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Crime/Heist

crime, con artist, heist, grifter

Way of the Gun, The

dir: Christopher McQuarrie
[img_assist|nid=1103|title=The Way of All Things|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=317|height=450]
2000

The Hollywood variation on the American Dream, which is the regular American Dream anyway, is that a screenwriter, actor or director previously subsisting on tips from being waiters and valets to the bourgeoisie can get the big break and become another star in the firmament. Glowing bright, suspended above the masses; all they need is that one big break.

The problem is, there are no guarantees in this or any other life. The big break can just as easily catapult you back into obscurity after you crash and burn.

Christopher McQuarrie’s claim to fame was that he scripted The Usual Suspects, which propelled director Bryan Singer into the stratosphere, got Kevin Spacey an Oscar for his role as Verbal Kint, and gave audiences one of their favourite overly convoluted crime movies of 1995. It also garnered an Oscar for McQuarrie as well. But then again, who really gives a good goddamn about Oscars in general and Oscars for Best Original Screenplay anyway. I bet you don’t, don’t pretend otherwise, I won’t believe you.

Someone must have thought McQuarrie deserved to get paid as well, so despite having no experience as a director, he was given the money and the freedom to try to repeat the magic of Suspects. Did it work?

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Tokyo Drifter (Tokyo nagaremono)

dir: Seijun Suzuki
[img_assist|nid=1101|title=Huh?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=330|height=475]
1966

What the fuck was all that about?

Tokyo Drifter is cool. It’s cool in the sense that the hero is the hero because he’s cool. He looks cool, he dresses cool, and he has his own theme song, which is played a bunch of times and which he even sings through the course of the film. So what if the flick makes no sense? It’s cool, you squaresville-daddy-o.

The film looks pretty. There’s a very interesting use of colour and sets. The clothing is nice. Other than that, this flick is fucking insane. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone I hated.

Maybe it’s too quintessentially Japanese, but I doubt it. The movie, at the very least, is somewhat more comprehensible than the last one of Suzuki’s that I saw, but that’s not saying much. Made in an obviously cheap and nasty fashion, the flick eschews continuity and logic to construct a story that does not make sense on our planet.

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Pusher

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
[img_assist|nid=1086|title=You total scumbags|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=432|height=285]
1996

There was an explosion of drug films after, I dunno, some indeterminate point. Probably after Trainspotting, I’d say. Whatever and wherever the origin point of the renaissance in this nasty genre was, the one thing we do know is that even the Danish needed to get in on the act.

Now, I have to admit a certain amount of ignorance about Denmark. I know vaguely where it is, I imagine it’s very cold there, but I had this ridiculous idea that it was some kind of idyllic winter wonderland that would delight Hans Christian Anderson himself, what with his tales of naked emperors and little mermaids, even today.

Imagine my horror when Copenhagen is revealed to be as grimy and sleazy a place as everywhere else.

Pusher, part of a series of films that screened as a retrospective at the 2006 Melbourne Film Festival, is an ugly, grim, vicious film about drug dealing in Denmark’s capital. There’s isn’t a single sympathetic character in the whole film with a single redemptive quality.

None of that prevents the film from being somewhat entertaining.

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Nine Queens

(Nueve Reinas)
dir: Fabian Bielinsky
[img_assist|nid=1091|title=Con artists beware: theres always another level|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=261]
Of all the films about grifters, con artists, and other tricksters trying to separate honest and dishonest folk from their hard-earned cash, Nine Queens ranks as one of my favourites, my absolute favourites.

Films about scams are amongst the most enjoyable and disposable of films. They’re enjoyable because the wool being pulled over the eyes of characters onscreen is often also being pulled over our eyes as well. And it can be enjoyable or aggravating, but I usually find it interesting.

But once you know the score, what the scam is and its end result, watching them again is often fruitless. And since they tend to be about energy and momentum, there isn’t the level of characterisation or narrative depth that might bring you back a second time. Nine Queens is a bit better than that.

