Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Forward Thinking

With 2021 half in the bag, I've got my eye on a handful of crime flicks on the horizon... wouldn't be surprised to see any of these on my best of the year list

The Card Counter - Paul Schrader - Schrader's a name I'm always interested in and he's been hot lately. I'd love to see him knock this one out of the park. Cast includes Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe & Tiffany Haddish. Sounds good.

Flag Day
- Sean Penn - Don't know nothing about this one either, except that it sounds like a crime film and that's what I'm excited for Penn to get back to as a director. Dude started off with three terrific crime pics before jumping ship and losing me, but hey you make The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, I will absolutely check out your next criminally-tinged drama.

How to Deter a Robber - Maria Bissel - I don't remember how this one got onto my radar, but... it's there and I'm studiously avoiding reading anything about it. Maybe it'll be cool.

The Many Saints of Newark - Alan Taylor - Prequel to David Chase's seminal television show The Sopranos starring the late James Gandolfini's son Michael Gandolfini as Tony about to break bad. Jon Bernthal and Vera Farmiga as ma and pa Soprano, Alessandro Nivola and Ray Liotta as little Christopher Moltisanti's family tree. This could absolutely be a fuckup. It could also be super special.

Nightmare Alley - Guillermo del Toro - A remake of the 1947 Edmund Goulding classic based on William Lindsay Gresham's carny noir about a flim-flam man's rise and spectacular fall that answers the question, how does a geek end up like that? Script by del Toro and Kim Morgan... haven't seen a trailer or an actual release date, so maybe it's wishful thinking that it'll be out this year, but... I'm excited.

No Sudden Move - Steven Soderbergh - Lookit that cast! Lookit the trailer! Lookit that, it's Christmas in July. This beast is available today on HBO Max. I'll probably have finished it by the time you read this, but I'm super excited for the rest of you!

Pig - Michael Sarnoski - My man Nicolas Cage has (at least) two very exciting efforts coming this year. In this one little Nicky misses his truffle pig and leaves his forest home to find his babe pig in city... will his search end in an orgy of violence? Will it be tragic? Will it be kickass? I don't fucking know, but Cage is such a mega star the trailer alone has enough of a gravitational pull to suck the light out of the periphery of my vision and I am unable to look away. No idea what to expect, but I will not be surprised if he goes supernova at some point. 

Prisoners of the Ghostland
- Sion Sono - Cage front and center of a Sono film sounds awesome. They both have otherworldly energies and it should be memorable. Should. Be. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mr. Inbetween

For the first time since... the third season of Fargo, I'm watching an episodic television show week to week with the rest of the world. Big thanks to Dennis Tafoya for telling me about Mr. Inbetween, the Australian crime drama now in its third season on F/X (all seasons available on Hulu). The name he gave me to pique my interest was director Nash Edgerton's (The Square), but it's writer/star Scott Ryan's creation, (developed from, improved and expanded upon his sole feature film as a writer/director/star, 2005's The Magician). 

Ryan plays Ray, a professional criminal whose jobs often come through Damon Herriman's Freddy who manages the strip club Ray provides security for - a sturdy frame to comfortably hold a myriad of criminal activities, and Ray does it all; armed robbery, debt collection, murder for hire, even the odd private detective gig (missing person, protection). 

But it's only half hardcore crime action, it's also an affecting family drama as Ray, a divorced man in his forties co-parents his daughter, takes care of a disabled brother and pursues a serious romantic relationship. Ray's even in therapy for anger-management which he reluctantly participates in (court-ordered to avoid jail time for assault). 

I know, I know it sounds like the recipe for a dozen other crime dramas, but Ryan and Edgerton have locked down their take on the material in a handful of important ways that make it a pretty special character study.

So, let's...

Accentuate the positive -

The criminality is so gratifying. This is pretty much exactly the type of crime I'm most interested in - professional, but not organized (not family-related, cartel-inclusive, mafioso-style stuff anyway). It's workaday and street-level and there's a variety of shit to dig. 

The violence is gnarly. It's also dispassionate. A lot of what makes the character memorable and the show really pop is the way  that violence is handled - mostly as part of a job and impersonal. This works sometimes for laughs and other times for real chills, but never in a stylish and slow motion-y cool way. 

Also always happy to see Matt Nable show up in this kinda thing. Get that guy more work like this. Hell, put him out front of his own hardboiled crime vehicle.

Eliminate the negative - 

I appreciate the way the show sidesteps the obstacles that most shows with similar ingredients get tangled up in. 

The family stuff is key and affecting, but not too syrupy or overwrought. Yeah, there's a lot of familiar territory covered, but whether breezy or harsh the show does not hang around and get bogged down. You get a chuckle, a wince or a gut punch and then you're on to the next thing mighty quick. 

Same with the therapy. It was a pretty great way in to Tony's character, but as much as I appreciate Lorraine Bracco, Dr. Melfi outlived her usefulness to The Sopranos 's pretty early. Blue-TongueFilms partner David Michôd appears as the therapist saddled with Ray and he plays it straight and low-key, mostly used as the straight man for bleak reveals about Ray's character - anyway, he's there and it's like, 'cool, it's David Michôd!' and then he's gone and we're not trapped in therapy with them.

Similarly Ray's love interest (Brooke Satchwell's) Ally is allowed to go from strong instinctual attraction and infatuation into serious life choices territory with a speed and lightness of touch rarely afforded the characters who love our crime fiction anit-heroes. 

Each of these elements give me pause, but they give me pleasure in greater measure.

Latch on the affirmative - 

The show is able to quickly cover so much ground because it's not designed to last. We're approaching the halfway mark on the third and final season in real time and it is my not unreasonable hope that we're left with potent finale to grace this impressionistic gem of a crime show. 

Don't mess with Mr. Inbetween.