40 posts categorized "Crime Drama"

April 24, 2018

POLICE BEAT

Police BeatA poetic character study etched in its primrose Portland, Seattle locations, “Police Beat” is a clear-eyed dissection of the immigrant experience in pre-smartphone America. Senegalese non-actor (and former Junior World Cup Soccer Team star) Pape Side Niang plays Z, a newly hired bicycle cop attempting to create a romantic life with an American white girl more interested in playing head-games than spending time with him. Barely into his 20s Z is a Muslim struggling with Western culture from the ground up. His motivations are unfettered. He saw an ad in the newspaper, passed the test, and became a police officer.  

Co-writer/director Robinson Devor (“Zoo”) frames the weeklong narrative in police procedural terms based on actual case files. As such, every day-to-day social encounter rings with an element of banal, unpredictable truth beneath Z’s running inner monologue that narrates the movie. Our protagonist deals with frequently stressful tasks by concentrating on things in his personal life. The device works well in keeping the audience engaged. Every scene has multiple layers of emotional and physical suspense inherently built in.   

Pape Side Niang

Z wants to be promoted to a patrol car. In the meantime he’s stuck patrolling downtown Portland on a mountain bike. His sometime partner (Eric Breedlove) is a heroin-addicted white cop whose girlfriend is a prostitute.

Pape Side Niang’s character is the same person in or out of uniform. He brings his own method of common sense in dealing deal with the normal, confused, irate, or outright insane (largely white) locals he comes into contact with. His exotic West African accent expedites rather than hinders.  

Police Beat

“Police Beat” (2003) is far from a perfect film, but its originality unites with its quietly charismatic lead actor and keen compositions to generate a haunting human experience brimming with truthful social commentary.

Sadly, Pape Side Niang passed away at the age of 25 with “Police Beat” as his only film.

Not Rated. 80 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)   

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April 22, 2018

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — CANNES 2017

You_were_never_really_hereIf only I had never really seen this atrocity of a movie I’d feel much better. That does it; I’m giving up on Lynne Ramsay for good. I loathed Ramsay’s last film “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (2011). Still, I was willing to give her latest effort a chance. Big mistake. I thought it possible that Ramsay had grown as a filmmaker. The complete opposite appears to be the case.

Ramsey steals a dozen little tropes from movies like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Taxi Driver” to piece together a baloney narrative that hangs together like wet seaweed on the beach. Some people might call it experimental, and I can see why. You certainly feel like a guinea pig being experimented on while watching this awful movie. Ramsey based her self-penned screenplay on Jonathan Ames’s novel, but you’d never guess that this movie had any formal underpinnings.

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Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a hit man/cop killer who rescues underage girls from sex traffickers. A New York politician hires Joe to rescue his pubescent daughter. So topical, you think. Wrong. Ramsay treats the issue with such cavalier sloppiness that she trivializes sex trafficking into something so fake that it's no wonder so many people don't believe such a thing even exists. Judging from this film, it doesn't.

If revenge fantasy is your thing, Michael Winners 1974 “Death Wish” did it meaner and with real heart from the great Charles Bronson. Joaquin Phoenix just looks like he needs a good long nap. Joe suffers from delusions, so not everything we see is for real. Joe is a white dude sociopath whose chosen weapon is a hammer. If I never see Joaquin Phoenix with his shirt off, it will be too soon. 

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If this set-up sounds like something you want or need to see for some imagined reason, just know that there is an underwater scene that is a very close copy of a similar scene in “The Shape of Water.” You could always stream “You Were Never Really Here” and turn it into a drinking game where you have to drink a shot every time you see a reference to another movie. The influences here are much more accessible than the arcane ones you find in a Tarantino movie. Then again Quentin Tarantino is a real filmmaker; Lynne Ramsey isn’t.

Rated R. 89 mins. (D-) Zero stars — out of five / no halves

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June 14, 2016

CHOUF — CANNES 2016

Chouf2Cannes, France —Audiences new to modern-day gang related international crime dramas could get a crash course in the genre from Tunisian-French writer/director Karim Dridi. The filmmaker checks off every violent trope right down to a shock ending that will seem oh-so-profound to the film’s targeted audience of urban youth.

Chouf” means “look” in Arabic, and takes on the meaning of a lookout for the purposes of this formulaic waste of celluloid. The heading doesn’t have much to do with the Marseilles-set drama that takes place in an area of high-rise housing projects, but that’s beside the point. “Chouf” is an exploitation crime flick meant to send hearts racing for pubescent boys who dream of the thug life. Such fantasies of making fast money selling drugs in the company a bunch of predictably volatile thugs goes exactly as you would expect for good-kid-turned-bad Sofiane (Sofian Khammes).

