group of punks who begin by generally fucking off in class, but also deal a bad batch of drugs that hilariously drive good kids to bizarre deaths fits comfortably into the fascists fix schools subgenre that seems to become briefly popular again once a decade or so and it's fun to look at what the squares of the early 80s perceived as the generation's big challenges. "Punks" are a problem as evidenced by the group of bullies (punk bullies, remember that non-existent high school menace?) who wear t-shirts with swastikas and ripped jackets advertising The Clash and terrorize all the good, clean cut kids including baby Michael J. Fox. When this shit escalates to murder it's a hoot.

Class of Nuke 'Em HighLloyd Kaufman, Richard W. Haines - Another bad batch of feel goods drive the plot such as it exists in Troma's version of the horny teen comedy which adds a good dose of corporate malfeasance, nuclear calamity, gruesome mutations and buckets of gore to goose their straight genre peers like Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds... edge goes to Troma.

Class of 1999 - Mark L. Lester - Improving on his initial fascists fix schools entry Class of 1984, director Lester elevates the concept with the introduction of android teachers originally designed for law enforcement who take order and discipline a little too seriously. This is basically RoboCop in the classroom minus any robo-hero. Instead we have a trio of technological terminators (Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier and John P. Ryan) running amok massacring unruly students in a grand experiment run by Stacy Keach and Malcolm McDowell. Fucking A+ for effort. 

Class of 1999 II: The SubstituteSpiro Razatos - The sequel concerns the exploits of a rogue Robo Teacher missing and presumed destroyed from the original batch. Sasha Mitchell plays the terminator and employs his rest of the best level martial arts skills to fuck shit up. Good fun.

And now for a few notable first watches from July...

City Streets
Rouben Mamoulian - Very much enjoyed this early Dashiell Hammett-penned film starring Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper as young lovers separated by lifestyle; he's a straight shooter (literally - he's a carnival sharp shooter) and she's a gangster's daughter. Over the course of the movie they'll swap outlooks on crime and easy money as their love refuses to be thwarted. 

Walking Hills
 - John Sturges - A bordertown backroom card game comes to a screeching halt when someone mentions having seen some wagon tracks in the desert that happen to line up with a local legend about a wagon full of gold swallowed up by the sand. The whole group immediately set out to find and share their fortune, but things never go well when you've got partners in a scheme to get rich. The cast of casual comrades quickly break up into factions and then fractions as everybody's story and character come under scrutiny if not quite into focus and you can bet they're not all going to walk out again. Randolph Scott leads a cast that includes Ella Raines, John Ireland, Arthur Raines and Edgar Buchanan

Man of the West - Anthony Mann - Gary Cooper, Julie London and Arthur O'Connell are strangers stranded in the wilderness in the aftermath of a train robbery. When they stumble upon the desperadoes counting the loot their odds of survival get even longer. But Coop's got a history with the outlaws, one that he'll have to go back to to get any of them out alive. I can hear Tony Soprano lamenting 21st century masculinity from here. 


Ten Seconds to Hell
- Robert Aldrich -  Before he sent The Dirty Dozen off to certain death, Aldrich made this picture about a group of German bomb disposal workers clearing post-war Berlin of unexploded British bombs. It's a job so dangerous that the crew do not expect all to survive. Deciding they're already underpaid for their work they decide to pool their money, dedicating half of their checks to the pot so that the last surviving member of the group gets a bigger payday. Jack Palance leads the team and Jeff Chandler is his rival. Not a crime picture, but noirsh hardboiled sensibility to the core. 

Time to Die
- Arturo Ripstein - Oh man, one of my favorite subgenres (man out of prison) gets a great new to me entry here. Written by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez from a Márquez story, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos is Juan, the just-released convicted killer come back to town and trying to pick up where he left off with the woman he loved eighteen years ago. In the meantime she married, had a kid and is widowed and unsure what to do about her complicated feelings for Juan. Most people seem happy to see Juan again, seems like he was generally well-liked, but the wealthy sons of his victim have sworn vengeance for their father and hound him at every turn trying to incite him to fight. The older son is driven by honor and rage to avenge his father and the younger brother, having met Juan on his way into town before knowing who he was, is somewhat less eager to kill him. Will Juan be allowed to live in peace or will he once again be driven to violence? Terrific Mexican melodrama I was entirely absorbed by.

