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JUNE 2010

 FILMS

Brooklyn’s Finest

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin

Ace cast for this return to his “Training Day” grittiness from director Fuqua. Three Brooklyn cops tread a morally compromised line. Don Cheadle is in fine form as the undercover cop who has to bring down his drug-dealing friend, Wesley Snipes. Snipes hasn’t acted so well for years – he went down the pan for me when his arrogance in Rising Sun opposite Sean Connery got in the way of the role he was supposed to be playing. Gere has played the corrupt cop before – brilliantly – in Internal Affairs but here he’s merely world weary as he tries to navigate the last seven days on the job. Ethan Hawke, always an indulgent actor (don’t even go near his novels) whose career best was his turn in Training Day, overacts but just about gets away with it. Ellen Barkin, still sexy after all these years, excels as a tough Fed.
You know almost from the off where the story is going but it’s still worth going on the journey.
 

 

The Brothers Bloom

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robby Coltrane

Hmm, my personal prejudices get in the way of my proper appreciation of this second film by the man who brought us “Bricks”, that fine conflation of film noir and high school movie.
Ruffalo (one of those charisma-free actors whose success I just don’t understand) and Brody (problematic for me as his arrogance often gets in the way of his performances) play a couple of brothers scamming their way through Europe. Their latest mark is Rachel Weisz, veteran of Confidenz, a superior con movie. Here she plays a reclusive millionairess lured by the boys into a scam to steal a priceless antique in Prague.
I worry for Weisz off-screen. The Oscar winning mother of one has been celebrating turning 40 by appearing in a range of mags scarcely clad. The latest interview I’ve seen with her she’s just wearing a basque unstrung at the back. Why does she feel the need? Someone needs to tell her she’s a talented actress and she has a beautiful face and she should leave it at that.
She can act too and plays cooky here very well. Rinko Kikuchi is also great as a mute munitions expert.
The Brothers Bloom has the requisite twists but perhaps tries too hard. Worth watching but don’t expect “The Heist” or “The Sting”.


 

The Losers

Director: Sylvain White

Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Jason Patric, Zoe Saldana

One of the Fantastic Four (Evans) gangs up with a bunch of other up-and-comers (including Elba from The Wire)for a mildly amusing homage to films such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, based on another comic book. A lot of bangs-for-your-buck, some nice badinage between the bullets, a gang of stereotype characters – this is an entertaining 90 minutes or so that you’ll have forgotten you’ve seen a couple of days later.
 

 

 

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Nicolas Cage Val Kilmer Eva Mendes

Whilst I enjoyed his “Kings of New York”, I never much cared for Abel Ferrara’s indie-films, including his “Bad Lieutenant” in which Harvey Keitel went to the limit as a drug-fuelled, sex-obsessed corrupt cop investigating the rape of a nun in a church. The film was incredibly po-faced, soaked in Catholic guilt, and I’m afraid back in 1992 I burst out laughing when Keitel’s character notoriously masturbated beside a car he’d pulled over simply because it contained two attractive young women. (I did an uncomfortable 3am interview – his preferred time - over the phone with Ferrara about the film for the Indie in which he was intense, bombastic and humourless.)
A relief then to find Werner Herzog’s remake/revisit/re-imagining has a sense of humour. (Herzog insists it’s not a remake and that he has never seen the original – nor, indeed, heard of Ferrara.) Ferrara wished him to hell and back in May 2008 for doing it (guess he was feeling guilty about his own crap remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and his forthcoming “Jekyll and Hyde”) but the result is far better than the original.
Cage is inspired casting, as is the decision to film in New Orleans. Cage’s cop is a crack-addict (and heroin and coke) and whilst Cage’s performance is way out there he doesn’t go entirely over the top in his characterisation. A massacre of Senegalese drug-dealers replaces the nun-rape and the religious stuff goes. The notorious scene this time around is an alligator observing the death of another alligator in a freeway pile-up – so that’s the difference between Ferrara and Herzog right there.
I like Kilmer’s recent character work and he bounces off Cage nicely as Cage bounces off the walls. Eva Mendes does what she can with an underwritten part. I’ve long been a major fan of Herzog. He was my go-to guy, in preference to Wim Wenders and Fassbinder, during the German film explosion in the 80s. “The Enigma of Kasper Hauser”, “Fitzcarraldo”, “Nosferatu” and, above all, “Aguirre Wrath of God” are iconic for me. But none of them indicated that he would have the ability to handle the rhythms of a mainstream thriller. (Wenders couldn’t when he made “Hammett” for Coppola’s Zoetrope studio way back.) But he does, he does. This is a smart, intelligent, ironic thriller. It pretty much bombed at the US box office but give it a look.