Chouf

Our not-so-gold-hearted protagonist visits his high-rise-living Muslim family in Marseilles while on summer vacation from college in Lyon. The family patriarch is a disciplinarian hard-ass for all the good it does for his ostensibly doomed sons. Naturally, Sofiane’s older brother runs with the local hoods that shoot him dead in the film’s first act. Rather than following through on the promise that his more educated mind seems fated for, 20-year-old Sofiane chooses to seek revenge instead. He joins up with his brother's gang of drug dealers. Evidently, the best thing college has taught Sofiane is how to run a drug operation like a McDonalds. Genius. 

It’s an old saying, if you seek revenge dig two graves. There, I just saved you the two or three hours you might have wasted seeing this piece of cinematic garbage. Next.

Not Rated. 108 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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May 04, 2016

A MONSTER WITHA THOUSAND HEADS

 

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The “monster” in Uruguayan-Mexican director Rodrito Pla’s crime drama is a bureaucratic medical insurance hydra that prevents the desperate Sonia Bonet (powerfully played by Jana Raluy) from obtaining proper medical care for her husband Guillermo, who has cancer. Her insurance company refuses to pay for an expensive drug that could be effective in treating Guillermo’s tumor. Sonia’s husband is dying, but she will go to any lengths to save him.

If the Mexican medical system has aspects in common with North America’s notorious Big Pharma-driven health care structure and its conspiratorial insurance complex, the coincidence is built on a pattern of blind greed overriding concerns for the wellbeing of patients.

Sonia takes her punk rock-loving teenage son Dario (Sebastian Aguirre Boeda) with her to track down her husband’s doctor (Dr. Villalba — Hugo Albores), with whom she has discussed her husband’s situation in depth over the phone. Sonia doesn’t fall for the stalling tactics employed by the quack physician’s secretary. Instead, Sonia intuits Villalba’s identity when he tries to sneak out of his office. A pistol in her purse comes in handy in convincing the doctor to see things her way. Still, blood must be spilled.    

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It’s a nice start. Unfortunately, clocking in at just 74 minutes, “A Monster With a Thousand Heads” feels like a film missing its third act. The filmmaker cobbles together a four-angle courtroom surveillance composite shot to serve as a tableau to say that Sonia will pay for her crimes. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t see fit to better flesh out what could have been a thought-provoking commentary on the corporate medical system in Mexico. The film has some good things going for it, but the version being released isn’t really a complete movie.    

Not Rated. 74 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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June 01, 2015

MIKEY AND NICKY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Mikey and Nicky Elaine May wrote and directed “Mikey and Nicky” (1976) with the intention of creating a feminist think piece driven by her volatile male characters. The violence-prone machismo that Peter Falk and John Cassavetes display speaks to chronic social ills that continue in America. Though she allowed the production to go three times over budget, May created an exquisite companion piece to Cassavetes’s own films. “Mikey and Nicky” is perfectly on par with “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” Naturally, Paramount hated this gritty picture because of its unconventional nature. The studio took the film away from May to complete editing without her input. In 1986 May presented her approved version.


Mikey’s and Nicky’s ethically feeble relationship to the world around them presents a racist and sexist cocktail of public menace. Alcoholic Nick (Cassavetes) holes up in a fleabag hotel with a “thousand bucks” in downtown Philadelphia. He’s attempting to evade the “hit” his mob boss took out since catching Nick stealing. Nick calls on his childhood friend Mikey (Falk) to help him get out of town, or at least bring some half-and-half for Nick’s raging ulcer. Nick rightfully suspects that his closest pal might be in on the hit, but has no one else to turn to in his darkest hour. Cassavetes and Falk tear into their roles like hungry lions of a dying generation feasting for one last time. May’s story-rich script accommodates her actors’ improvisational riffing sprees.


Mikey&NickyPlot details bristle with emotional tension, as when Nick asks Mikey to trade overcoats with him before exiting the hotel because he thinks a hitman waits outside. Nick goes on to request that they exchange watches, “for luck.” In return Mikey asks to borrow Nick’s gun “in case they shoot at me it’d be lucky if I could shoot back.” Nick will test Mikey’s loyalty right up until the film's last tragic frame.



Over the course of the night Mikey and Nicky revisit their long history together even as Mikey conspires with the assassin (played by Ned Beatty) driving around looking for Nick. An impromptu visit to Nick's mother's grave leads to a fistfight.


