Tag Archives: Crime

PRISONERS (2013)

“If goodness is order, evil must be disorder, the straight path or the maze…” – Eugene Ionesco

In 2013, when the oh so talented French-Canadian film director, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, etc) paired with the triple BAFTA and long awaited Oscar winning cinematographer, Roger Deakins (EVERYTHING) for Prisoners, a cinematic masterpiece was born. I can only imagine how Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband, Papillon) must’ve felt knowing his script had fallen into the hands of greatness. And can we talk about that hypnotic score by none other than the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario, Mandy) that’s been playing on a loop as I write this??

I, for one, am a BIG fan of movie violence and Prisoners doesn’t shy away from delivering a heavy dose of it. However, with its consistent tone, it is only violent when it needs to be and delivers it with realism. The outbursts of rage burgeon from Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) as he finds himself lost within his own mental labyrinth between morality and retribution. A man who will stop at nothing to find answers about his missing daughter, even if it means ruthlessly torturing Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a suspect released due to the fact that he has the IQ of a 10 year old boy and yet seemingly still knows pertinent information about the case.

They didn’t cry until I left them” – Alex Jones

Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) personifies what’s at stake for Keller in relation to his deeper conscience. As Franklin remains true to his wife and stands by his family, we see Keller start to lose grip with reality, drifting further away from his family through drinking and becoming more focused on his new….um….extracurricular activity.

No light gets in, barely enough
room to sit down inside.
The shower still works, but we
control it from out here. I
rigged the water heater, so it
either comes out scalding or
freezing.
– Keller Dover

And then let’s talk about Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). One of Gyllenhaal’s best performances, in my opinion...but what’s with that blue shirt buttoned all the way up throughout the whole movie??

His daunting angst is made visually apparent by a nervous tick and cold exterior especially when given the case of the two missing girls. His steadfast level of professionalism is tested when dealing with the grief-stricken, emotionally deranged Keller. Loki seems to internalize everything, which makes his few emotional outbursts all the more unsettling. His obsession with this particular case makes him briefly question his own sanity but he eventually succeeds at piecing together this tumultuous puzzle.

In closing, I give this film a ten out of ten and if you haven’t seen it yet then I highly recommend you set aside two and half hours of your life to do so. I absolutely adore these types of hard boiled movies and greatly appreciate this type of material. Why not create more films at this caliber instead of the onslaught of sequels, trilogies, and remakes upon remakes?? If I see another Disney cartoon made into a live action movie my nightly bloodlust will overflow into my days. I’ll feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip….

From the incredible cinematography, to the masterful direction and captivating performances, Prisoners will forever be one of my top film picks.

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Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Like Bruce Willis’s cranky hitman Goodkat assures us in the sleepy opening to Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin, this is a story that pulls the rug out from under you big time, going left when you look right and anchoring the very glib, cavalier crime shenanigans in something solid and emotional in the eleventh hour. It’s a wild, wacky film that borrows from others and often gets sidetracked by itself, but it’s also one of the most stylish, ambitious and beautifully made crime dramas of the last few decades, and has become an all time favourite for me.

Josh Hartnett plays the mysterious Slevin, a hapless dude who is constantly mistaken for an even more hapless dude named Nick Fisher. Fisher is in a lot of trouble, owing large gambling debts to feuding NYC mobsters The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), debts which now forfeit to Slevin simply because he’s consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s the overzealous, shady NYPD cop (Stanley Tucci in mean mode) shadowing him, plus the bubbly girl next door (Lucy Liu) who tags along in his adventures in mistaken identity. It’s all very overelaborate, convoluted and long winded, but it’s part of what makes the thing so magical. Characters often use ten words where two will do, employ quirky anecdotes, monologue and show their pithy eccentricities, it’s an oddball script by Jason Smilovic that makes for one labyrinthine ride through New York City’s peculiar underworld dating back to the 70’s. The actors are having an absolute blast here and we get further work from Mykelti Williamson, Cory Stoll, Danny Aiello, Peter Outerbridge and more. A standout is the great Robert Forster in a cameo as a cop who delivers more exposition in one single scene than I’ve seen in some entire films, he’s a great enough actor that he fills a seemingly inconsequential role with wit and personality.