Mise à sac
- Alain Cavalier - Michel Constantin plays Georges, the Parker role, in this adaptation of Richard Stark's The Score. The job this time around is an entire small mining town in badlands middle America including a couple of banks and retailers and will mean incapacitating police and all of the town's communications on top of the usual concerns of safes and security. The extra ambitious nature of the heist in this story, with the larger than usual team and multiple moving parts, is nicely juxtaposed by the stripped down simplicity of the film's approach. No high-energy editing, score or flamboyance in performances, just straight-forward procedural thievery and the character moments at the end add an unexpected emotional element to the finale. 

Freebie & the Bean
- Richard Rush - James Caan and Alan Arkin are the titular cops in this buddy comedy that seems at once to be establishing and skewering genre tropes as it goes from the odd-couple pairing to the comic deployment of racial invective and two way verbal abuse, the petty squabbling and competition masking deep devotion to the over the top aspects of the action and villains. You can see the blueprint of the genre before its eventual perfection by your Walter Hills and Shane Blacks. It's honestly a bit jarring at times and I'm not entirely sure if that's when it's not working as well as it should or when it is at its most effective, it's one I"ll need to see again before I'm confident about it, but it's most certainly a thing and one with plenty to enjoy.

White of the Eye
- Donald Cammell - David Keith stars as a sound installation expert at the center of a police investigation into some brutal murders in this fucking weirdly amazing serial-killer tone poem. As familiar as all the elements are; (giallo-staged killings, Art Evans' driven detective, native peoples' spiritual overtones, obsessive off-beat charming suspect) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Probably won't be for everybody (I mean, it's over 30 years old and I'm just hearing about it), but man did it hit a sweet spot for me. Loved it.

Dobermann
Jan Kounen - Vincent Cassel stars as the namesake thief robbing banks, creating chaos, generally upsetting the bourgeoisie and causing headaches for Parisian police in this it-came-from-the-90s piece of celluloid detritus. You'll probably lose track of the story because literally every other aspect of the production is screaming much louder for your attention; the soundtrack, the crazy angles and editing, the costume and set design and performances too. It's a fucking mess. But it's a distinctly 90s fucking mess and that has some value as an artifact. Hey kids, this is what it felt like all the time. Really. Yes, your parents liked this shit, got off on this shit and fucked to this shit and that's where you come from. Sorry.

Mekko
Sterlin Harjo - Another man out of prison tale, this time it's Rod Rondeaux as the convicted killer released to the streets of Tulsa nineteen years after his crime. It's a sad, slow, large-hearted, heartbreaker of a portrait of down and out street dwelling among the overlooked, a beautiful losers story unique for its largely American Indian cast and bleakly beautiful midwest setting.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

1010 pt 3

Now that our family's schedule for the rest of the calendar year has officially been determined as stay-at-home (a good thing considering it'd be a terrible idea to send our kids back to school - as much as we/they don't enjoy the whole online learning thing, it's really the only sane and option for our community), I'm looking back on the first half of 2020 and looking forward to more of the same... books, movies, podcasts. Okay. 

Like last summer's deep dive on the films of Cirio H. Santiago, this summer's first new-to-me exploitation legend was Brian Trenchard-Smith whose films ran the genre gamut from sci-fi, horror, action, Lifetime channel thrillers, sci-fi channel thrillers, sex comedies and in the extra especially made just for Jed category; Christian apocalyptic exploitation. That's right, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 starred Michael York, Michael Biehn, Udo Kier, Franco Nero, Diane Venora and R. Lee Ermey as pawns of the principalities of this dark world drawn by Calvinist inclinations toward their destiny. I wouldn't recommend most of you checking it out, but for this pastor's son it was an absolute hoot.

One I absolutely would recommend for everybody is Dead End Drive-In. First, it's a fucking amazing concept - punks and undesirables corralled in a purgatorial drive-in movie theater. They can't leave, but most don't even notice, let alone mind. They're kinda content to watch action movies (BT-S's The Man From Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot are both featured), have sex in their cars and get coupons for the concession stand. It's a great metaphor for malcontents of the Reagan-eighties distracted by MTV and shopping malls, but mostly it's a whole lotta fun. Enjoyed Turkey Shoot a bunch too - mostly for the go-bigness of the whole thing, likewise BMX Bandits for the purity of its dayglo 80s energy and Stunt Rock for its 70s conceptual wtfuckitty.

