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Crime/Heist

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

dir: Werner Herzog
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Herzog has long been acclaimed as one of the nuttiest directors of all time, so it makes a kind of deranged sense that he would be the one that picked up the mantle no-one else wanted. The Abel Ferrara directed Bad Lieutenant, at least the one starring Harvey Keitel and his penis, is one of my all time favourite films, of that have no doubt. When I watch it even today I marvel at just how demented and heart-rending it all is. How harrowing and still funny.

This is in no way a remake, but I guess there is some kind of thematic connection. That’s being too kind – there’s no goddamn connection. The only connection is that the main cop character is at the rank of lieutenant, and he uses a lot of drugs and probably commits / ignores as many crimes as he solves or pursues.

Keitel’s character was trapped in a hideous (and sometimes darkly comic) downward spiral because of, considering the heavy dose of Catholicism permeating the flick, either his abandonment of God, or his abandonment by God. The bleeding saviour himself appears in front of Keitel, who lets loose with the most disturbing keening / primal howling you’ll ever hear or laugh at in that or any other film.

Rating:

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (2009)

dir: Tony Scott
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Ridley Scott’s less talented brother keeps getting work, which is okay, I guess. I don’t know the personal circumstances of Tony Scott’s life, but I imagine he has people to support, children, wives and mistresses and such, or rentboys, blackmailers and dominatrixes. Who knows. The point is, even after the atrocity to the eyes and ears that was Domino, he still gets work.

Here, in a remake of a pretty good flick originally, Scott mostly tones down the irritating editing and filming techniques that have made his more recent flicks virtually unwatchable. Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw assayed the roles the first time round, and they did an okay job. Denzel’s up for the job of playing a craggy-faced blue-colour working man ‘hero’, but they really could have gotten someone better for the Robert Shaw role.

Why? Well, all that John Travolta brings to this particular role is the way his voice goes really high-pitched and whiny when he gets angry, and that he says “motherfucker” at virtually the end of every sentence. I don’t have a problem with language, in fact I love that kind of language. It makes my heart go all aflutter.

Rating:

Brothers Bloom, The

dir: Rian Johnson
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Rian Johnson’s first film, Brick, was a noir crime drama worthy of the pen of Raymond Chandler, set in a high school. The dialogue sounded strange in the mouths of actors playing children, but it had style, and a commitment to its set-up that never wavered, perhaps to the flick’s detriment, but no matter.

When I heard that he was making a film about two con artist brothers, I was pleased. Pleased was an understatement. I was ecstatic. For reasons that make no sense, I felt glad that a guy who struggled, fought and agonised over making a flick with no budget (which is what happened with Brick) was getting the chance to move up in the moviemaking hierarchy, and was getting to make more flicks.

I’m still glad he’s making movies, watching Brothers Bloom hasn’t diminished that, but I realise he’s got a fair way to go as a director as long as his films require actors.

Listen to me, offering unsolicited advice to a director who’s achieved stuff I’ve never dreamed of and will never get close to creatively and professionally. How generous of me to criticise him and offer tidbits of wisdom.

Rating:

Infernal Affairs

(Mou gaan dou)
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dir: Andrew Lau

Infernal Affairs is a slightly better than average movie interesting only in the novelty of its bare-bones premise. As directed by Andrew Lau, it is also a very loud, aggressively overdone movie. Compared with other Hong Kong cop dramas, it’s par for the course, maybe even better than most, yet I do have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity as to why cult audiences went bugfuckingly crazy over it and why they’re going to remake it in Hollywood starring people with remodelled teeth and $500 haircuts.

Why? It’s really not that clever. Or maybe it is and I just can’t see it. I’ve seen so many Hong Kong flicks over the years that it takes something extraordinary to jiggle my brain meats into ecstatic praise. I definitely can’t muster any excitement for this hack job of a movie, though it was mildly entertaining, I’ll give it that.

Most HK flicks are trashy, let’s be honest. As a fan of the cinema, I say that without any animus towards the region or the people that make or star in these films. If anything I have a bias in their favour, ignoring their shortcomings and excusing aspects that would make me scream bloody blue murder in a different context.

Rating:

Town, The

dir: Ben Affleck
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This flick is still limping its way out of Australian cinemas for at least another week, and so I’m glad not only that I got to see it on the big screen, but that I have something newish to review. Because gods know the world needs more of my movie reviews. You know you crave them, too. It’s like an addiction, I know.

It’s strange that the name ‘Ben Affleck’ as director inspires much more interest in me than when ‘Ben Affleck’ the actor is referred to. One piques my interest, the other inspires my whatevers impulse. When Ben Affleck is the director and the main character, then I’m the very definition of ambivalent.

It really can’t be overstated how good a flick Gone Baby Gone was, which indicated at least that Affleck, at the time, was better placed directing flicks than being in them. Consider it his long march towards redemption for the decade or so of flailing and Jennifer Lopez tabloid hysteria. With all the critical kudos he garnered for directing his brother Casey in probably the best flick they’ll ever be involved in, he somehow decided two seemingly contradictory things: that he should direct more films, and that people were clamouring to see him in front of the camera again.