McGuigan is a stylist who throws colour and pattern into the mix even when the scene doesn’t call for it, to great effect. Why shoot in a drab warehouse or monochromatic apartment when you can douse your set in kaleidoscope design just for the sheer hell of it? It works, the offbeat production design serving to illustrate and accent a very strange, often hilarious yet ultimately human story. Much of the film is near cartoon level neo noir that doesn’t dig two deep, but there are three scenes, and I can’t be specific here without spoiling, that anchor it straight into the ground, provide an emotional core and make something heartfelt cut through the tomfoolery. Many people wrote this off as just silliness, but that’s lazy criticism 101. This is a fantastic film, full of many things to love. It’s probably Hartnett’s best work in a very eclectic career and his romantic chemistry with Liu (also superb) is patiently developed and adorable to see. Freeman and Kingsley eat up the dialogue like wisened old alligators and have a blast playing their arch villains. Willis is darkly charismatic and empathetic when he needs to be, stealing every scene. A classic for me.

-Nate Hill

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang is one of the most interesting indie flicks to have come along in recent years, and while I can’t quite call it a great film, it has to be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever seen. There are so many concepts, characters, creations, ideas and pontifications running about here that it almost becomes a swirling soup made up of parts of itself as opposed to a cohesive meal, but I’ll never turn down original ideas and unique creative expression, no matter how fucking bonkers it’s all presented.

This is one of those films with a cast that is the very definition of eclectic. A handful of actors are gathered up here who would normally not be seen in the same thing together, let alone casted as against type as they are, and I’m always an advocate for casting against type. It’s basically a noirish California detective story infused with themes of physics and pseudoscience, like Phillip Marlowe by way of Nikola Tesla. Antonio Banderas does an impressive encore here as Ned Cruz, a low rent private eye who is hired by one monster of a Russian prizefighter (Robert Maillet) to find a pen pal girlfriend named Lexie Parsimmons, who he has never even met. As with all detective stories like this, that one seemingly simple task leads Ned on a riotous goose chase all over LA and the outskirts, encountering every oddball, weirdo and pervert the sunny state has to offer. His search is also intercut with scenes in the future where’s he’s somehow been arrested by three spectacularly corrupt LAPD big shots and is being interrogated to the nines.

I greatly admire Krantz for giving his film life, vitality, filling in every corner with substance and conversation and providing every character, right down to those who only get one scene or so, with their own personality, quirk or viewpoint. The three cops are played by William Fichtner, Delroy Lindo and Thomas Kretschmann and if you’re a fan of either you’ll know what scene stealers they are, they constantly try to one up each other with pithy barbs and are all fantastic to watch in action. Most memorable has to be Sam Elliott as Simon Kestral, an eccentric billionaire who is funnelling big bucks into literally recreating the infamous Big Bang using scientific equipment, it’s a hilariously counterintuitive casting choice for such an earthy cowboy but it just somehow works. Look at the rest of the lineup too, which is populated by people like James Van Der Beek, Jimmi Simpson, Bill Duke, Sienna Guillory, Rebecca Mader, Autumn Reeser and Snoop Dogg as a porn director who greatly enjoys acting in his own films, because of course Snoop would.

The plot here is impossibly convoluted and packed to the gills with nonsense, runaway trains of thought, synergetic visual poetry, scenery chewing from almost every actor and all manner of sideshow trickery, but as they say, the fun is in the journey, and what a journey Krantz provides for his characters. I can’t call this a great film but I can say that I love it a lot, I think it’s one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever seen attempted, it looks so fucking sexy onscreen (just look at the poster) and you don’t find films this unique every day. With the upcoming release of David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake, which I’ve still yet to see, I’ve been fixated on LA noir films (this one is that and then some) and I’ve been going back in time to revisit some of my favourites. What are yours?

-Nate Hill

Robert Benton’s Twilight

The title Twilight obviously brings up bad memories of a franchise we’d all like to forget, but before that abomination ever entered the fold, the moniker belonged to a laconic, brightly lit yet darkly intoned LA film noir starring Paul Newman as an aging Hollywood private investigator. He’s a guy who was was never famous himself but seemingly behind the scenes of stardom and scandal and making a career out of it until his golden years find him living on the lavish estate of a fading starlet (Susan Sarandon) and her husband (Gene Hackman), also an actor of former stature. He’s always been in love with her but is also Hackman’s good buddy and it makes for a love triangle that is never too tense or melodramatic, but just as uncomfortable as it needs to be. He sort of serves as their homefront security officer and sorta just spies on Sarandon languishing by the pool and you can tell that the three of them are just mournful ghosts of what they probably were decades ago, haunting their surroundings like echoes rather than living in them.

