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Crime/Heist

Drive

Drive

"Just shut up and keep your eyes on the road, and just Drive" she said.

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Few films live up to the hype. No films really can. Hype is hype, by its nature an aggravating and ephemeral thing, which complicates how we appreciate films. It complicates the way we come to them, the angle we come at them from.

Drive is one of those deliriously (critically, not commercially) hyped flicks that, of course, can’t live up to the hype. The critical hype obscured, for me, what the flick was actually like, and about, to the point where I expected one thing, and got something completely different.

I thought this was going to be a somewhat more enjoyable or thoughtful action flick to do with some guy who can drive really fast. What it ended up being is more of a standard neo-noir crime flick. That’s not a knock against it or any of the people involved here, because my expectations and assumptions aren’t worth shit.

Really, it’s a very regular, very familiar kind of flick, with a very familiar set of characters, and a very predictable outcome. Along the way, though, it’s well acted, very well directed, and kind of arresting.

The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a taciturn, competent man, who always wears, even later on when it’s covered in blood, a white jacket with the image of a scorpion. Why? Well, maybe it looks cool to someone back in the 1980s. It’s the kind of thing you can imagine the default leader of an unpopular and weak gang wearing in The Warriors.

Rating:

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, they're expecting you

dir: Glenn Ficara and John Requa

Gee, I wonder why this flick, which has somehow only now reached Australian cinemas (Cinema Nova in Melbourne), nearly three years after its production, never really got a decent release at the cinemas in the States.

Could it be because of the subject matter: a con artist in love who perpetrates stacks of scams in order to keep himself and the object of his affections in the comfort they have become accustomed to? Is it because it’s based on a true story? Hollywood hates that. Is it because of where much of the flick is set, being prison? Is it because Jim Carrey is the lead actor, and no-one’s heard of this young up-and-comer, or Ewan McGregor in a supporting role, and studios are reluctant to release flicks with such unknowns in the lead?

Or is it because it’s the gayest flick this side of one of those Sex In the City movies?

Brokeback Mountain didn’t really break down that many barriers or walls of prejudice in terms of changing the dynamic that dictates what flicks get out there into the intellectual marketplace or the cinematic marketplace. Sure, a casual stroll through one of those dinosaur DVD stores might grace you with the vision of a section devoted to movies considered to be representatives of the Gay and Lesbian genre (a ghetto that resides next to the world movies and ‘special’ interest documentaries and such.

Rating:

The American

dir: Anton Corbijn
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It must be quite a burden, not just being an American, but playing THE American. How do you summarise millions of lives and hundreds of years of complicated history in one movie?

You have The American of the title played by George Clooney.

That distinguished salt-and-pepper hair, those smoky eyes, that smug grin; who else can represent everything from exterminating the natives and calling it manifest destiny to dresses made out of meat and massive planet-sized cars that run on endangered species thrown straight into the fuel tank?

George Clooney, that’s who.

I had heard two main comments regarding this flick: 1) that it was a good flick, and 2) or that it was an extremely slow, extremely boring flick. Well, I was totally sold on those ends of the spectrum meeting somewhere in the middle. Who wouldn’t want to watch a decent flick that’s also tortuously dull?

Is it in truth a dull flick? I didn’t think so. The pace is perfect for the story it’s trying to tell, and I guess the lack of over-editing and jump-cutting shaky cam probably put off those hoping for the hyperkinetics of another Jason Bourne-type flick.

Rating:

Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death

dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
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Wow, the lives of drug dealers just seem so glamorous, don’t they? If I’ve learnt anything from watching this Pusher trilogy of film set in Copenhagen, it’s that: a) Copenhagen is situated somewhere in one of the uglier, more downmarket circles of hell, at least if you’re involved in the drug trade, which, considering the course of these three films, any sane Dane would be, and b) even those successful enough in the trade lead miserable lives.

These flicks were never meant to be after school specials frightening people away from drugs out of moralistic concern or tut-tutting for some sort of public service announcement. No, mostly they seem like they’re trying to say that really bad things happen to selfish, stupid and violent people, especially if they get involved in the drug trade.