I read a lot of good books in the front half of the year including some classics I'd never gotten around to (Edwin Torres' Carlito's Way, Ted Lewis' Jack's Return Home, Edward Bunker's Animal Factory, Flannery O'Conner's The Violent Bear it Away, John D. MacDonald's The Executioners, Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress) and even a re-read of one (Richard Stark's The Man With the Getaway Face), some story and novella collections (Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior, Grant Jerkins' A Scholar of Pain and John Hornor Jacobs' A Lush & Seething Hell), a couple turns into non-fiction crime (Jacques Merine's memoirs The Death Instinct and Sins of the City: The Real Los Angeles Noir by Jim Heimann), took precious dips into favorite wells of no-longer-producing and non-prolific writers' bodies of work (William Gay's Little Sitster Death, Tom Piccirilli's The Dead Past, Vicki Hendricks' Sky Blues, John Brandon's Arkansas, Lynn Kostoff's The Long Fall, Rick DeMarinis' A Clod of Wayward Marl), and made a couple exceptions to my - trying to avoid books by personal friends - guidelines to read some N@B alum (the aforementioned John Hornor Jacobs, Scott Phillips' That Left Turn at Albuquerque, David James Keaton's Pig Iron and the first couple collections of The Grass Kings by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins & Hilary Jenkins).


But the main event for my summer's big reading push will be the first two books of James Ellroy's 2nd L.A. Quartet, Perfidia and This Storm. I picked up Perfidia when it was brand new, but put it down fairly quickly sensing that it wasn't the right moment for me to read it. So glad I picked it back up now because holy crap did it sing to me. I'm halfway through This Storm now and it's doing the same. I'm a sucker for his schtick and loving every moment of them.

Who else's schtick am I enjoying lately?

Zach Vasquez keeps delivering the goods with regular pieces at Crime Reads. Even when I disagree with his take/choices I enjoy putting together my rebuttal. You can also follow him on Twitter @zach_vasquez

Another Crime Reads regular contributor that I enjoy is Nick Kolakowski and the same inside-my-head arguments apply. Follow him on Twitter @nkolakowski

Priscilla Page publishes good movie pieces a bunch of places, but also no has a patreon where she regularly publishes essays. Particularly enjoyed a recent piece on Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Follow her on Twitter @BBW_BFF

Andrew Nette's Pulp Curry blog continues to take a good, loving look at all things pulp fiction, film and culture. He's just started a look at all the film adaptations of Donald Westlake's (Richard Stark's) Parker character which kicked off with this piece on Alain Cavelier's Mise à sac adapted from Westlake/Stark's The Score. Follow him on Twitter @PulpCurry

Jen Johans is podcasting regularly about movies and I've enjoyed both Watch With Jen and Watch With Jen & Friends. Her blog Film Intuition is still going strong and she publishes guest pieces around the web too - check out this appreciation of Tony Leung for Phoenix Film Festival. Keep up with her by becoming a patreon subscriber and follow her on Twitter @FilmIntuition

Of course Mike White is still doing an unbelievable amount of good work for The Projection Booth podcast. I've got a few upcoming episodes I'm enjoying boning up for now. Consider becoming a patreon subscriber and keep up with Mike in the Booth on Twitter @proboothcast.

Blake Howard's All the President's Minutes and Travis Woods' Increment Vice keep attracting tremendous guests for excruciatingly in-depth looks at Alan Pakula's All the President's Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. Both podcasts belong to the One Heat Minute family of podcasts and both gentleman continue to write enthusiastic and insightful essays and criticism on film regularly. Follow them on Twitter @OneBlakeMinute and @aHeartOfGould

Brian Lindemuth's got a new project: One Inch Tall Movies is a blog about foreign films (the title comes from Bong Joon-ho's Oscar acceptance speech where he says that English speaking audiences can discover a whole lot of new worlds in film if they can just surmount the one inch tall barrier of subtitles). Follow him on Twitter @brianlindenmuth

Walter Chaw's always coming up with older films I'm not familiar with and pretty terrific at explaining exactly why they're going to be (or not) specifically for me. He writes at length at Film Freak Central (check out this recent interview with Abel Ferrara) and you can follow him on Twitter @mangiotto

Also been enjoying the Twitter feed of Tony Tost - writer for Longmire, The Terror and creator of Damnation - as he leaves reviews and mini-essays on films he's watching and obsessing over be they Bergman, westerns or The Bad News Bears. Follow him on Twitter @tonytost or find them on Letterboxd.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

1010 pt 2

More of my favorite first-time watches by decade from the first half of 2020, the year that just won't fucking die.