Rating:

High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku)

1963

dir: Akira Kurosawa
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It seems pointless to praise a fifty-year-old film, 57 actually, at the time of writing, and to praise a film made by a highly praised director, in the shape of Japanese titan Akira Kurosawa.

Pointless has never stopped me before. In fact, pointless defines certain aspects of my more faux-artistic pursuits, so, if anything, writing a review of this strong film is amongst the most important things I’ll ever do today.

High and Low is a very familiar story: rich bastard protagonist, kidnappers kidnap a child, police get involved, and we wonder if the child will be saved and the criminals will get their comeuppance. But it’s made so long ago, and in such a calm, unhurried way, that it reinvigorates the elements themselves, making them seem so fresh even to people (like myself) utterly burned out on crime, police procedurals and mystery crap of this nature.

It’s based on an Ed McBain novel, but obviously the action has been transposed to Tokyo from the States. This isn’t a problem, since everything Kurosawa ever did was based on almost exclusively on non-Japanese texts. He makes it his own like he did with everything he ever stole from Dashiell Hammet, Shakespeare, Maxim Gorky, and George Lucas.

Rating:

Girl Who Played With Fire, The

(Flickan som lekte med elden)
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dir: Daniel Alfredson

Ahhhh. I like it when they make semi-decent movies out of shitty books. It gives me hope for humanity.

For my money at least, The Girl Who Played With Fire was the best of the three books Stieg Larsson shat out onto an unsuspecting world before he died. By ‘best’ I don’t actually mean that it was a great book. I just mean that out of three terribly written books, the second was the least worst of the trilogy.

Since I haven’t seen the last instalment in this series of flicks yet, I can’t say whether this is the best of the three. I thought the first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did pretty well whittling down a phonebook of empty and stolid prose into a competent enough crime investigation flick, with a compelling central character (Lisbeth Salander, not the journalist Blomkvist). She becomes even more central to proceedings here, as the second story, and indeed the rest of the series becomes the All About Lisbeth show.

Rating:

Animal Kingdom

dir: David Michôd
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It’s not entirely clear why the film is called Animal Kingdom until past the middle of the flick, when Guy Pearce’s character has to explicitly spell it all out: everything in nature, like in the Australian bush, inherently knows its place. There are trees that live for thousands of years, and insects that die in the space of time it takes to think of them. There are predators and prey, the strong and the weak, and they all have to compensate accordingly.

It’s a moment of exposition that sounds superfluous, because it’s rarely a good idea to explain your title, but it’s used wisely. It’s used by a character who thinks he has the measure of the person he’s speaking to, who thinks this is the best way to convince him to go along with his program.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Australian cinema has often gone to the crime well to come up with its quality television programs and movies, and this flick certainly doesn’t come up dry. It’s as good as a lot of reviewers are saying it is, but what I failed to glean from other people’s comments and analyses was how emotionally complicated it is, how tension-filled and how grim. And how little it compromises.

Rating:

Black Dahlia, The

dir: Brian De Palma
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There is a place for trash in this world, especially in the world of cinema. No-one has made more of a career making entertaining and trashy films than De Palma. He’s never been able to shake the Alfred Hitchcock-wannabe moniker long enough to establish himself as a decent, respectable director. The closest he’s come was with The Untouchables, and that was a long time ago.

No, De Palma is a trashy director whose movies work best when he lets his dirty side come to the fore. For all his attempts at respectability, it is films like Carrie, Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Body Double and the gargantuan bomb that was Bonfire of the Vanities that he will be remembered for. Not for this one.

Considering his love of sleaze and lurid subject matter, it is a double shame that The Black Dahlia fails as badly as it does. You would think the pairing of De Palma and the James Ellroy novel fictionalising the details of the real Black Dahlia case, overflowing with depravity, corruption, madness and death as it is would be a marriage made in heaven. But De Palma drops the ball so comprehensively in the second half of the film that you have to wonder whether this one was strictly for the money.

Rating:

Election 2

(Hak se wui yi wo wai kwai)
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dir: Johnny To

It’s been a good year for Johnny To. Exiled and Election 2 have been well received by critics, even if Election 2 was banned in China because of its implications of government collusion with triad gangs (a truly shocking and outlandish claim). Surely such a thing could never be true. To’s films don’t seem to connect with audiences in a big way, which is a shame.

Following on two years from the events of the first film, Lok (Simon Yam) has been a successful Chairman for the Wo Sing triad, but it is time for another election. Though he seemed almost reluctant to seize the reigns of power in the first film (at least initially), holding power has changed him. Where we would expect the film to focus on the new potential Chairmen (which it does), Lok decides to throw his own spanners into the Wo Sing’s processes.

Of the young turks itching to become leader, the brightest star is also the most reluctant. Lok’s godson Jimmy (Louis Koo), who is a big earner for the triad, only sees working for the Wo Sing as a means to an end: he yearns to go legit. A multi-million dollar development in China is his pie in the sky, his chance to get out of the underworld and to star in the business world.

Rating:

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