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Crime/Heist

I Care a Lot

I Care A Lot

She doesn't, not really. She is not being entirely forthcoming with you

dir: J Blakeson

2021

This is going to blow your mind, but the main character in this film called I Care A Lot, called Marla Grayson, played by Rosemund Pike, doesn’t, actually.

This is the REALLY mindblowing part: She doesn’t care at all.

Marla is a lawyer who, through manipulating the legal system around the guardianship of oldies, and bribing the right people, forces old people into old folks homes and then drains all their assets over the years until they die penniless and alone.

Piece of work, right? And we all thought Rosemund Pike perfected playing psychopaths back in Gone Girl. Turns out there are even nastier characters for her to play in the Rosemund Pike Cinematic Universe.

At movie’s beginning, over scenes where a distraught bearded chap is trying to visit his mother in an old folks home, and being pummeled by the security, we hear in voiceover Marla tell us that this world ain’t shit, victory is for the ruthless and the weak can go fuck themselves.

This is the movie’s mission statement. It does not shy away from equating the monstrous ruthlessness of the protagonist with American late-stage capitalism, with the American Dream, with doing what people need to do not to get by but to destroy other people for shits and giggles.

Marla has a wall covered in the photos of the people for whom she has organised to be appointed as their guardian. It’s a lot of old people. It’s not really to give her a sentimental attachment to the people she gives not one fuck about. It’s to remind her of who her cash cows are. Once they die she scrunches up their photos and throws them in the trash.

While they live but are declared mentally incompetent, this set up allows her to sell their houses, drain their bank accounts, basically get them institutionalised and cut off, and make it impossible for them to leave, or for anyone related to them to help them out. It’s shocking, and bracing, and from the perspective of the people it’s happening to, I guess this is like an awful horror film, from which someone has to go to extraordinary lengths in order to beat Marla at her game.

Rating:

The Little Things

Little Things

Nice poster. Nicer than the film THAT's FOR SURE

dir: John Lee Hancock

2021

Well isn’t this flick a barrel of laughs.

It’s a bit of a throwback to police procedurals of which there used to be a dime a dozen. I’m not sure what changed, because there were a million on the teev before and there are even more now.

They’re not really my cup of tea. Of course, like billions of people I’ve watched so many episodes of Law & Order that I confuse it with reality, and think all the time about stuff that happened in the show as having happened in real life, but my capacity for watching crime these days is pretty limited.

So I can’t really say why I was drawn to watching this flick. Sure, it’s got Denzel, and that’s usually a great drawcard, but, honestly, he’s been phoning it in for years. And Denzel playing a tortured cop trying to figure out who some murderer is, is like such a cliché it’s beyond cliché. Almost every actor who’s ever acted has this role on their resume.

But I watched it anyway. It’s set in the early 90s, so no mobiles or internet, which honestly sometimes comes as a bit of a relief. Sure it’s the past, but it’s recent enough for those of us who were alive then to be able to remember a time before doomscrolling or getting hourly phone updates on what the dumbest people around the world are doing every day.

Now, that doesn’t mean life was actually any safer back than. If the opening of this film is any indication, even driving around in your car meant serial killers were going to come after you.

A young woman is driving a car, and gets weirded out by some guy in a car that she doesn’t see who drives near her. She gets so freaked out that she stops the car, and gets out, presumably because she’s going to reverse-psychology the serial killer into thinking killing her now would be too easy?

Anyway, things aren’t looking that good for her.

Rating:

The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen

This is one of the most awkwardly arranged group shots
I've ever seen. It's like something out of the Royal family

dir: Guy Ritchie

2019

I don’t know what Guy Ritchie’s deal is, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to see things this way, but when you make a flick that seems like it’s all about getting revenge on those dastardly tabloid editors and jerk – crim reporters, it seems a bit personal.

And when one of the main characters you have in the film is Hugh Grant, playing the sleaziest version of the kinds of slimy paparazzi / private detectives / tabloid reporters that made his life a living hell for decades, again, you seem to be making a statement.

Statements are all well and good, but they don’t always make for entertaining cinema. This film here, The Gentlemen, goes out of its way to be entertaining. Perhaps almost even too entertaining. It flirts with breaking the fourth wall plenty of times, with Grant practically winking at us as he refers to camera lenses and anamorphic aspect ratios and fade outs and other narrative / stylistic techniques as he tells his barely believable tale to a captive audience.

There is even a scene involving Guy Ritchie playing a very Weinstein-esque looking exec at Miramax’s offices. You remember Miramax, don’t you? They made all these great movies, and ruined all these women’s lives?