 

 

The Killer Inside Me

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty
 

It’s a truism that non-American directors often make the most insightful and striking US crime and thriller films. The likes of Fritz Lang pretty much founded film noir but in the past 30 years think Peter Yates’s “Bullitt”; Roman Polanski's “Chinatown”; John Boorman’s “Point Blank”; Ivan Passer’s “Cutter’s Way”; Michael Ritchie’s “Prime Cut”; Karel Reisz’s “Dog Soldiers” (aka “Who’ll Stop The Rain”); Alan Parker's “Angel Heart”; Tony Richardson's “The Border”; Paul Greengrass’s two Bourne films (though they are mostly European-based); Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” (and others) – and so on!

So here we have renegade Brit director Michael Winterbottom with a visceral, violent and absolutely unmissable film version of pulp writer Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. The beating–a-woman to death scene has caused a lot of controversy but such psychopathic acts are central to the pulp ethos and, especially, this story.

Kubrick was a fan of the novel (Thompson scripted his The Killing) as a chilling, first person account of a sociopathic mind – Affleck’s well-liked but murderous cop, Lou Ford. Marilyn Monroe was cast to play the prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Alba’s part) opposite Marlon Brando as the killer cop in the late fifties. Elizabeth Taylor was to play the Kate Hudson girlfriend part. There was a 1976 film version starring Stacey Keach and Susan Tyrell. It was pretty good, especially given that it was directed by Burt Kennedy, best known for comedy westerns. But then Keach was feeling his oats as an actor back then. (He’d just been great alongside Jeff Bridges and Tyrell in “Fat City”.)

Tom Cruise was attached with Demi Moore as the hooker in the mid-80s – they did “A Few Good Men” instead. Tarantino wanted to do it after “Pulp Fiction” with Uma Thurman as the girlfriend, Juliette Lewis as the hooker and Brad Pitt as the killer. (Lewis and Pitt had done thrill killers in “Kalifornia” in 1993.)

Affleck got attached when Marc Rocco (“Murder in the First”) took up the reins. He had Reese Witherspoon as the girlfriend and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the hooker. Rocco died, only 46 years old, and Winterbottom came on board.
Affleck is perfect casting as, although he has a weak voice, he does cold-eyed chilling really well – think the Assassination of Jesse James (in which, spooky, he plays a killer also called Ford…) and even parts of “Gone Baby Gone”. (Interestingly, Assassination director Andrew Dominik wrote a script in 2003 for DiCaprio, with Drew Barrymore as the hooker and Charlize Theron in the girlfriend part.) Personally, I’ve found Affleck scary in every film he’s done, including the Ocean films – his eyes and that weird half smile indicate a guy with serious issues.

I’m not suggesting he’s a serial killer sheriff in real life but I believe him in the part. His character is involved in a sado-masochistic relationship with hooker Alba but sex games aren’t really enough for him and when he persuades her to blackmail a wealthy man whose son is involved with her you know there will be blood.
A must-see film.

 

 

 

Revanche

Director: Gotz Spielmann

Starring: Johannes Krisch, Ursula Strauss.
 

A nifty noir Austrian thriller that has taken a while to get to the UK after being nominated for the 2008 Best Foreign Language Oscar. Revanche (Revenge) is a character-driven tale in which Krisch is the bouncer for a Viennese brothel who tries for a new life with his Ukrainian prostitute partner by robbing a bank in his grandfather’s small country town. Of course, it isn’t that easy. There’s a killing and revenge becomes inevitable. Great stuff
 

 

 

City of Wars: The Story of John Rabe

Director: Florian Gallenberger
Starring: Ulrich Tukur, Daniel Bruhl, Steve Buscemi, Anne Consigny
 

Typical – you wait ages for a film about the 1937 Nanking Massacre then two come along at once. This one is from the point of view of John Rabe, the Nazi factory manager in Nanking who helped set up an International Security Zone that saved thousands and thousands of Chinese lives from the cynical barbarity of the Japanese invaders. The irony of a Nazi as a Schindler to the Chinese is well-presented but the reluctant hero is a bit two dimensional, despite Tukur’s fine acting. Steve Buscemi is thrown away as the appalled doctor observing the Japanese actions. The utter horror of the Japanese action (so terrifyingly described in Mo Hayder’s novel Tokyo) is shied away from to a degree but the film remains powerful, if flawed.
 

 

 

City of Life and Death (aka Nanjing! Nanjing!)

Director: Lu Chuan
Starring: Hideo Nakaizumi, Ye Liu, Wei Fan, Yuanyuan Goa
 

John Rabe also features in City of Life and Death. The second film about one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, when the invading Japanese army systematically raped and murdered its way, street by street, through China’s Nanking. (It’s estimated some 20,000 women were raped.) Director (and scriptwriter) Lu Chuan films the unfolding events head-on, sometimes with gruelling explicitness, drawing the audience in partly by his decision to film in black-and-white as if the film were a contemporary account. It dwells a little much on the hand-wringing of Japanese soldier Nakaizumi but remains visceral, unrelenting and not for the faint hearted.
 