Things get heavy for them once again when Newman takes on a shady job that involves delivering blackmail money, a situation that quickly snowballs into deceit, old wounds torn open and, of course, murder most foul. Something nasty is going on that dates years back into the collective past of these three individuals and has come back to bite them all squarely on the ass, and although it might not be the most innovative mystery narrative and certainly aspects are predictable, it’s just so much fun watching these master actors play it out in sunny Hollywood enclaves. Speaking of old pros, James Garner has a nice supporting role as an ex cop pal of Newman’s who helps him out with intel and backup. Watch for early career work from Liev Schreiber, who now stars on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, another LA noir story that I’m almost positive drew inspiration from this film. A very young and very naked Reese Witherspoon also shows up briefly, as well as Stockard Channing, Margo Martindale, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Clarke, John Spencer, Clint Howard and M. Emmett Walsh. Newman is terrific here in one of his older dude roles, his blue eyes lend just a hint of optimism to the downbeat noir archetype. Hackman and Sarandon say a lot with little dialogue and plenty of body language, embodying damaged souls with grace and grizzle.

I recently heard a character in Amazon’s Goliath (yet another LA noir- can you tell I’ve cultivated a fixation on the sub genre?) say that murders in LA and Hollywood are especially tricky to solve because anybody could know anybody or be connected to anything. That gives ample freedom to intertwine characters and set up strange encounters or resolutions to plot, which is always fun and evident here too. It’s a slow, sunny burn of a crime flick that isn’t designed to be particularly flashy or lurid, but unfolds at its own pace alongside Newman & Co. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed

It’s kind of rare for rambunctious actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich to sit still for something as dramatic and dialogue heavy as Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed, but it’s nice to see. This is a thriller of sorts, but it’s more low key than that and ends up being a chamber piece about two characters getting to know each other that just happens to take place against a criminal backdrop. Jackson plays a police detective on a routine investigation who turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets drawn into a weird bunch of felons all hiding out and planning a bank job. Stellan Skarsgard is Tyrone, their volatile, violent leader, Jovovich is his quiet but intuitive and underestimated girlfriend, left alone to watch Jackson, now their hostage. This leaves acres of script space for Milla and Samuel to play, manipulate each other, bicker, banter, become close and twist the situation to both their ends while gradually catching feels for each other. It’s interesting that Rafelson casts these two because they’re usually to be found in action heavy stuff, shooting guns, swinging swords and tasked with stylized dialogue. Here they are laid back, oddly but nicely paired and the most quiet I’ve ever seen them, and it… kind of works. Skarsgard is mean and nasty, which he’s always been great at, journeyman oddball Doug Hutchison plays another lowlife in their gang, while Joss Ackland and Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie play the senior faction of the crew, a strange husband wife duo who can still wield a shotgun when the situation calls for it. This is based on a Dashiell Hammett story which probably means it was sitting in someone’s desk drawer for decades before being found and reworked for this century. Rafelson gives it the pacing of something by Elmore Leonard and eccentricities to spare. It’s not a super memorable thing or a great film by any standards but works well enough as a sleepy, romantic crime thriller. Oh yeah, this is the legendary Rafelson’s final feature film before apparent retirement, so it’s worth checking out for that reason too.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

You ever been to one of those house parties that turns out so well, is so full of awesome, entertaining people and so much fun that you kind of wish it wouldn’t end? Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is like that, for nearly three hours you wish would extend into three more. It’s one of those urban mosaic stories that chucks slices of life into a pan, fries them up and hurls the resulting delicious recipe right at your face. I’ve read a lot about how this revolutionized narrative structure in Hollywood or changed the way characters are written and that may be the case for the crime genre, but the mosaic motif was present in many areas before QT, namely in the films of Robert Altman, a filmmaker I’ve never seen compared to our Quentin before but the parallels are there. In any case everyone knows, loves and agrees that Pulp Fiction is a fucking badass flick, an enduring barnstormer of outlaw cinema that is every bit as potent, catchy and kinetic as it was when it blew the pants and panties off of Cannes in ‘94.