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Lower Depths, The (Donzoko)

dir: Akira Kurosawa
[img_assist|nid=1090|title=The Lower Depths are not in Fitzroy|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=448|height=252]
1957

Based on the play written by celebrated Russian miserablist Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths concerns itself with the doings transpiring in a rundown hovel during the Edo period. For those of you not lucky enough to know what the word ‘Edo’ refers to, all you need to know is that it’s the time when samurai bestrode the earth with peasants grovelling at their feet, and before Godzilla and Hello Kitty conquered the island nation of Japan.

The hovel is chock full of poor, dirty people eking out meagre existences with no more intentions and dreams than getting drunk, fucking each other, or dying so their misery can end.

Despite being oh so poverty-stricken, and oh so filthy, whenever they come across any cash, they cannot hold onto it, wanting to be parted from it as quick as possible. And they enjoy themselves as much as is possible in the mean time.

Poor people, eh? They just bring it on themselves, don’t they?

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Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

dir: Jim Jarmusch
[img_assist|nid=1096|title=The Way of the Whittaker|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=298]
1999

Jarmusch has always been a very idiosyncratic, in some ways quite limited director, but he made his magnum opus here. His films were interesting before and after it, especially Down By Law, Dead Man and Mystery Train, but Ghost Dog represents the pinnacle of his art form, for my money. I don’t have a lot of money at the moment, so I realise that’s not saying much.

On the surface it seems like a simple film: strange guy who calls himself Ghost Dog and pretends to be a samurai kills a bunch of people. And I guess it is. Simple, that is. But there is this persistent vision that permeates the flick, creating the urban world as seen through the lens of an ancient warrior’s code and Ghost Dog’s eyes which elevates the flick above its seemingly generic plot.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a large, ominous looking brother who meticulously and methodically plans and carries out assassinations. Though he is silent in all he does, we hear his voice in voiceover narrations, imparting the ancient wisdom of the samurai to us ignorant peasants in the audience.

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Branded to Kill (Koroshi no rakuin)

dir: Seijun Suzuki
[img_assist|nid=1117|title=Branded to not make any sense at all|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=378|height=349]
1967

I’ve watched this flick twice and I still haven’t got a fucking clue what happened. Forgive me for the language, since this is a family show. And as a father I really should be more circumspect in my choice of language. But honestly, for fuck’s sake, this flick is insane.

This and a bunch of other flicks are often referred to as a product of Japan’s New Wave era, supposedly inspired by the French Nouvelle Vague of flicks by guys like Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Resnais and all the other shmucks. A new, rebellious sensibility; inspired, radical, genre-breaking, overtaking and smashing the reactionary, stultified world of contemporary cinema.

I can’t say for sure whether that was really the case. All I know is, this flick here makes no sense, is edited all over the place, and has people doing all sorts of insane things without so much as a by your leave or a recognisable emotion or motivation. It’s just flat out nonsensical, with scenes edited together as if they’re from different films.

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Bad Lieutenant

dir: Abel Ferrara
[img_assist|nid=1114|title=At least he gets to church every once in a while|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=273]
1992

It’s tough loving a director who treats you so rough. Sure, some people are into that kind of thing, but I’m certainly not of the ‘Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ school of relationship maintenance.

Abel Ferrara is a director I’ve admired and, yes, loved for a very long time. Like most long term relationships, there are ups and downs, but this relationship has always had more downs than ups. For the few films of his that I have loved (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral), there have been so many of his that I’ve downright loathed (pretty much everything else he’s ever directed) that it makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.

Do you keep the love going because of a few great moments in the past, when there doesn’t look like there’s any future glory coming? Or do you regretfully realise it’s time to call it quits?

It depends on your personality, I guess, or how deep the love goes.

It is specifically because of how great Bad Lieutenant is that I persist in my love of Ferrara, and my hope that he will one day justify that love again with something new. At the very least, I can watch this on DVD again and remember how great the great times were.

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