1990s

Hana-Bi - Takeshi Kitano - Kitano plays an ex-cop who goes into debt with a loan shark in order to care for his ailing wife and another ex-policeman whose disabling injury he feels responsible for. When the gangster's muscle start to squeeze him he robs a bank to pay back the loan. Now he's got cops on his trail as well as the loan shark who puts together how he was able to get the money so quickly leading to some tense posturing and an inevitable bloody showdown. Before the fireworks there are some remarkably tender passages of Kitano and his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) as they make the most of their dwindling time together as well as separate scenes of Ren Osugi's wheelchair bound ex-cop battling suicidal depression through painting. An unusually emotionally affecting outing from Kitano whose hardboiled humor is more often the counterpoint to the bursts of stylized violence that punctuate his pictures. Kitano makes some capital-C choices here including the non-linear narrative framing, and the inclusion of the lovely painting sequences scored so distinctly by Joe Hisaishi. I love how aware Kitano is of his own strengths as a performer, choosing to silently absorb all the dialogue his co-stars feed him and react slowly with a slight shift in his amazing face or with decisive physicality alternating his body between a vehicle for violence or slapstick humor. I tend to find his films potent to the point of thinking "a little bit goes a long way" and not particularly wanting to watch another any time soon, but I reacted differently to Hana-Bi and I might go for another very soon.

A Perfect World - Clint Eastwood - Kevin Costner plays an escaped convict who take a young boy (T.J. Lowther) hostage during his getaway while Clint Eastwood's Texas ranger and Laura Dern's criminologist employ a mix of good-old-boy gutsiness and keen highly-educated insight to apprehend their quarry and rescue the boy. Not really sure how I let this one go so long unwatched. It sits unassumingly between Unforgiven and The Bridges of Madison County in Eastwood's directorial body of work at the very end of Costner's run as the biggest bankable movie-star and upon initial release I certainly had some young-man's resistance to both figures even, and probably especially because, I felt such an undeniable attraction to their projects (it wan't them, it was me), but still nearly thirty years is a long time to put it off. I appreciated the low-key approach to the whole affair - it wasn't a high-octane thriller and it wasn't an entirely sappy dysfunctional family surrogate father figures melodrama, but it had big helpings of both in there. There are some harrowing bits like Costner interrupting a sexual assault on Lowther's mother, or Lowther intervening in a hostage situation doomed to end in murder by Costner, while the Eastwood/Dern half of the narrative casts him as the irritated and gruffly competent, but grudgingly acknowledging the importance of progress authority figure while Dern has to bide her time and bite her tongue and deftly navigate the unjust impediments to her rise to respect and equality. The bond that forms between Costner and the kid is the heart of the movie. We like Costner because he's smart and not as bad as another con whom he breaks out with, but also because he does what he wants and he has some genuine affection for the kid who has grown up without a father in a strictly religious home. The boy is magnetically drawn to him (fascinated and frightened too) and in the space of a couple short days learns to read the dangerous new terrain he's navigating (circumstantial and relational). The Eastwood/Dern storyline is the harmony to Costner's melody with The older surrogate paternal figure being on the learning end of relationship. Costner and Eastwood are both problematic father figures who try hard, but in the end find that the best thing they can do is get out of the way of the future.

Hand Gun - Whitney Ransick - Treat Williams and Paul Schulze are semi-estranged brothers, small time criminals of strikingly different styles - one is a strong-arm and the other a weasel-y conman - who must work together to recover the small fortune their father (Seymour Cassel) died making on his final score. I'd never heard of Ransick, but his style lands somewhere between early 90s east-coast indy filmmaker contemporaries like Nick Gomez and Hal Hartley and features a cast (to die for) you'd expect from that scene as well: Michael Rappaport, Michael Imperioli, Frank Vincent, John Ventimiglia, Toby Huss, Anna Thomson, Zoë Lund, Paul Calderon, Luis Guzmán and Vincent Pastore (about half the cast of The Sopranos). Surrendering neither to hardboiled self-seriousness nor cartoonish humor, the film takes the fate of its characters to heart, but presents them as doomed fuckups and nowhere men inviting the audience to care for and laugh at its subjects. As far as I can tell Ransick was a one and done for narrative features (though a fair amount of TV work), which is a shame, 'cause I'd be happy to find a few more like this one.

