Jan 302014
Remember what I said about new noir films in Hollywood? See my post on Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners here.

I stumbled on a post at Hardboiled Wonderland listing the best crime films of the last year. Seems there are more noir or at least noirish crime films out there than I first realized. I hated The Counselor, but Jedidiah Ayres writes interestingly on other films he mentions. (Of course not all the films are Hollywood, but nevertheless.)
Nov 152013
Damn, I wanted to like this film so much! I'm not a fan of Ridley Scott's work, but I know he can do some good stuff, but given that this was scripted by Cormac McCarthy and the genre is trashy hardboiled crime I was more than thrilled when I walked in the movie theater.

Damn, it sucked.

The Counselor has lots of good moments and some nice action scenes, but there are also lots of problems. First, the plot. Mind you, I'm a fan of ellipsis. I can love the way how not everything is explained or is explained a lot later after the incident has already taken place. McCarthy as the sole writer of the film - what, no script doctors here? should've been! - uses the ellipsis clumsily and makes the film seem more awkward than it really is.

Second, the dialogue. McCarthy's dialogue works very well on paper. It works well on big screen, if it's been rewritten by real screenwriters. Take a look at No Country for Old Men or The Road. The Counselor tries to tread the same ground, but gets stuck in long monologues that have no meaning plot-wise or stupid repeating of small phrases like "What?" or "Huh?" Some of the scenes are better in this sense, however, for example the first meeting of Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.

Third, McCarthy writes women like shit. The character of Penélope Cruz is totally meaningless. She's an empty pawn with nothing to do. Cameron Diaz is somewhat better, but she's also over-written to the extent she becomes, like Cruz, a pawn. She has no life of her own, even though that purports to be the film's focus. The men of the film are more convincing.

Fourth, how can someone like McCarthy be so demure? He writes convincingly about killing, slaying, maiming, torturing and exploiting other people, but talking about sex and giving us good sex scenes between two people - or even people talking about sex - seems to be overwhelming for him. Probably he shouldn't try it anymore and stick with killing.

If you want to have some crime fiction about Mexican drug trafficking, try Don Winslow's Savages and The Power of the Dog. Or Sam Hawken's quiet and hypnotic Juaréz Dance.
Jun 122013

Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is the quintessential neo-noir movie for the 2010's. Why? Because it's a perfect dissection of the society of the spectacle and the futile dreams of the said society we live in. There's no psychological motivation to drive the action, because the psychological motives don't move us anymore. There are only some meaningless ulterior motives, like money, which makes your pussy wet.

And all this is crusted with the abrasive music of Skrillex and the hyper-active editing of YouTube-era party videos.
Jan 292013
I  bought this French crime film on an old VHS cassette from a thrift store for 10 or 20 cents. I knew nothing about it, but I thought it might be worth to take a look at. It turned out it was both yes and no: the film is quite stilted, but it's still a French crime film from the seventies! And with this I mean the fact that the French probably make - or at least used to make - the best crime movies after the Americans and Hollywood.

Writer-director Pierre Grasset (who also stars) worked on some of Jean-Pierre Melville's films and it shows. This too goes for the Melville-type fatalism and existentialism, as it's about old career criminals who are retired, but gather together to make the last job and then really retire. Of course it all goes terribly wrong, but they do it anyway, without flinching an eye.

What's wrong about the movie is the reason why the job goes so wrong. They could've avoided it so easily. After the crucial scene it's only implausible. Still, there are some cool moments in which old guys dressed up in long trench coats shoot each other at desolate fields and subway stations. This could've been my stuff.

What also bugs me is that they use almost only one piece on the soundtrack - I got pretty tired of the accordion song, even though it turned out be by Astor Piazzolla. Disconcerting was also the fact the movie, of course originally in French, was dubbed in English - luckily it was pretty well made.

One thing still: the film seems to have quite a many titles. The original French title is above, but there's some confusion as to what the English and Finnish titles are. Both IMDb and the Finnish VHS database claim this was called When the City Awakes, but as you can see from the photo (sorry about the quality!) in the opening titles it's called Hot Day Afternoon (which doesn't really fit). The Finnish title in the VHS cover (see the photo above) is Lehtileike, which means "A Newspaper Clip" (doesn't make much sense), but as you can see, in the titles it's Keikkojen keikka, which means "The Hardest Job" or maybe "The Last Job", if you know what I'm getting at. I don't know where they got the last title, since the film wasn't shown here in theaters. Maybe there's an earlier VHS publication of which no one is aware of.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog.