Rating:

Overheard (Qie ting feng yun)

Overheard

I heard a rumour, they you have a broken heart, and
that the ending to your movie was shitty

dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong

2009

For most of this flick’s running length, I thought I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a certain momentum, and tension, and even if the characters were somewhat unbelievable, I didn’t mind that too much because I found their actions, and the repercussions arising from those actions, to be both believable and interesting.

Of course, then they had to fuck the ending up.

Oh, man, do they fuck the ending up. It’s an ending so bad it undoes almost all the good work of the preceding 90 minutes. It’s so trite, preposterous and contrived that it made me feel actively angry.

But I shouldn’t let that completely obscure the goodwill I’d previously been experiencing while watching the flick. Sure, shitty endings can leave a poisonous aftertaste, but they don’t always justify ripping the absolute guts out of a flick.

Overheard is a taut, mostly fascinating crime story about a group of surveillance expert cops who are trying to figure out what white collar crimes are being committed at, by or to a Hang Seng stock exchange-listed company.

Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, it’s a crime movie about white collar crime. White collar crime generally sounds like a fucking boring time at the movies, but done properly, it’s as interesting as any other kind of espionage / heist flick.

Rating:

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant

Give me all your drugs, for I am ever so hungry

dir: Werner Herzog

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.

Here, I think the sometimes great, more often terrible actor Nicolas Cage, is doing whatever nutbag nuttiness pops into his or Herzog’s head, and most of the time it doesn’t make any sense, but then this isn’t supposed to make complete sense. There are long sequences where the camera focuses on alligators and iguanas that make no sense in this or any other movie, including documentaries on how the lizards of New Orleans were worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s just fucking nutty.

Katrina plays its obligatory part in such a story by being the cause of Terrence McDonagh’s (Cage) promotion to the rank of lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from the rising waters, but also the source of his drug problems. He screwed his back up in some way during the rescue which means his original addiction was to prescription painkillers. Now he does coke, crack cocaine and heroin by the handful as well, and barely anyone notices.

His girlfriend Frankie is a very understanding prostitute who’s also an addict (the always easy on the eyes but not the ears Eva Mendes), and he never really seems to have that much trouble keeping her happy as long as the drugs are free and free-flowing. Being a cop, and a clearly corrupt cop at that, he has no difficulty scoring wherever he goes, whether it’s from drug dealers, crime scenes, the evidence locker or his girlfriend’s clients.

And wherever it is that he goes, he goes with a lopsided gait and one shoulder significantly higher than the other. His gun, since he (I guess) can’t use a holster, always sits in the front of his waistband, always ready to be pulled out and waved at people whether he’s shaking people down for whatever drugs they have on them, or screaming for attention at the local chemist.

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:

The Town

The Town

These clowns go down on this town

dir: Ben Affleck

2010

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.

Only one part of that equation is true, but, hey, it’s his flick, so if he wants to give himself the plum role, good luck to him.

The Town refers to Charlestown, a suburb of Boston even scummier than Dorchester. How do I even know anything about a suburb of Boston? Because of Ben Affleck movies set there and other flicks based on Dennis Lehane novels like that turgid Mystic River flick.

This suburb apparently has more bank robbers than Johannesburg, and it’s considered a family trade handed down from father to son. As such, our main character, Doug MacRay, played by Affleck, is a career crim and a most excellent hand at this armed robbery game. The first eight minutes of the flick involve a bank robbery carried out with ruthless efficiency by experts. A bank employee (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage, sees something which could identify one of the crims, and is let free. Throughout her ordeal, Doug tries to not freak her out too much. He almost seems to care about her, to want to shield her from what he himself and his cohorts are doing.

The feds, in the form of the FBI, led by my man Jon Hamm, playing some guy, are closing in on these crims, but they’re still a fair distance away from them. These crims aren’t sloppy, and except for Jem (Jeremy Renner), are fairly cool under pressure. Though they worry as to what the hostage might do or say down the track.

Rating:

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