Tag Archives: Crime

Bad Country

Bad Country is a fairly low budget, bayou set noir/crime flick, and while it doesn’t have the resources to pull of something intricate and mythic like The Departed or something, it succeeds with what it has in being a brutal, downbeat crime thriller with a heavy blanket of gloom over it and some brooding tough guys engaged in gang warfare in deepest Louisiana. It’s sort of like the type of extreme crime films you’d see in the 70’s, where every character has an anger and a violence to them and there’s no good guys or sweet resolution. Willem Dafoe is aces as gruff police detective Bud Carter, a rule breaking loose cannon who arrests mob contract killer Jesse Weiland (a scary Matt Dillon) in hopes of using him as leverage to take down Lutín (Tom Berenger, looking like an evil, Nazi Colonel Sanders), Louisiana’s fearsome underworld kingpin. This involves betrayals, shoot outs, lots and lots of swearing, sweaty bayou sex, tattoos, tragedy, depravity and many other hard boiled tropes, all done really well. I especially enjoyed Dillon’s character and his arc; he’s a man who has spent most of his life being a heinous villain, and is trying to turn it around in the eleventh hour by protecting his wife (Amy Smart, soulful and excellent) and infant child from Berenger and his hordes. But is it enough, after a lifetime of atrocities? The deep set sadness and hulking brutality is conveyed wonderfully by Dillon and it’s some of the best work he’s ever done. Berenger is monstrous and just a tad campy as the big boss, playing with his swamp drawl accent hilariously and having fun being cheerfully mean. The great Neal McDonough shows up as his crooked mob lawyer too. This one pulls no punches and gets about as dark and violent as you can, not to mention having one of those gutsy endings where nothing ends up fine and these characters are worse off than they started, a powerful choice especially in the haunting choice of resolution for Dillon’s character. Oh, and it’s fun seeing Dafoe and Berenger have a bloody, man to man smack-down brawl as well because it calls back fond memories of Platoon, and the two acting titans butting heads back then too.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: Breaking Point

There’s some debate on whether rappers are decent actors. Some think they have no place in a business that requires training and practice. Other are more accepting. I’m somewhere in the middle, but Breaking Point (aka Order Of Redemption) makes a pretty good case for them, particularly Busta Rhymes and Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones, who star in this urban crime/courtroom drama alongside genre veterans Tom Berenger and Armand Assante. This is a very solid flick by direct to DVD standards, one that actually says something about the state of the streets, poverty, evil, corruption and second chances. Berenger plays a once mighty defense attorney who has fallen a long way following family tragedy and drug addiction. He’s brought back onto the scene when an ex athlete turned gang member (Fingaz) is embroiled in a complex murder case involving an infant and the vicious, psychopathic crime boss played by Busta Rhymes. Igniting matters further is a hothead rival attorney (Armand Assante in full sleaze mode) who has it in for Berenger. He and Fingaz make a strong alliance and both try to find some light at the end of a very dark tunnel by saving the baby from Rhymes, smoking out corruption in both the police force and the DA’s office with the help of a friend on the inside (the always lovely and vastly underrated Musetta Vander) and get their lives back on track in the process. Berenger is brilliant as the fallen avenger trying to burn bright again, while Rhymes does a chilling variation on the cold hearted killer archetype with his own angry twist. This may be low budget and not very prolific, but they say that all you need for a good film is a good script, and this has an excellent one that’s brought to life vividly by everyone involved for a bristling, provocative, emotional crime drama.

-Nate Hill

Russell Mulcahy’s Ricochet

Russell Mulcahy’s Ricochet is a fucking balls out, crazy ass flick. I thought I’d get s routinely hard boiled Denzel cop flick a lá Out Of Time or The Mighty Quinn, but this thing is more aligned to the nasty grindhouse flicks from the 70’s, starting with its terrifying villain played by John Lithgow. Lithgow has always had a flair for playing heinous creeps in everything from Cliffhanger to Raising Cain to Showtime’s Dexter. His character here though would intimidate all of those dudes put together he’s such a monster. Cornered by rookie cop Nick Styles (Washington) at an amusement park, hitman Blake (Lithgow) is captured and put away for life. Styles goes on to become Assistant D.A. Years later Blake hatches an ultra violent plan to bust out of prison that includes killing Jesse Ventura, maiming guards with various power tools, inciting a riot, hijacking an ambulance and shooting the old dude that brings the book trolley around to the inmates. If that sounds bad, you wouldn’t believe the lengths of evil stored in his plan for revenge against Denzel, he’s just a sadist and then some, Lithgow really has fun with the role and it’s the twisted core that powers the film through its dark beats. This thing reaches Abel Ferrara levels of grit and urban mayhem, and maybe even exceeds them. Styles finds himself at a loss when he’s framed for murder by the guy, and turns to his old pal Odessa for help, a gnarly street thug played by Ice T, customary verbal attitude fully intact. One could say that Mulcahy has made a pretty great career out of making lurid, bear exploitation style films. This is definitely the benchmark of how down n’ dirty he’s gotten with a project though, it’s deliciously wicked, cheerfully in bad taste and mean to the bone, and I loved it for that.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Baja