La Cucaracha - Jack Perez - Eric Roberts is a down and out writer whose bragging about fictional dirty deeds gets him hired by a representative of Joaquin de Almeida's wealthiest man in town to kill a man who wronged his family. Roberts is no soulless killer though, he's troubled by the proposition and even more by his own willingness to consider it, but soon finds that he's put himself in a kill or be killed situation and takes the job. A simple noir set up, but what sets this one apart from so many is the follow through. It's a satisfyingly grimy telling of a familiar crime fable (watch for an early appearance from Michael Peña). I'm really surprised I'd never heard of it before. I checked Perez's filmography afterward and had only seen one (the Kevin Corrigan starring weirdo comic noir Some Guy Who Kills People), but will try some more - maybe Wild Things 2, The Big Empty or Where's Roman?

Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip GirlKatsuhito Ishii - This story of thievery, sexual perversity, hitmen and yakuza families is based on a manga of the same name and it's a big ol' mess of story elements strung together in vignettes which vary wildly in quality. The whole affair is held together by a playful energy that reflects the best (and worst) of the decade's attitudes and innovations. The action rarely thrills, but there are laughs throughout and the extremely stylized nature of the project means there's always something to be watching even when the plot gets away from you. Features one of my favorite cinematic shootouts of the year.

2000s

King of the Ants - Stuart Gordon - When Gordon died earlier this year I took the opportunity to watch whatever was available on streaming platforms and this one stood out. Best known as a horror film maker this one is a crime film that gets more horrific than most are willing to. Another down and out man hired to kill someone, double-cross and revenge saga (this would pair well with La Cucaracha for +a double feature), it's remarkable for the commitment to sticking the noir landing... and breaking it off. Felt like discovering an un-published Allan Guthrie novel (that's a very strong recommendation).

City of ViolenceRyoo Seung-wan - A group of childhood friends are reunited on the occasion of one of their group's murder twenty years later. One is now a policeman another is a gangster and no one is particularly satisfied with the official story of how their friend met his end. Not really a strong example of the Korean flavor of crime films I've enjoyed so much this century, this one leans awfully hard on Hong-Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s and it's not really great... until the climax. The final action show-piece really is a stunner akin to and probably even directly influenced by The House of Blue Leaves chapter of Kill Bill vol. 1 (I'm not knowledgeable enough of Tarantino's influences to say what he's paying homage to in that sequence). Regardless, I found the climax worth the sit and have rewatched it a couple of times since.

Where the Money IsMarek Kanievska - Linda Fiorentino is a caretaker at the nursing home Paul Newman's catatonic elderly bank robber is released from prison into the custody of and she begins to suspect the geezer is playing dumb and planning an escape and, if she's lucky, another heist that she can horn in on to escape the drudgery she feels her life has become. I avoided it despite it being a crime film starring Fiorentino and Newman for 20 years because it was rated PG and I figured that meant 'lame.' I'm glad I finally gave it a go, it was fun. Sucks that neither of them are making movies any longer.

Harry Brown - Daniel Barber - Michael Caine is the titular character, a old man who turns to vigilantism after his friend is murdered. Seems the housing development they shared has become a real shit hole overrun by violent youth with no respect for their elders. Blah-blah-blah, and murder. It's definitely a kick to watch Caine's geezer go to war with the likes of Sean Harris, Ben Drew and Jack O'Connell and it holds its mud with some particularly nasty bits. Emily Mortimer and Iain Glen are cops on Caine's case alternately impressed and repulsed by his work.

The Butcher - Jesse V. Johnson - Eric Roberts (again!) is a middling criminal on a long decline and a gambler with outsized debt who pulls it together for one last stab at fat city. Before Johnson became king of the DTV action movie he made a handful of these low budget gangster flicks with mixed results. They're kinda stuck in the unenviable position of comparison to Guy Ritchie, while undeniably conscious that their own funding owes an awful lot to the success of his films. They're not really going for the same thing Ritchie's were, but they're also not as good. They manage to be too stiff and too hammy at the same time, but they also hit some nice notes often thanks to their veteran casts and this one has a honey of a that-guy lineup including Keith David, Bookeem Woodbine, Michael Ironside, Geoffrey Lewis, Robert Davi, Jeremy Trimble, Timothy V. Murphy, Guillermo Diaz and Nils Allen Stewart. There's perhaps too much plot as well, but this one (also Johnson's Charlie Valentine starring Raymond J. Barry) held me in pleasant suspense about what the ultimate fates of their heroes would be.