If we’re all really honest, no Guy Ritchie flick has been as outright enjoyable as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in all these years. Some of his other flicks have come pretty close (maybe Snatch, maybe RocknRolla, maybe the first Sherlock Holmes flick), some have been meh, and some are flat out dumb. His flicks are only getting more convoluted in their plots, with that frustrating proviso that any situation faced by a character can be gotten out of because of something else we didn’t see happen beforehand done by someone we didn’t know was around.

That might seem like an artless way to describe the complicated plotting on display here, but in some ways this kind of overwrought overwriting is really underwriting. It’s the equivalent of someone with little to say who tries to hide the fact by yelling the little they have to say very loudly and with different phrasing a lot of times, and occasionally backwards.

Rating:

The Irishman

The Irishman

No leprechauns were harmed in the making of this documentary

dir: Martin Scorsese

2019

I don’t really have the reverence for Martin Scorsese that almost every other film critic and reviewer on this green but burning earth possesses, but that’s not the same as saying I don’t like him or like his movies. I like him well enough, as an old man, but especially as someone who loves movies. His series on film history is sublime, especially since it’s not about his movies.

In the discussion about this flick that I was having with a dear friend, I felt compelled to open up and admit that I’ve never really loved any of Scorsese’s films in the manner in which a lot of other people fall over themselves to admit. His films, to me, for the longest time, felt like homework, like you had to love them, or else people would frown upon you. Admitting you couldn’t stand Taxi Driver or Goodfellas could be enough to get you thrown out of a pub if the people you were arguing with were drunk enough.

There are dozens of reasons why much of his oeuvre hasn’t resonated with me, but I would never be foolish enough to pretend that he hasn't had an immense impact on the medium of film.

What’s ironic for me is that in this, his most recent film about the same shit he’s been making films about for decades, the element that disgusts me the most about his depiction of toxic masculinity here is transformed into something else entirely. Wow, what a convoluted fucking sentence. What I’m trying to say is that many of his other films depict the depths of toxic masculinity but also have their cake and eat it too by showing how much glorious fun can come from being the perpetrator of this mobbed up version of toxic masculinity. The Irishman lays bare that mentality, showing how completely it defeats itself over the longest term.

It’s really a film about old age and regret, made by an old Catholic man with regrets. The hushed tones and awards screeds pretend that it’s important because it reveals the “truth” about various chapters of American history. Honestly, give us a fucking break. This should be held up as a glowing beacon of truth and honesty the way Oliver Stone’s JFK is held up as a shocking film about what really happened: it’s isn’t, no one does, no-one mentions it any more.

Rating:

Joker

joker

Spare me those goddamn stairs. And don't take any candy
from him, kids, and definitely stay away from his van

dir: Todd Phillips

2019

Since, I think, Silence of the Lambs, there’s been this case to be made that we, as in audiences, are happy to make allowances for characters that do awful things on camera, as long as they’re compelling. Hannibal Lecter kept us hypnotised like the cliché about the cobra and the mongoose, trapped in his unblinking eyes, and we could not look away.

All these years later, and we’re still paying the price.

With that comes the argument about heroes, antiheroes, jerks and other lunatics, and it muddies the waters a bit. The Joker from the comics isn’t, at his base, a complex character. I know nerds nerdier than I can point to thousands of different versions of the Joker, each more demented than the last, but the basic fact is, when first created, he was someone ridiculous, camp and chaotic, and meant as the fundamental antithesis of the orderly, stoic, rich psychopath Batman.

He’s not a deep character. No amount of overwriting or depth of performance really makes up for that gaping lack. There’s a primary reason why the director and the production lean so heavily on the aesthetics of 1970s movies, because without it they’ve got nothing else. Joaquin Phoenix is a compelling actor, mesmerising, all those descriptive words, and he’s great as this character, honestly.

It’s just that there isn’t much there. It feels bad saying it, but there’s not as much ‘there’ as they would like us to think. Without the Scorsese ripoffs, the transparent Taxi Driver ‘homages’, the Death Wish / Bernard Goetz restaging, and the embarrassing Fight Club-lite insult to our intelligence, there’s just a creepy guy who laughs until it hurts, and who kills a few people.

The world of Gotham as conjured here has less to do with the comics, and more to do with the kind of New York that the movies tried to grasp in the 70s and 80s: a diseased, corrupt, heartsick and pungent place, where the great unwashed threaten to drown not only each other, but the wealthy as well. Social order is breaking down, the garbage isn’t being collected, services are being cut to those who need them most, and people dance on the stairs for no good reason. It’s purgatory.

Rating:

Destroyer

Destroyer

Destroyer, or How I Learned to Love the Passage of Time

dir: Karyn Kusama

2018

This is a pretty grim story, in case you couldn’t tell from the heavily made up images of Nicole Kidman’s ravaged face.