Dec 042012
Christopher McQuarrie wrote the much-admired The Usual Suspects and much was expected from him after that, but it seems to have taken five years before he got to make another film - for some reason or another, he hasn't made another film with Bryan Singer, who, as we well know, has gone on to make successful films (though they haven't interested me as much as The Usual Suspects). 

McQuarrie wrote and directed The Way of the Gun in 2000 and it seems to have vanished somewhat. There's much to blame in the film itself: the lead characters are not sympathetic (or even interesting) in the least, not even in the you-hate-them-but-can't-turn-your-eyes-away way, and the plot seems forced and pretty difficult to follow at times. The film also begins with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film. 

But at the core The Way of the Gun is actually a pretty good neo-noir film about two almost sociopathic criminals who try to make it big kidnapping a surrogate woman pregnant to a shady millionaire and his cold wife. There's not a good human in the film as everyone is only trying to make things profitable for themselves. In the end, though, some of the characters try to make better, but it proves to be futile. The theme of honour comes to the fore, but in the film there's no sense trying to be honourable. 

The climax with its long shoot-out at a Mexican bordello is reminiscent of Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch. The thematics of the film remind one of Peckinpah, but there's something lacking. Maybe by 2000, one just couldn't handle the thematics of honour and betrayal with confidence. And confidence is something that McQuarrie's direction is lacking, though there are some good moments throughout the film. One thing has to be said in the film's favour: James Caan is simply wonderful as an older heavy. 

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog
 Posted by at 12:30 am
Nov 292012
Now, this is how crime movies should be done!

Based on a 1974 novel by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly moves mainly through dialogue-driven scenes. I mean: it's mainly just talk. But this is no pseudocool post-Tarantino mannerism, as nor Dominik neither Higgins drive to make it funny. Even though it often is, since I found myself laughing out loud several times, especially to lines like this: "We are not the only smart guys here."

The actors are great, the direction is concentrated and focused, there are no empty scenes - save for some highly esteticized shooting scenes, which I felt were somewhat unnecessary. Dominik also forces the message to the viewer's mind with running George W. Bush's and Obama's speeches on the background almost all the time. But I'm not really complaining, as the picture is otherwise so good.

Here's a good review of the film.
Nov 272012
Smokin' Aces is a mildly entertaining post-Tarantino crime film that has lots going for it, but for some reason or another it never really delivers. There are too many characters and plot lines some of which are left undeveloped. Almost all of the characters are way too overblown.

The film has Alicia Keys as a sexy assassin in it, though. I couldn't say anything bad about that aspect.

It also has great ending credits, as evidenced below.

More Overlooked Movies on Todd Mason's blog.
Nov 072012
Earlier today I saw David Ayer's new film End of Watch. It covers the same ground as Ayer's previous films Training Day and Dark Blue, which he only scripted. There are also some of the same directorial stylistics as in those two films, especially Training Day, which, in retrospect, might seem to be more Ayer's than its director's, Antoine Fuqua's film. Neither of the two films are entirely successful (see my short reviews here) and the same goes for End of Watch.

It's almost entirely shot through recordings made by Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Brian Taylor, an obnoxious and adventurous cop who acts a bit macho. He keeps a video cam with him all the time and adjusts two tiny recorders on him and his partner's shirtpockets. There are also some surveillance camera shots and other similar stuff. But the film's fault is that the use of these devices is not fully consistent. The same problem lies within the script as well. There are some unmotivated characters, who are not as well developed as they should be. And the final meaning of the film - what Ayer is trying to say - remains unclear. There are some hints that Ayer means to say the war on drugs is futile, but I should say Oliver Stone (and of course Don Winslow) cover that ground much better in his Savages. There are some scenes that are shared by both Ayer and Stone, but whereas Stone veers towards crazy drug fantasy, Ayer tries to remain on the realistic side. Most of the time, he succeeds and there are some very intense moments throughout the film.