2010s (that won't be eligible for 2020 year-end picks)



Tramps - Adam Leon - This low stakes romantic shaggy-dog of a crime oddyssey through New York City stars Callum Turner as a reluctant participant in a criminal transaction of an unknown nature. He's trying to do his incarcerated brother a solid by taking a package and delivering it to someone else, but things go wrong pretty quick and he finds himself partnered with  Grace Van Patten chasing the misplaced goods around the city. There's a series of unanticipated complications and crises that test their wits and guts and the bonds of their new relationship. I was charmed and disarmed by this one that plays like a rom-com version of the Safdie Brothers' Good Time.

Mayhem - Joe Lynch - Steven Yuen is a mid-level cog in a big machine watching his soul slip away in pursuit of a corner office and a retirement plan working for a monstrous legal firm. On the same day that he becomes a scape-goat for his nervous overlords their high rise corporate office is locked down due to contamination by a highly contagious virus that causes the infected to lose all inhibitions and act out their basest impulses. Seizing the opportunity to blow off twenty years' worth of pent up frustration and seething anger he fights his way to the penthouse where the board members run their evil empire determined to give them a piece of his mind. It's a white-collar splatter movie with infectious energy for fans of Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment or Duane Swiercyznski's Severance Package.

The Foreigner - Martin Campbell - Jackie Chan is the titular character intent on getting justice for his daughter killed in a terrorist bombing in London. Frustrated by the lack of progress the Scotland Yard investigation is making, he takes it upon himself to find the Irish Nationalist group who've claimed responsibility and exact his revenge. Pierce Brosnan plays a politician and outspoken former IRA member who may be linked to the group. Both Brosnan's and Chan's characters' pasts are going to catch up to them. Based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman I remember when this one came out thinking that grim Jackie Chan wasn't really a thing I was interested in, but it popped up on Netflix and I'm so glad I gave it a go. I'd recommend you do too.

Revenge For Jolly! - Chad Harbold - Brian Petsos plays Harry, a deadbeat criminal who indulges in one last night of blackout drinking with his cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) before leaving town in lieu of paying with broken bones a debt he can't cover in cash. It was one bad choice too many though and he returns home to collect his dog Jolly before hitting the road only to find that his pet has been killed by people looking for him. Harry and Cecil then embark on an investigation and quest for justice that leaves many, many people of varying degrees of culpability equally fucking murdered in this darkly comic and deadpan revenge story that predates both films, but feels like John Wick by way of The Greasy Strangler. I really, really enjoyed it. Killer cast includes Kristen Wiig, Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Ryan Phillippe, Garret Dillahunt, Amy Seimetz, Kevin Corrigan, Gillian Jacobs, Jayne Atkinson and Bobby Moynihan.

Once Upon a Time in Venice - Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen - Bruce Willis comes out of his coma to play a Venice Beach private detective trying to get his dog back from gangsters who've stolen him for reasons. This is ultra-light-weight, breezy tough-guy stuff that has plenty of room for the groans to be lost among the laughs. It's dumb, so, so very dumb, but a lot of fun and Willis is a big part of the fun - bedding women a third of his age, skateboarding naked, pratfalling, one-liner-ing and smirking like he used to. It won't fill that Terriers-was-cancelled-sized hole in your heart, but it feels like it's trying to. Supporting cast includes Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Thomas Middleditch, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Röhm, Adam Goldberg, Wood Harris, Emily Robinson and Kal Penn.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

1010 pt. 1

What a shitshow June was! Holy moley. Even by 2020 standards it blew uncles. Many, sweaty uncles with psoriasis of the crotch. Halfway through this ridiculous year and I'm not going to cover all the movies I've seen, but I thought I'd go give a top-5 new to me crime flicks by decade so far.
1940s/50s

Duel in the Sun - King Vidor (1946) - This one's been on my list something like fifteen years, but somehow I still wasn't prepared for how great the climax would be. There's plenty to provoke in this romantic western melodrama, but it's the breathless bloody expressions of lust in the ferocious finale that really are worth everything that came before whether you found it hokey or offensive. Never would've predicted Gregory Peck could be such a great shitweasel. Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Harry Carey, Charles Bickford and the disembodied voice of Orson Welles all add to the lush hyper-reality of the production.

Rope of Sand - William Dieterle (1949) - Burt Lancaster, Peter Lorre, Claude Raines... exotic locale, diamond smuggling, colonialism, sadism... fuckin, good fuckin shit.

