Tag Archives: Crime

B Movie Glory: toXic

In the endless sea of direct to video output, sometimes you find one that although is rough as all hell around the edges, has potential and moments that shine, even if they’re stuck in a muddled, overcrowded narrative. Toxic is one such film, a psychological horror/crime hybrid that is so full of B level movie legends, rappers and porn stars that some are only around for a second, a whole galaxy of fringe talent caught up in a story that needs complete attention to be understood, not because it’s any kind of genius labyrinthine story, but simply because it’s edited with a chainsaw and has more dangling plot threads than an entire season of CSI. There’s two timelines it takes place in, a setup that already isn’t explained well enough off the bat, but such is the level of commotion. In one, nervous mobster Tom Sizemore (nuttier than usual as this was his first gig after a stint in jail) hires two henchman (Corey Large and Danny Trejo) to find his daughter (Charity Shea) who is apparently very dangerous, but he won’t say how or why. She ends up at a strip club run by rapper Master P and her presence seems to cause nothing but trouble for everyone there including a severely depressed hooker (Dominique Swain), an ill fated homeless man (C. Thomas Howell) and others. In another timeline we see another strip club run by pimp-with-a-heart-of-gold Costas Mandylor, in which Corey Large shows up again as a mysterious bartender and the whole berserk plot hinges on his two characters, but they really should have let him stick to producing duties and hired another actor because he’s in desperate need of some acting classes. All manner of other famous faces make cameos too including Bai Ling as Sizemore’s weird clairvoyant girlfriend, scene stealer Susan Ward as a sympathetic bartender, Steven Bauer, Lochlyn Munro in dual roles, Paul Johansson, Ron Jeremy, James Duval, Johann Urb, Holt McCallany, Cerina Vincent, Shar Jackson, Nick Chinlund and the list goes until you start to wonder if these prolific people were just hanging around the studio lot and needed extra work. Here’s the thing: there *is* actually a discernible story here that’s interesting and engaging, and upon reflection it does all in fact make sense. *But*…in a ninety minute film with this many cameos and random stuff, it’s too much to feel coherent. I will say that the final twist/revelation is handled in a top tier, musically visceral way that’s quality stuff, but so much else was kind of incomprehensible that several people I’ve watched it with could tell there was a twist by the tropes being used, but not what it actually was. With a new angle on editing, sharpening up the script and whatnot this could have been something more accessible, but I still really like it for effort put into a neat storyline, the laundry list of cool cast members, that final scene that’s done so well and the obvious, endearing homages to Tarantino and Tony Scott in style and tone. Interesting, pulpy, lurid, scattershot stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopath

No other film has grown on me quite the way Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopaths has. Initially disarming in expectations versus result, this isn’t just your average black comedy, there’s wonderfully subversive meta-narrative twists and it has something subtly acidic to say about the development and treatment of genre screenplays in the Hollywood of today, which wasn’t the approach I was expecting prior to seeing it for the first time. That and it’s straight up one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Less serious and emotional than McDonough’s masterpiece of a debut In Bruges, the tone here is about as deadpan as it gets, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as Billy and Hans, two LA oddballs who make a living snatching people’s dogs and collecting the reward money later. Inevitably they grab the wrong guy’s dog who just happens to be unhinged gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), sparking a brutally violent wild goose chase all over LA and the surrounding area. It sounds like you know what you’re gonna get, right? Not really, for you see they’re joined by boozy, neurotic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who is trying to pen a script of his own titled ‘7 Psychopaths’, which not only becomes a running joke, but also provides aside vignettes and even heavily influences the plight of our three heroes in the ‘real world.’ Hans is a quiet, compassionate pacifist and Walken plays him against type, very understated. Farrell’s Marty is a hilarious, anxious wreck who orders six beers at noon and tears his hair out both from writer’s block and the unpredictable behaviour of Rockwell’s Billy, who is a blisteringly funny, antagonistic weirdo that should be on medication but has instead been let off the leash for what is probably the best and definitely the funniest performance the actor has ever given. Harrelson plays it loopy as a guy who’ll blow your head off without twitching an eye but bawls like a toddler when no one can find his silly shit-zu for him. They’re joined by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko who don’t have much to do (also a meta joke later on) as well as Zeljiko Ivanek, Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Michael Stuhlburg, Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton, all giving lovely work. Tom Waits is as great as you’d expect Tom Waits to be as ex-serial killer Zachariah, who carries his pet bunny rabbit around and tells harrowing tales from years before. The real hero here is McDonough’s brilliant script, and I love how it ducks the limbo bar of Hollywood writing standards and aims for something just left of left field. Farrell says it best himself when he laments “I don’t want it to be all violence and action though, it should be a set up for an out and out revenge flick and the heroes should just drive off into the desert and talk for the rest of the movie…” then he, Rockwell and Walken do just exactly that, for a time anyways until Harrelson catches up with them and the final confrontation gets skewered by McDonough and his refusal to play it straight too. We need more writers like him in Tinseltown, and although I wasn’t so much a fan of his newest Three Billboards one, Bruges and Psychopaths have already been minted as classics for me, two of the best this century.

-Nate Hill

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is like being at a frat party where you slowly begin to realize that every other person there is an irredeemable asshole, but they’ve somehow strung you along with charm and charisma thus far. Like a nihilistic den of wolves where everyone involved is out to get each other, its quite simply one of the most hellbent, devil may care, narratively self destructive crime flicks out there. I admire that kind of reckless abandon in a huge budget Hollywood picture with a cast so full of pedigree it’s almost like The A list agencies just packed up all their talent in a clown car, drove it to South Boston and turned them loose on the neighbourhood. By now you know the fable: Two roughnecks, one a mobster (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the state police, the other a deep cover operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is posing as a crime figure. Both are are intrinsically connected to Boston’s most fearsome gangster Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance so balls to the wall one almost feels like his 89’ Joker ditched the makeup and left Gotham for Southie. He’s a calculating maniac who openly mocks the veteran sergeant (Martin Sheen) putting in every effort to take him down, and rules over his vicious soldiers (Ray Winstone is a homicidal bulldog and David O’ Hara gets all the best comic relief) like a medieval despot gone mad. At well over two hours, not a single scene feels rushed, drawn out or remotely dawdled, there’s a breathless tank of violent machismo and wicked deception that never runs out, as the artery slashing editing reminds you every time it cuts to a new scene before the soundtrack choice has made it past the intro. The supporting cast has work from the gorgeous Vera Farmiga as a sneaky cop shrink, Anthony Anderson, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and more. Mark Whalberg also shows up to do the bad cop routine in a role originally meant for Denis Leary, and as solid as he is I kind of wish old Denis took a crack at it because you can obviously see how perfect he would have been, and is the better actor. As much as Jack Nicholson eats up the spotlight and chews more scenery than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, my favourite performance of the film comes from Alec Baldwin as the head of the police tactical team. Spouting profanity like a fountain, slamming Budweiser as he swings his 9 iron and kicking the shit out of his employees, he’s a mean spirited, violently comical force of nature and I fucking love the guy. Scorsese has clearly set out to not deliver a heady message or lofty themes here as some do with crime epics; the characters all operate from the gut, use animal instinct and never pause to ponder or pontificate. The only message, if any, is the oft spouted ‘snitches get stitches’ as you can clearly see by the film’s final shot, also the only frame containing anything close to a metaphor. I admire a film like that, and certainly enjoyed the hell out of this one.

-Nate Hill

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

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