Tarantino gave us an appetizer with Reservoir Dogs, and with Pulp he produced a ten course meal that’s more polished, structured and assured than we had seen before. His mosaic concerns the lives of several LA individuals all directly or indirectly related to the criminal underworld. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are two hitmen who dressed like Men In Black before Men In Black was a thing, out to retrieve the ever mysterious briefcase for their omnipotent gangster overlord (Ving Rhames), whose sultry wife (Uma Thurman) Travolta is to entertain while the big man is out of town. Elsewhere a disloyal prizefighter (Bruce Willis) and his bubbly girlfriend (Maria De Medeiros) hide out from Rhames’s wrath too until Willis goes from the frying pan into one terrifying fire. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are two liquor store bandits who branch off into the diner scene and royally fuck up everyone’s day in the process. Christopher Walken gives arguably his greatest and definitely his most bizarre monologue in a scene out of place and time from the rest of the film but somehow right where it needs to be in the narrative. Harvey Keitel suaves it up as LA’s resident 007. Others make vivid impressions in the mosaic including Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Paul Calderon, Frank Whaley, Angela Jones, Duane Whitaker, Stephen Hibbert, Tarantino himself, Julia Sweeney and perennial bad guy Peter Greene.

By now the story is secondary to those iconic moments we all know and love. Zed’s dead. Samuel’s terrifying bible session. A wristwatch up Walken’s ass. Pride only hurts, it never helps. That needle to the heart. The dance competition. The Gimp. The exploding head. These are all now hallmarks of one of the greatest stories ever put to film. What makes it so great? Tarantino has the time for his characters, and wants to converse with them. The dialogue isn’t just about plot or characters intimidating each other. It’s about life, music, personal taste, culture and cheeseburgers. These are people who remind us of many others we know, and the relatability is what has turned this into a platinum classic. That and other factors, including a killer soundtrack, brilliant performances round the board and editing that brings LA out of the gloss, down to earth and just as dirty. It may not be my ultimate fave Tarantino film, but it is definitely his flagship outing so far, in its epic scope. We’ll see if this year’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood perhaps dethrones it as his magnum opus, who knows. Either way it’s a masterpiece and will remain so for all time.

-Nate Hill

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes

It takes less than 88 Minutes into Jon Avnet’s aptly titled Al Pacino thriller vehicle to realize you’ve kind of waded into a mess, but the viciously bad reputation this one has is kind of overblown, at least for me. Yes it’s a big implausible house of mirrors but instead of mirrors there’s cliches and WTF plot turns, there’s absolutely way too many characters running about and the pace is all across the board, but I enjoyed it anyways, in a fun TV movie kind of way.

Pacino and his pacemaker play Jack Gramm, an FBI profiling guru who is forced to marathon run around Seattle (naturally Vancouver, cue eye roll) overturning stones, under which there may be murder suspects. There’s a nasty serial killer (the always awesome Neal McDonough) who is sitting on death row, days away from execution. He proclaims himself innocent and whaddya know, an hour or so after that some incredibly convenient copycat murders start happening, giving him the seeds of reprieve. It’s up to ol’ Al, his tough guy Bureau boss (William Forsythe, again always an awesome familiar face to see) and others to smoke out this co-conspiracy… or something like that.

Pacino is still trying to do the ladies man shtick here with a shock of grey hair and a leather coat hide, but if you ask me it never really worked for him anyways, at least not in the traditional sense. Take Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate for example, where he naturally plays The Devil. There’s a scary, untrustworthy glint in this actor’s eye that makes him most at home in arch villain and sort of renegade roles, but when he tries to play the straight arrow type thing, it feels off. He’s serviceable here though, doing a lot of running, shouting and gun waving and mugging for the camera like a curb-side mine. McDonough does most of his mugging from behind a newsroom camera as some network does a special on his last few days and he barks thinly veiled threats to the masses. Forsythe does his stalwart G-Man thing and the rest of the roster is actually pretty impressive and includes Benjamin Mackenzie, Amy Brenneman, Stephen Moyer, Alicia Witt, the great Deborah Kara Unger and eternally babyfaced Leelee Sobieski as one of Pacino’s students who, inexplicably, has the hots for him.

Speaking of all things inexplicable, the plot traffics in them like currency and by the end we wonder just how long the writers can manipulate these chess piece suspects around the board before we begin to call bullshit on this bonkers narrative. All silliness aside though I had fun with this one, it’s like Agatha Christie by way of Criminal Minds with so much extra gobbledygook thrown at the wall that I couldn’t help have fun despite not following the plot at any given minute. Give it a go on beer night.

-Nate Hill