The intention in this, I’m sorry to be so cynical, could have been Oscar-bait. Someone must have convinced Nicole that accepting a piddling amount of money to star in this would be compensated by the inevitable awards that would flow. It worked for Charlize Theron in Monster, so surely it would work again?

It’s not like Nicole doesn’t have awards, including the golden smooth shiny ones of the Academy. I don’t even have to look it up to remember that she won an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, where the very unkind joked that the prosthetic nose she wore deserved the award for doing all the work. She was fine. It was one of a few occasions where people were surprised that she could subsume herself into a role and not just be Nicole.

She definitely doesn’t look like the fragile, afraid to crack a smile actor that she is in Big Little Lies or anything else that she does contemporaneously. There’s an unfortunate focus on her looks that detracts from her meagre or multitudinous acting skills, and I’m probably contributing to it here yet again. Suffice to say they really make her look haggard here, to good effect.

When the film opens Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) wakes up, bleary eyed and crusty, in her car. She never sleeps in a bed, at least in the present (there are a lot of flashbacks in this flick). She does not just look, act and speak like she’s hungover: she acts like she’s at death’s door. A body is found at the LA aqueduct, with three distinctive tattooed marks on the back of his neck. The cops actually there doing their jobs are disgusted by Bell’s presence, a theme which is carried on throughout the film: People are either horrified, surprised or disgusted when she turns up. She tells the investigating cops that she knows who killed the victim.

Back at her office, her actual co-workers are also surprised that she’s turned up, and also annoyed. We sense that no-one really likes being around her or listening to her or looking at her. The world is so unfair. Most of this flick’s action, or activities occur in bright, debilitating daylight, as if to show how horrible daytime is to both vampires and alcoholics.

Rating:

Peppermint

Peppermint

It's like they had to literalise the white saviour metaphor...

dir: Pierre Morel

2018

From a flick about a guy interacting with Mexican people and saying “eh, they’re not all so bad”, the flick being The Mule and the guy being Clint Eastwood, we now transition to a flick that, were it a person, looked at The Mule and screamed “NOT RACIST ENOUGH” and proceeded to render itself into a form that would be most pleasing to people who were leaving a Trump klan rally and thought they might want to watch a movie.

Peppermint is a revenge – vigilante thriller which, in and of itself, is not unique to American cinema, since every culture has its themes of vengeance and justice. But this is the quintessential American take on the genre, which celebrates self-determination, stick-to-itiveness and achieving justice through the barrel of a gun against racial caricatures that are meant to make the viewer uncomfortable until they are shot, and then everything’s fine

There’s a reason the Republican party uses photos and footage of members of a particular vicious gang called MS-13 in its scare-mongering electoral ad campaigns: because they’re Hispanic, and many of them have face tattoos.

There’s a reason why the movie uses Hispanic men with face tattoos as the perpetrators of violence, and then as the victims of retributive violence at the hands of the movie’s heroine: because the intended audience is already made uncomfortable by them and doesn’t mind if they get offed.

Rating:

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

You, Really, Here, Never Were, but you could have tried at least

dir: Lynne Ramsay

2017

Such a title sounds like an admonition, a cold observation, a sad reckoning. It sounds like the kind of thing someone would say to an absent parent, especially, but I can imagine a bunch of other situations where someone could say it and mean it, too. You could say to someone “you were never really here”, and it would be an acknowledgement that even if that person was actually, physically there the whole time, their mind, their emotional investment, was somewhere else, focused on something or someone else.

If nothing else it emphasises absence over presence, and we can safely assume it’s not seen as a positive quality.

I cannot say that I entirely know what it means in the mind of the author of the novella that this is based (by Jonathan Ames), or in Lynne Ramsay’s mind, but the main character definitely has a lot on his mind, and if he’s a bit distracted, I can understand why.

Joe, as played by someone who clearly already has mental health issues, being Joaquin Phoenix, has a mass of mental health issues and an array of traumas from which crests a continued existence of remarkable precariousness. That’s a fancy way of saying Joe is so messed up I’m amazed he can get out of bed. Almost every action flick with a jerk at the centre of it has a tragic backstory where someone’s wife died or someone’s kid died, and they have to make up for it by killing a bunch of people in order to save some other woman or child. And then, when that’s done, they can be rewarded either by partnering with the woman, adopting the child, or dying, or all three.

It’s the standard screenwriting playbook, as lazy and as repeated as a Valentine’s Day card’s banal message. Is it really that different in the hands of Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay?

Well, do you remember what else Lynne Ramsay’s done? Do you remember watching We Need to Talk About Kevin? If you did watch it, do you remember watching it a second time? Could you ever bring yourself to watch it again?