Mikey&Nicky2May reaches the tone, rhythm, and kinetic gut-punch of a Cassavetes movie (think “Husbands,” 1970). The male-centric parameters plant disturbingly uncomfortable episodes of racist and sexist abuse at the hands of the characters with whom we are led to empathize. In one such scene a seemingly suicidal Nick makes trouble in a black bar where the patrons suppose Mikey and Nick to be undercover cops. Nick insults the boyfriend of a woman for whom he buys a drink, when he claims to share the man’s name “Mel.” The scene’s vehemence boils.


The showstopper comes when Nick takes Mikey to visit Nellie (Carol Grace) a girl who Nick characterizes as a slut. After having his way with Nellie on the living room floor while Mikey’s sits on a trashcan in the kitchen, Nick sends in Mikey to take his turn. The dramatically loaded scene proves a stunning indictment of ingrained sexist attitudes that explodes like a well-placed time bomb in a narrative that never stops looking for a fight.

Mikey and Nicky

Rated R. 119 mins. (A) (A Stars - out of five/no halves)


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March 20, 2015

TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Twin Peaks- Fie Walk with MeAs much an essential missing piece for audiences of David Lynch’s groundbreaking 1991-’92 television series (“Twin Peaks”) to gain closure as a stand-alone film, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” is an alternately funny, harrowing, and bizarre experience. There are scenes that twist time to the point that you feel as if you’ve been drugged by a filmmaker working freely within a context of surreal narrative possibilities.

Fans of the TV series may take umbrage at the recasting of Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna Hayward character in the guise of Moira Kelly, but the discrepancy is mitigated by the plot aspect that the Donna we see here exists as Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) best friend before Laura’s mysterious death, the inciting incident for the TV series.

Most significant to the overall catharsis of the picture is the fleshing out of Laura Palmer’s backstory regarding her escape into drugs and sexual promiscuity. Lynch earns every bit of the film’s R-rating in nudity filled scenes of semi-public group sexual expression that boil with cinematic style and perilously dark cultural overtones. A droning musical score and artistically applied strobe lighting add to the sequence's oppressive effect.

Fire Walk with MePopulated with many of the colorful characters from the TV shown (as played by the same actors), the picture makes enjoyable use of extended cameo performances by the likes of Chris Isaak, David Bowie, and Harry Dean Stanton.

The strange and dangerous world of “Twin Peaks” is alive and well in a movie that fuels obsession in viewers willing to take David Lynch’s wild cinematic ride. You’ll be talking backwards/forwards before you know it.

Twin peaks

Rated R. 135 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)


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September 18, 2014

BONNIE AND CLYDE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Colesmithey.comArthur Penn’s recounting of the story of Bonnie and Clyde — two of America’s most iconic outlaws — is a seamless balancing act. Equal parts true-crime exposé, dysfunctional love story, and Depression-era think piece, the picture underscores American police departments’ longstanding proclivity for short cuts to justice, i.e. murder.

For all of the critical noise made over Penn’s methodical slow-motion hail of bullets massacre of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker at the hands of a small-town sheriff, the extended sequence of outrageous violence speaks volumes about the systemic corruption of America’s policing system. The bloody conclusion comprises the ethical essence of the film. As with the sad fate of many other millions of guilty and innocent U.S. citizens, Bonnie and Clyde were not afforded due process of law.  

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“Bonnie and Clyde” was released in 1967, two years before Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” employed an even more exaggerated, and controversial, climax of slo-mo bloodshed for its exiled hero cowboys. Film critics like Roger Ebert were quick to associate “Bonnie and Clyde” with the French New Wave — vis-à-vis François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” — but Ebert and his ilk were reaching. Stylistically, Penn’s film shares little in common with Truffaut’s film, and even less with Jean-Luc Godard’s outlaw genre effort “Breathless.”

The fact that Truffaut introduced David Newman’s script for “Bonnie and Clyde” to Warren Beatty, the film’s future producer-and-lead-actor, had little to do with any direct influence from the Nouvelle Vague. Arthur Penn’s background in historic socially relevant dramatic material, on the other hand, meant a lot.

After directing stage plays in wartime Britain, Penn’s first film (“The Left Handed Gun” - 1958) was about the Old West outlaw Billy the Kid. Starring a young Paul Newman as William Henry McCarty (a.k.a. Billy the Kid), and based on a script by Gore Vidal, the apparent Western presented a thinly veiled social analysis about corrupt sheriffs.

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The grudge-carrying sheriff responsible for orchestrating the ambush that left Bonnie’s and Clyde’s bodies and car riddled with dozens of bullet holes, acted out his resentment over a photograph that the robber duo posed with him at gunpoint, before sending it to a local newspaper.   