The Finnish title of the film is pretty bland: Poliisit, which means simply "Cops". I paste here a comment made by my friend Sami on Facebook and try to provide a translation: "Heh, tai sitten [nimenä voisi olla] "Kyttäkaksikko tappolistalla"... maahantuojan itse keksimänä mainoslauseena "HUUMEGANGSTERIEN varpaille astuminen käynnisti VERIRALLIN!" Ja ikärajana tietenkin komeasti K-18 ("Vellihousut, pysykää kotona!")" ("Yeah, and the new title could be "The Cop Duo On the Kill List"... with the blurb "Stepping on DRUG LORDS' toes started A BLOODPATH! It should have to be X-rated, with another blurb: "If you're chicken, stay home!" Or some such nonsense.)
 Posted by at 8:21 pm
Oct 102012
When I first saw this film back in the day, I was very surprised to see a clever, critical and well-thought crime film. It has stuck with me for years, but you know what happened when I just saw the film again for the first time in 20 years?

It wasn't that bad, really. Especially given that I found the VHS cassette in a trash bin, and the explosive first scene - the big caper with Nixon masks on the robbers - was left out from the TV-taped film. The film was still entertaining and interesting enough to warrant the revisit, but the film suffered from being too much from the eighties, you know, full of testosterone, but still with somewhat stilted narration. There are holes in Larry Cohen's script and the whole concept of the film seemed a bit implausible, but the character of James Woods is left vague enough to stir up interest. Brian Dennehy is his usual affable good, but I'm not sure if he's convincing as a cop author.

But still, criminally overlooked if you look at the eighties' cop films in general. Best Seller doesn't ask easy questions nor does it give easy answers. It's just that you don't really know what the question is.

Hey, Vince Keenan reviewed the movie here!

More Overlooked Films here.
 Posted by at 1:35 pm
Jun 252012

A Very Scary Gentleman

I’m certain I’ve seen many more movies than the average human. Comedies, thrillers, romances, dramas, mysteries and everything in-between.

I’ve gone to film schools in Hollywood, spent entire afternoons at triple features and belong to the Directors Guild of America. As a DGA member, I can attend any movie for free when I‘m in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago , Orlando or Miami. I either love or hate, or merely like or dislike, every movie I’ve ever seen. In a bad or boring movie, I can sometimes at least appreciate the cinematography, the music or a particular scene that works.

In other words, I absolutely love movies. All movies.

I have very definite opinions. And I always sit through the entire closing credits, to see if anyone I know has worked on it.

In addition, I believe one of the most violent movies of all time (A Clockwork Orange) is a masterpiece, full of the old ultra-violence and worth seeing multiple times if only for its endless dark humor and great dialogue. I also think Quentin Tarantino’s work (True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, etc.) is about the best there is, rivaled only by the equally brilliant Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, No Country For Old Men and their first & still best, the off-the-wall work of noir genius, Blood Simple). Add to those, at the top of the list, Carl Franklin’s and Billy Bob Thornton’s intensely shocking One False Move, virtually unknown even though it was on every critic’s Top Ten List in 1992, and you get the idea.

Movie violence does not offend me.

And yet, there actually is one movie I wish I hadn’t seen: Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Completed in 1986 on a super-low budget of $110,000, it wasn’t released widely (Rotten Tomatoes is wrong) until 1990. It was originally (deservedly) rated-X, but then was distributed without a rating.

Anyway, I know, I know:  it’s a brilliant movie, with cult status, as terrifying and as paranoid-inducing as any film that’s ever existed. Michael Rooker is undeniably excellent as the coldest of cold-blooded psycho’s, casually raping, torturing and murdering again and again, simply out of boredom, and videotaping all of it. As a virtually unknown actor at the time, Rooker was that much more terrifying as the serial killer from Hell.

Great. Yet I did not need those particular scenes, or certain images from the film, in my head, any more than I needed to witness a gruesome multiple car wreck.

In any case, in 1990 I was again living back in Flint, Michigan, even then considered one of the most violent (today it’s the most violent) cities in the country. I thought little of it, moving back, until we watched Michael Rooker as Henry and Tom Towles as his slack-jawed sidekick, Otis, late one night, killing their way through one innocent family after another.

To say I was unnerved by it would be serious understatement. Unhinged would be more like it. The film undoubtedly achieved the effect it desired, to scare the absolute hell out of anyone not Bruce Lee. I will give it that. And I sort of laughed it all off. It was just one more movie, after all.

But the next morning, I bought a Glock 17 and a 12-gauge Mossberg pistol-grip pump shotgun, which also had to be registered as a handgun. A very dangerous couple of weapons. Just in case. And I think I started carrying a switchblade knife, too.

Or maybe not.

But my advice, which you can take or not: if you’re ever looking for a date-night movie rental, maybe an older classic that you haven’t yet seen, I’d definitely pass on this one.

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