I think not, but that doesn’t speak as to the quality of the films she makes. They are high quality and like no-one else’s films. Her approach is distinctive and amazing in equal measure (not really, but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time). They are definitely memorable, but the reason you remember them is not because of the dialogue, or the script in general. It’s because of the way she chooses to tell her stories visually, and how unsettling an experience it is to watch them. She finds the most distinctive but sometimes most obtuse ways to get her images and ideas across. And she wants you to remember her images, the same way in which the protagonist here can’t stop thinking about the horror-show going on in his own head.

Joe’s traumas begin early, in childhood, at the hands of an abusive parent, but he has also clearly seen terrible, truly terrible things in a time of war, and as an FBI agent, images that haunt him constantly, and now some of them will probably haunt us too.

Rating:

Baby Driver

Baby Driver

The hum in the drum that never quits

dir: Edgar Wright

2017

People have, perversely, been waiting for the rest of the world to appreciate how keen and clever a director Edgar Wright truly is, graduating from ‘little’ but adored ‘cult’ type movies to something ‘worthy’ of his talents. Or at least you’d think that’s the case, based on the almost palpable relief critics and reviews expressed at how much they enjoyed Baby Driver and how glad they are that it was as successful as it’s been.

But really, do we want Edgar saddled with multiple hundred million dollar budgets and making pablum for Disney? I mean, I understand that Disney is going to own everything eventually, and what isn’t owned by Disney is going to be owned by Google, Facebook, Apple and Netflix, including our very souls, but isn’t this the unity – hive mind – singularity that science fiction has been warning us against since Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

I’d rather that Edgar, who sounds like a thoroughly wonderful film fanatic and all round wonderful human being on the podcast circuit, was kept to small budgets and relative obscurity, just so he can be kept making small but keen flicks that I adore the heck out of.

Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t love all his flicks with the same intensity. Sometimes, just like with Wes Anderson, who is the reigning king of fussiness and anal retentive composition, that fussiness, that overloading of scenes or soundtracks puts me off horribly. I don’t know if Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is as horrible as I suspect it is, or if it’s only because of Michael Cera being so annoying, or whether it’s Edgar’s fault, but whatever I feel about Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz or The World’s End, I definitely don’t feel the same for that film previously mentioned that I don’t want to mention again.

This, Baby Driver, seems like it’s a departure from all that, but it isn’t, really. It’s the pinnacle, the apotheosis of all the traits that Edgar (yes, I’m going to chat about him like we’re on a first-name basis) has displayed before. If anything, this flick’s success is only going to encourage him because he’s been so roundly rewarded for his two most distinctive traits: cinephilia and over-egging the pudding.

Rating:

Nocturama

Nocturama

I have to admit, that's a pretty great film poster, maybe
better than the film itself(?)

dir: Bertrand Bonello

2016

Every now and then even people, like me, who’ve seen millions of films, will watch a film and say to themselves, or someone nearby, “I have no fucking idea what that was about.”

Sometimes having an experience like that fills me with great anger, and furious vengeance, like when I watched Upstream Color and hated it so much I recently watched it with my daughter just so she could know just how terrible and pretentious a ‘grown-ups’ film could be. More recently, when a flick garners some critical praise and I endeavour to seek it out, when I have an experience like the one I had last night watching this French flick, I just shrug my shoulders and think, “well, maybe it makes more sense to French people” and then go on with the rest of my life.

I can’t claim to understand what the point of Nocturama is or was, but I’m comfortable with that. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. As long as the director got something out of it, and the kids in the flick are happy with their work, then who the fuck am I to complain about it?

It would seem that this flick is about terrorism, or at least the main characters commit some acts of terrorism in the heart of Paris, but giving it political significance like that might be foolhardy. This flick was apparently made well before the massacre at the Bataclan where Eagles of Death Metal were meant to be playing, or the Bastille Day atrocity in Nice, or the myriad other instances of so many human lives being wasted for the dumbest reasons possible. The kids here don’t seem to be doing it for anything like the same reasons ie. fundamentalist hatred, loneliness, not getting the biggest slice of cake at that 8th birthday party.

If the ‘kids’ here have a leader, he is the straight-laced and dorky looking son of some mainstream French politician. He seems to be inspired by something, by some desire to make a statement, and has recruited a large group of perhaps similarly disaffected kids to his cause, who each might have their own reasons for getting involved. A number of them are perhaps from the kinds of backgrounds that Marine Le Pen and the rest of the National Front would want to boot out of the country or kill or both, but they don’t seem (I have no idea, really), seem to be doing what they’re doing for ideological reasons, or nationalistic reasons.

Rating:

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