Baja is one of those dusty, hazy B movies that seems to serve no other purpose other than to fill the 90 minute cable slot between 2am and 3:30 on TBS Superstation (yes I still remember that). But these flicks have their niche in the cinematic zeitgeist, and there’s a spot in my insanely busy schedule for each and every one, when time allows. This one is a lonely little piece of hard boiled desert pulp starring Molly Ringwald and Lance Henriksen, concerning drug deals gone wrong, betrayal, a hitman, a crime boss (Corbin Bernsen, whatever happened to him?) who chases his meds with hard-bar, lots of sand and washed out sun-bleach colour, some Cessna action and a hazy vibe that’s best attained by skulling a few brews before you settle in. Ringwald and Donal Logue play a couple trying to broker a deal out there near the Salton Sea, a deal that goes horribly wrong and ends up with eccentric contract killer Burns (Henriksen) being dispatched to find and kill them, or something vague like that. He spends less time actually being proactive though and instead wanders around, gets drunk, bitches about his wife, searches for hookers and basically does everything but the job he was hired to do. It’s hilarious watching Lance chew scenery and have a sand blast with his performance, seemingly a dude that wandered in dazed and heavily confused from a Coen Brothers flick. It all just kind of meanders past without a lot of fanfare until the final few frames when Henriksen hires a drunken bush pilot (Jack Conley) and flies off in his rickety plane out of the film, leaving us in the dust trying to decipher what is a fairly convoluted, strange little story. It’s fun for what it is though, has gorgeous scenery of rural California and Lance’s central performance is fun. Good luck ever finding it though, I snagged a battered old VHS tape in some forgotten store on Vancouver Island years ago.

-Nate Hill

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York might simultaneously be Christopher Walken’s scariest, most intense and also withdrawn and detached performance, so idiosyncratically does he a draw his portrait of Frank White, a dangerous career criminal fresh out of the pen with high ambitions on ruling the NYC urban jungle, take no prisoners. It’s one of the moodiest, most dour crime films set in the big apple, but it finds a dark heart of bloody poetry, frighteningly funny menace and an ultimate resolution that has you undecided on whether crime really does pay. Walken’s Frank is a strange man, surprisingly introverted for a guy who commands an army and takes on rival gangsters for the control of city blocks, but it’s in the quiet, dangerous charm that he finds his effectiveness, and as crazy as he still is here, it’s a fascinating far cry from some of his more manic, well over the top turns. There’s three would-be hero cops out to get him by any means they can, cocky hotshot David Caruso (before his talents fell from grace with god awful CSI Miami), Ferrara veteran Victor Argo and a coked up Wesley Snipes. They go so far over the line trying to nail him that the only thing separating them from the crime element is a badge, which seems to amuse Frank as he eludes them at every turn. Walken’s merry band of assholes is an armada of gangbangers and drug chemists which include the likes of Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Roger Smith and a fearsome Laurence Fishburne as his first mate, young and rambunctious before his acting style gelled into something decidedly more cucumber cool (hello Morpheus). The violence and threat thereof is palpable, as Ferrara whips up a frenzy of boiling conflict that makes the epicentre of Hell’s Kitchen feel like the eye of a very angry hurricane, while still keeping the mood to a laid back thrum, it’s stylistic and tonal bliss the whole way through. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli shoots the city with an oblong, lived in, hazed out and very un-cinematic feel, throwing us right into the dirty digs with this troupe of miscreants and crooked cops, while composer Joe Delia makes gloomy, haunted work out of the score, especially in Frank’s darkly poetic final scene. As for Walken, the man is a dynamo and this may be his best work to date. He makes Frank a harrowing demon with humanity that catches you off guard when it breaches the surface of his opaque, unreadable persona, a suave, psychotic spectre of the NYC streets who won’t go out unless it’s with a bang, and won’t ever back down on his way there.

A crime classic.