3:10 to Yuma - Delmer Daves (1957) - Glenn Ford and Van Hefflin are a great pair as the outlaw and ordinary citizen charged with getting him on the titular train - they get to know each other over the course of a couple of days with the bad man's gang in pursuit. Tense, turse, bromantic drama from Elmore Leonard source material. Still surprised that neither adaptation of the short story used Leonard's terrific ending though.

Cry Tough - Paul Stanley (1959) - John Saxon plays a Puerto Rican street tough who wants to go straight (blazing a trail for Al Pacino I guess), but ends up embroiled in violent crime and tangled up with a woman who won't be tied down.

Day of the OutlawAndré De Toth (1959) - Easily the pick of the bunch. This sharp, stylish and deeply moody western about humanity and morality recognizing neither culture nor law resonates far beyond the runtime, frames' edge and performances. It's lovely to look at and chilling to behold. Robert Ryan and Burl Ives do the heavy lifting. Would make a great double or triple feature with The Great Silence or The Hateful Eight.

1960s


Afraid to Die - Yasuzō Masumura (1960) - The son of a prominent crime boss decides to get out rather than move up, but complications ensue. I dig yakuza movies of the 20th century - especially those made shortly after the decimation and reconstruction of Japan. This one doesn't have the punk energy, extreme nihilism, self-mythologizing nor deconstructionist vibes some of my favorite examples of the genre do, but it has quiet humor and humanity I appreciated.

Blood & Black Lace - Mario Bava (1964) - No idea where this one stands among the cult of Bava, but being brand new to his work I'll say I enjoyed the hell out of it for the same reasons (and more so) that I've been enjoying his other work - eye-popping visuals (stunning color work, set and costumes etc.). I'm no giallo enthusiast, but his films have opened me up to the possibilities inherent in the genre (and various adjacent subgenres) more than anybody else.

Topkapi - Jules Dassin (1964) - Huge fan of Dassin's noirs, but he did other good work, like this comic caper, too. This one's no Rififi, but it's got a hell of a heist sequence that was clearly an influence on future films from Mission Impossible to Ocean's 11. My favorite bit though is the wonderful hundred muscle-bound dudes slathering each other with oil to wrestle in the arena. A hoot was had watching the entire crowd get very very horny, but WTF with sticking your arm down your opponent's pants, how is that not illegal?

The Professionals - Richard Brooks (1966) - Holy hell, I wish I'd sought this one out earlier. Handful of these last-job-of-aging-mercs-and-thieves westerns that I love and that stand apart and superior to The Magnificent Seven heroic stories for my money. This one fills the gap between The Wild Bunch's nihilism and the uh slightly cornier aspects of Vera Cruz and seems to have H-I-T writ all over it. No idea how it was originally received, and I know several folks who love it, but I'm genuinely surprised I've not heard it listed as one of the all-time favorite westerns of more folks. Seems like a no-brainer to me based on the cast alone: Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster,  Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance and Claudia Cardinale.

Violent Four Carlo Lizzani (1968) - Went through another round of crossing poliziotteschi off my to-see list and after a couple dozen samples the bloom's coming a bit off the rose now. I very much enjoyed Mike Malloy's Eurocrime documentary and was a little flabbergasted to learn the sheer volume of the crime pictures cranked out in such a brief time and naturally the overlap between pictures breeds a little contempt, but this nasty little picture from the beginning of the movement is a good example of why it was such a popular one.

1970s

The Squeeze - Michael AptedStacy Keach is fantastic as an ex-cop whose ex-wife's new husband hires him to find her and his young daughter who've been kidnapped by some mean bastards. Many problems arise, but the most persistent is that Keach is a blackout drunk (cost him his job and his marriage) who can't stay dry long enough to do anything to redeem himself - rather, he dries out repeatedly, then makes exactly one competent step and gets blotto again, each time more dangerous and pathetic an episode than the last. not somebody I think of as a real behind the camera personality. Not someone whose work I seek out based on his name. He's made several pictures I've enjoyed, several I've actively disliked and a bunch I've never seen and never even thought about. Imagine my surprise when I came across this one. The best new to me 70s crime picture I've seen in a while. Just fucking cold, hard, misanthropic nastiness. Really terrific.