 

 

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Director: J. Blakeston
Starring: Gemma Arterton Eddie Marsan Martin Compston

This reminds me of those little black-and-white quota quickies from the fifties the British studios used to churn out – Tomorrow At Ten, for instance. In fact, we Brits have been quite good at kidnapping girl for ransom movies – Sťance on A Wet Afternoon and The Collector also come to mind. Arterton, on fierce form, is the kidnap victim who gradually starts to turn the tables on her white van men kidnappers. The problem is that the film is a three-hander so you know there will have to be twists to move the narrative along. Still, even though you’re half-expecting them they still work well. Not great but not bad for a debut film.
 

 

Cop Out

Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott, Kevin Pollack

Oh dear. The script for this was touted in 2008 as one of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Looks like the studios that had turned it down knew what they were doing for a change. Although it attracted a good director and Willis is always reliable, sometimes inspired, the result is excruciatingly bad. There is nothing worse than an unfunny comedy. Avoid like the plague.

DVD

The Cry of The Owl

Director: Jamie Thraves
Starring: Paddy Considine, Julia Stiles,
 

Patricia Highsmith story, filmed by Chabrol in 1987 as Le Cri du Hibou (that’s, er, The Cry of The Owl) now gone straight to DVD in this new version, despite the starry cast. Considine is a troubled obsessive, recovering from a nasty ex-wife, Stiles the object of his fantasy in his new home-town. He snoops on her and she invites him into her life. Then her jealous ex-boyfriend arrives and the temperature rises. Considine is always worth watching and the gorgeous Stiles has acting chops when she’s allowed to show them. The movie is well worth checking out.
 

 

 

Law Abiding Citizen

Director: F Gary Gray
Starring: Jamie Foxx Gerard Butler
 

Gerard Butler produced and stars in this high testosterene, wanna-be Seven-like chiller. I should own up to my prejudices here. I loathed director Gray’s wholly unnecessary remake of The Italian Job; think Jamie Foxx has lost all nuance in his acting since he became a star; and don’t get slab-like Butler’s popularity. But, hey, I’m open-minded. (Hmmm.) The film – a revenge story – is functional enough and things blow up and Foxx looks anguished and fierce and Butler looks, well, slab-like. Passes the time.
 

 

 

SPIRAL

Director: Adam Green & Joel Moore
Starring: Joel Moore, Zachary Levi, Amber Tamblyn
 

This curious little film - obviously close to Avatar star Joel Moore’s heart as he produces, co-directs and stars in it – could be terrific but is too skewed for that. Moore plays a tormented, twitchy lonely telesales worker who paints obsessively at night. His latest model is a co-worker (Amber Tamblyn) who strikes up a friendship with him. As their friendship, and the sittings, progress it’s clear that Moore is struggling with dark emotion. Very dark. Okay, the viewer is thinking he’s going to kill her, that he is in fact a serial killer.
There is an excellent twist at the end and the film holds your attention throughout but its weakness is that, however innocent or guilty Moore’s character is, he exudes such creepiness that no woman would go near him in the first place with a barge-pole. Which leaves Amber Tamblyn with the thankless task of making you believe that her irritatingly kooky love interest would really be drawn to someone with Mass Murderer written all over his tormented face.
Personally, I found her so irritating I was hoping he would knock her off in the first reel but you can’t have everything.
An okay time-filler of a film. [Release delayed until May]


 

 

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Director: Grant Heslov
Starring: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey
 

Okay, not really a thriller or a crime movie but, hey, there are guns and fights. Besides, this film is pretty un-categorisable – but it’s well worth seeing. Based on Jon Ronson’s quirky account of US military investment in psychic warfare, it’s a darkly humorous, sometimes laugh out loud funny, movie, with Clooney on cracking form as the man who can kill a goat by staring at him. Jeff Bridges, building on his Big Lebowski persona, is great as the hippy military commander bringing New Age babble into the US military. McGregor keeps up with these two and Spacey (who is a bit short-changed on screen time). The film’s shortcoming is that the story that brings terrific acting and wonderful individual scenes together is uninvolving and, actually, a bit tedious. So any individual scene is worth watching but they don’t really hang together into an involving narrative. Still worth viewing though. Usual extras but nice alternative commentary from Jon Ronson.

 

 

Sherlock Holmes

Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr Jude Law Mark Strong Rachel McAdams
 

I liked this more on DVD – Downey Jnr and Jude Law are a great double act and Ritchie presents a suitably fog-shrouded and spooky London. Ritchie looms large in the extras where you learn more than you might wish about the details of the film production. There’s a great tutorial on baritsu, Holmes’s self-defence of system – but don’t try it at home.

 

 

 
 
 

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