-Nate Hill

Gary Fleder’s Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead

The 90’s was a heyday of hard boiled, ultraviolent film noir, a ripple effect that can undeniably be traced back to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, however it’s silly to say that they all are derived from that film, because plenty of them have their own distinct groove and flavour. One such flick is Gary Fleder’s Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, a mouthful of a title that serves as harbinger to one of the most idiosyncratic, verbally flamboyant scripts Hollywood ever produced, penned by Scott Rosenberg. They scored the cast to back it up too, for a beautifully melodramatic neo-noir pulp opus that should be as legendary as any of the household name films to come out of that era. Andy Garcia is the definition of slick as Jimmy The Saint, an ex mobster on the straight and narrow who’s pulled back into the game by The Man With The Plan (Christopher Walken) his former employer and the most dangerous crime boss in all the land. Hired to scare the piss-ant boyfriend who stole Walken’s son’s girl, Jimmy rounds up a crew that shouldn’t be trusted to watch a junkyard. Pieces (Christopher Lloyd, brilliant) is a diseased old porn shop owner, Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), tough guy with a heart of gold Big Bear Franchise (William Forsythe) and Critical Bill (Treat Williams) the psychopathic wild card who uses his day job at a mortuary as an anger outlet by pummelling the corpses like punching bags. Of course they royally fuck up the job, and Walken places scary, symbolic ‘hits’ on each of them. The clock ticks as they all try to either leave town or face the music, but Jimmy is the one with something to lose as he’s fallen in love with elegant, posh rich girl Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar). The script could have easily gone for just colourful carnage and glib posturing, but there’s real, palpable gravitas to the character relations, especially between Jimmy and Walken, who’s history is hinted at and brought to complex life by the two pros. This is Walken at his weirdest and wildest, confined to a spooky wheelchair and locked up in a guarded, dimly lit estate like Count Dracula. There’s a touching subplot involving wayward hooker Lucinda (Fairuza Balk, always terrific) that brings out the dormant humanity in hardened Jimmy. The cast here really is a marvel, and includes Don Cheadle and Glenn Plummer as a couple of loudmouth criminals, Jack Warden, Jenny McCarthy, Tiny Lister, Marshall Bell, Bill Cobbs, Michael Nicolosi, and Steve Buscemi as a freaky hitman named Mr. Shhhh, because he shoots first and doesn’t ask any questions at all. The dialogue is unique and flows from the actors like urban Shakespeare, it’s one of the coolest scripts ever written, and serves not just to be slick for the sake of it, but use jive and jargon to bring forth character naturally, and effortlessly provide buoyancy to the story. One of the great hidden gems out there. Boat Drinks.

Michael Mann’s Collateral

I love Michael Mann’s Collateral so much. Few other films evoke the detached, hypnotic atmosphere of a metropolitan city, the thrum of a single night passing by, the hard bitten nature of a city whose main brand of social interaction is usually crime. Mann has a way with restless urban nocturnes and the weary, resolute characters who drift through them, personified here by Jamie Foxx’s shy, plucky cab driver Max and Tom Cruise’s lupine, charismatic hitman Vincent. They’re on odd pair to spend a murky, digitally shot Los Angeles night with, but the two actors make it a clash, confrontation and ironic companionship for the ages. Max is veering close to being a career cabbie, his dreams of entrepreneur enterprising fading fast in the rear view. He’s meek and soft spoken but we get the sense that somewhere in there is the capacity for violence and unpredictability, if prompted by the right catalyst. Speak of the devil with Vincent, a whip smart apex predator who hijacks Max into helping him make several high profile stops before a 6am flight out of LAX, each one leaving a cadaver in its wake, all related to an interwoven criminal syndicate that DA is trying to bring down. It’s high concept done on slow burn, with action taking a backseat beside Vincent, while story, character and brilliant dialogue command the forefront, a technique rarely employed in the big budget Hollywood blockbuster, but always a surefire way to success. Mann captures the pulse of LA almost better than he did with Heat, albeit to a smaller scale and constricted to one night, a nervous time-sensitive mood-scape that gives the proceedings a haunted aura. Cruise has never been better, sporting a silver fox get-up and enough scary micro-mannerisms to more than make us believe he’s an expert at his profession, until jaggedly unravelled by Foxx’s presence, who goes from unassuming hostage to razor sharp thorn in the side real quick. Jada Pinkett Smith is brilliant as a lawyer who Max picks up in the opening scene, their extended conversation set against the dreamy LA backdrop serving as a neat, Elmore Leonard-esque way to set up shop. The supporting cast are like easter eggs hidden throughout, they’re never obvious or given key monologues, but exist in harmonious flow to the chamber piece unfolding mostly in the taxi. Mark Ruffalo shows up in his coolest role to date as a detective who gets wise to Cruise uncannily quick, Javier Bardem has a showcase scene as an angry mob boss, and watch for Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Wade Williams, Klea Scott, Paul Adelstein, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Emilio Riveria, Jason Statham, Richard T. Jones and the always excellent Barry Shabaka Henley as a jazz club owner with a few skeletons in his closet. My favourite scene is a wordless one, in which Vincent and Max see a lone coyote loping across the freeway in the hazy night. Each of them reacts, the sight of the beast meaning something different to them, internally, they share the moment, and move on. Taken out of context it could mean anything, stand on its own as a fifteen second short film, or be injected into a crime drama masterpiece like this to make it all the more atmospheric and special. It’s moments like this, along with a few other key scenes, one set on a subway train and the initial conversation between Foxx and Jada, that inject a surface level genre film with something intangible, something elemental. Mann gets this, every frame of his urban crime epics are filled with that kind of energy, and this stands as one of his best.

-Nate Hill