Top of the Heap - Christopher St. John - The only narrative feature written and directed by St. John who also stars as an urban cop fighting a too-many-fronts war against his very existence - as a cop, as a black cop, as a man, as a black man, as a husband, as a lover - something's gonna snap soon. To relieve the pressure of the constant posture-shifting and terrain-reading he escapes into daydreams that reveal his innermost and un-expressed wishes and fears that inform the enormity of his burden (he imagines himself in a pre-civilized Eden where he is free to enjoy his mammalian delights and in a futuristic utopian society where he is free to maximize his intellectual potential and satisfy his curiosity). The fantasies come out of nowhere to inject a little... I dunno The Ninth Configuration(?) into the otherwise grounded (and pounded into the ground) drama and the ending lands hard.

The Offence - Sidney Lumet - Sean Connery plays a detective in danger of losing his way while trying to catch a sexual predator. A career's worth of baggage dealing with the horror of the job - day in and day out dealing with the ugliest crimes has done perhaps irreparable damage to him and when he gets a moment alone to get the truth out of his suspect he brutalizes the man in a troubling sequence of dramatic intensity I've only seen from Connery in another Lumet collaboration, The Hill. His physicality was never more imposing and his psychological duress is palpable. It's really a stunning, slow burn of an anti-thriller that feels like a direct response to exceptional-cop popcorn fare of the day (the anti-Dirty Harry?)

Report to the Commissioner Milton Katselas - Michael Moriarty plays an idealistic white vice cop becomes caught in the middle of a dangerous case involving a murdered female undercover colleague and the drug dealer she was getting close to. Yaphet Kotto is terrific as Moriarty's cynical veteran partner trying to help him wise up before his naivete gets someone killed. All the storylines have been covered in cop dramas and thrillers since forever, but something in the alchemy of the subject matter and the time it was made abra-cadabra'd some genuine tragic magic with an all-timer of a climax. Ho-lee-shit. Susan Blakely, Tony King, Héctor Elizondo, Bob Balaban, Vic Tayback, William Devane and Richard Gere fill out an impressive cast.


The Brink's Job - William Friedkin - This is a shaggy-dog, dreamers/losers, comic take on the story of the 1950 Brink's heist with a cast to die for: Peter Falk, Peter Boyle, Warren Oates, Allan Garfield, Gena Rowlands and Paul Sorvino. The tone is warm and the touch is light and it goes down very easy - like a less-broad Logan Lucky. Between the cast, the steady hand behind the camera and the period setting it's crime comfort food that feels like it should be better remembered.
1980s

Dead End Drive-In - Brian Trenchard-Smith - One I absolutely would recommend for everybody. First, it's a fucking amazing concept - punks and undesirables corralled in a purgatorial drive-in movie theater. They can't leave, but most don't even notice, let alone mind. They're kinda content to watch action movies (BT-S's The Man From Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot are both featured), have sex in their cars and get coupons for the concession stand. It's a great metaphor for malcontents of the Reagan-eighties distracted by MTV and shopping malls, but mostly it's a whole lotta fun.

Golgo 13: The ProfessionalOsamu Dezaki - The first anime feature I've ever enjoyed. It's so stylish it's easy to see where folks from Michael Mann to John Woo and Christopher Nolan found inspiration for their visual storytelling. Based on the popular Manga, it's only one of several film and television adaptations including two 1970s live-action turns from Ken Takakura and Sonny Chiba. I watched a few and 1983's The Professional stands high above all of them.

Slam Dance - Wayne Wang - A man scrambles to escape being framed for the murder of a beautiful young woman whose story is told in flashbacks and things get convoluted and nearly incomprehensible pretty quick. The whole thing would probably feel like a pointless retread of film noir's greatest hits if it weren't for the big capital style Wang brings to the whole affair. One of those movies that I probably would've resisted easily and maybe even disdained in its day, but removed thirty some years it's a terrific, weird little abstraction of noir tropes through the extreme now-ness of 1987. Cast is mostly solid (Virginia Madsen, Harry Dean Stanton, Adam Ant, John Doe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and Tom Hulce is quickly forgiven for being a little all over the place... you'd have to be to carry this film.

TaffinFrancis Megahy - Pierce Brosnan being Irish and rough. It's... a mood I'm in sometimes.

Opera - Dario Argento - Still haven't seen many Argentos, but this one' easily my favorite (a riff on Phantom of the Opera? I've never read it or seen any productions of that one). Really enjoyed the lush production, camera moves, splashy colors and c'mon those pins to keep people from closing their eyes - making them witness terrible shit - that's the stuff nightmares are made of.