Saturday, October 03, 2009

Reel Low: A Wave of Crime Flicks

Technically, this is a "Genres & Judgments" entry with the quick recaps, but because it only contains movie reviews and since I'm way behind, I'm giving it the "Reel Low" banner. Anyway, on to the good stuff.
Ah, yes... the long-awaited review of The Yakuza (1975). This flick was good, surprisingly so in many respects.
Robert Mitchum plays a WWII vet who is asked by a friend to retrieve his kidnapped daughter from his old stomping grounds in Tokyo. Then comes the second act. Sydney Pollack directed this film, and his handling of the Japanese culture and the traditions of both the samurai and yakuza are done with nothing but respect. Plus, there's some pretty intense action scenes and deliciously violent special effects in this film (well, at least by 1975 standards).
I'd most recently seen Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) a few months ago, which was the role he took just before this one. For an actor who thrived upon using sparse dialogue and little emotion on screen, he used that technique to entirely different effects between those two roles. Gone is the nearly broken, aging, small-time hood just trying to get by and instead is an experienced, shotgun-wielding mad man out for revenge. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but this is really fine film that works on a lot of levels. It seems to have fallen through the cracks a bit, as I'd never heard it mentioned amongst the really great action movies of that era. Possibly because it has a bit more depth to it than Death Wish II; who knows? Regardless, this was a very good movie. Hunt it down.
Ever seen a movie made by someone with an amazing track record that tons of people have raved over, but when all is said and done, you were left trying to figure out what all the hoopla was all about? This was my reaction to Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955). I just didn't like it that much. It's supposed to be a black comedy, but I barely laughed. I'd go on, but then I'll just sound like some asshole that thinks I'm smarter than Hitchcock. End of the day, it's not Vertigo or North By Northwest.
However, another cinematic mastermind certainly did not disappoint me with the absolutely phenomenal Le Doulos (1962). Translating to English as "The Finger Man" (French slang for being a rat), it is slightly unusual in structure, as the story switches between two criminals but neither is really a main character. The murder and thieving are juxtaposed with some downright honorable deeds, making for some really hard-to-see plot twists. It felt as though there was a constant sense of danger lurking within each scene of this movie.
Plus, it contains what I'm sure will be one of my all-time favorite scenes involving a lightpost on film. It's subtle, and most of you would probably think I'm crazy for being so interested in it, but I can't help it; I just am.This was my second Jean-Pierre Melville experience (after Bob Le Flambeur), and I'm feverishly looking forward to watching his other underworld marvels.
Sticking with the French cinema, next up is the criminal rehabilitation drama Deux Hommes Dans La Ville, aka Two Men in Town (1973). This was recommended to me via Netflix, and until I got to the last few minutes, I couldn't figure out why as I was watching it. Overall, it's rather unremarkable by today's standards. Alain Delon plays a man who is just released from prison after 10 years and, once out, he and Jean Gabin's social-worker character become good friends. Of course, there's a lot a of personal tragedy, old criminal friends (including a very young Gerard Depardieu), and a dedicated, yet misguided detective after Delon's character. None of which were particularly memorable or surprising.
Since a few of you out there may be interested in watching it for yourselves, take a jump to the next part of the post because I'm going to spoil it for the rest of you who will probably never bother.

Okay, so back to why this must've been recommended for me: the freaking last scene was crazy! The film is really a rally call against the prison and judicial system, particularly capital punishment. Delon's character keeps getting harassed by the obsessed cop and finally snaps, killin
g him. Then he gets put on trial, and is sentenced to death. Up to this point, the movie felt a little dated and I was just waiting for it to end, but it played everything straight and was realistic as far as crime flicks go. As Delon walks to his fate, a giant group of people are walking with him (must be a French thing, everyone including the lawyers, cops, friends and the judge are there) enter a room. They stop. He kinda starts freaking out and has to be restrained. Then a mammoth curtain drops, revealing a fucking guillotine! No wonder that mofo just lost his shit. They actually put him in it, the blade drops and 3 seconds later the screen goes black with rolling credits. And I'm left all, "WTF?!?! How did this just turn into a insane allegory on me?"
Or so I thought. Apparently France hadn't ceased its use of the guillotine until 1977, four years after when this movie was made. So this would've happened to a French guy on death row in 1973.
I see your game now, Netflix. Educating the young on world history through seemingly random recommendations. Well played.
Next up is Pride and Glory (2008), an uneven family cop drama that, much like Two Men in Town, plods over very familiar territory.
On the plus side is the usually reliable Edward Norton (he is here as well), and two above-average performances from Colin Farrell and Jon Voight. He seems to get a lot of flack, but I tend to like Farrell as an actor (he was phenomenal as Ray in In Bruges recently), and Voight surprised me only because I can't remember the last time I saw him in something where he wasn't merely mailing it in (I have read good things about 2004's The Karate Dog, however). Anyway, Voight is the patriarch of family of cops, comprised of his two sons and a son-in-law. There's lots of dirty cop activity in their district, and Norton discovers his family is not in the clear while investigating the murder of fellow officers.
You've seen versions of all of this stuff in other movies, but it's not bad by any means. If you're a fan of interrogation scenes, this one may contain the most evil threat imaginable to extract information from an informant I've ever seen. Farrell was in a state of pure psychosis when filming that one. In sum, decent movie; don't expect too much originality.
I finally got around to watching Paul Thomas Anderson's first full-length feature Hard Eight (1996) recently as well. This effort has early appearances from Anderson's stable of actors including Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and one really great scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a complete asshole at the craps table. Samuel L. Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow round out the cast in this indie gambling drama.
Hall plays old-time grifter who seemingly picks Reilly's character at random to teach him the tricks of the con trade. The two partner up and live their lives in dumpy hotel rooms between bets. There's some pretty good small-time scams illustrated, though I would imagine many would be hard to pull off these days as technology has improved in the favor of the casinos.
Due to his recent comedic turns, I had forgotten that Reilly used to be a pretty serious actor. This isn't his best work by any means, but he plays the confused, unhinged loser well. It was also interesting to see him as the student when remembering his performance as the teacher of the grift in Criminal from 2004. It's sobering to think that 1996 was 13 years ago.
While not as strong as Anderson's later films, this is still an interesting watch, at least from the perspective of seeing a filmmaker come into his own, if nothing else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You'll want to watch just about anything with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon.. Who possess a thousand times more cool and charisma than any of the posers in "Fast & Furious", and similar trendy shite that you're wasting your time with..