Penn sets the Depression era’s hopeless condition in the forefront of the narrative. Clyde robs gas stations, stores, and banks because it’s the most expedient way he knows to make money in a society with few other options. He meets Bonnie whilst attempting to steal her brother’s car. Their mutual attraction is tempered by Clyde’s impotence; he may be a homosexual, closeted even to himself. Warren Beatty’s embrace of his character’s lack of sexual prowess adds significantly to explaining Clyde’s bravado and hunger for criminal fame. Clyde likes to announce, “We’re the Barrow Gang” before robbing a bank.

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Faye Dunaway’s earthy portrayal of Bonnie, a small town beauty queen worthy of a greater fate than working all of her days as a diner waitress, answers the film’s burning questions about how and why Bonnie took up a life of crime with a man who couldn’t even fulfill her sexual needs. Arthur Penn uses the poem Bonnie writes telling hers and Clyde’s story as a grounding centerpiece for the story. Bonnie had brains to back up her beauty, but America’s dire social conditions provided her with no outlet for her potential to make a “sensational break.”

Not Rated. 111 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 22, 2014

RAGE

Colesmithey.comHow the mighty have fallen. There was a time when Nicolas Cage and Danny Glover were more than box-office kings; they represented integrity for the craft of film acting in the face of Hollywood’s constant dip toward all things lowest common denominator.

However, from the piece of unmitigated, cliché-riddled mob revenge drama that is “Rage,” you’d never guess that Cage and Glover ever had more than an ounce of talent between them. At one point in the movie Danny Glover’s police chief character says, “He’s got a rap-sheet as long as my dick.” That trite line of gratuitous dialogue effectively negates 30 years worth of pristine performances in films such as “Lethal Weapon” and “Boseman and Lena.”

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It’s not so surprising to see Nicolas Cage hit the skids. The once-brilliant actor from films such as “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Moonstruck” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” notoriously spent his fortunes like a sailor, and is currently more concerned with paying bills than creating characters.

“Rage” represents everything wrong not only with Hollywood, but with upstart hack filmmakers attempting to make a name for themselves with boiler plate scripts filled with one-dimensional characters obsessed with guns and killing. You could argue that the only people more preoccupied with bloodletting than America’s government-funded military and police are filmmakers like “Rage” director Paco Cabezas.

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If you’re looking for a story, don’t go looking for one in this film because there isn’t one. Cage’s mobster-turned-businessman character Paul Maguire seeks revenge after his daughter is shot to death with a Russian gun. Maguire goes all bat-shit crazy with his two vaguely Irish stick-pals who kill a bunch of Russian mobsters who don’t take kindly to seeing their numbers diminished — much less for no good reason. You couldn’t call what follows a gang war, but needless to say more senseless killing happens. Even respected actor Peter Stormare (“Fargo”) takes one for the team of knock-off filmmakers responsible for one of 2014’s worst movies.

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Judging from the lack of quality on the screen, perhaps it’s time for Cage, Glover, and Stormare to throw in the towel. It’s too late for them to retire with their dignity intact, but at least they’ll have some tiny peace of mind knowing they’ll never sink so low again.

Not Rated. 98 mins. (F) (Zero Stars - out of five/no halves)

(Warner Brothers) Rated R. 86 mins. (A+)  (Five Stars)

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May 27, 2014

THE FRENCH CONNECTION — CLASSIC FILM PICK

French ConnectionWilliam Friedkin’s 1971 crime drama is unlike any other. “The French Connection” is a carefully condensed version of a real-life New York City heroin smuggling investigation that spanned several years during the early ‘60s. Thanks to the tireless efforts of a couple of savvy detectives — “Popeye” Doyle and “Cloudy” Russo — the case culminated in the seizure of $32 million dollars worth of uncut heroin being smuggled into the country from Marseilles.

Friedkin never bothered to read Robin Moor’s book, upon which screenwriter Ernest Tidyman based the script. Instead, the otherwise meticulous filmmaker spent time with New York narcotics detectives, riding along with them as they went about their days and nights performing raids, making busts, and chasing down suspects. For Friedkin, the chase element was crucial.

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Filmed during the gloomy days of a New York City winter Friedkin “induced” a documentary feel by setting up certain shots on his own in advance, and then leaving his camera crew to “find the shot” when the action played out on the spot. Central to the film’s gritty look and feel is Friedkin’s decision to eschew making a period-correct version of the story that would have demanded a higher budget and constricted filming conditions. Many of the street scenes were “stolen,” without the use of filming permits, so that the audience experiences New York in an authentic way. Non-actor “civilians” fill locations chosen for their function.

The film’s essence rests on three brilliantly executed, now classic, chase sequences — with potent doses of character study and surveillance detective-work thrown in for good measure.

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The first pursuit introduces Roy Scheider’s Russo and Gene Hackman’s Doyle (disguised in a Santa Claus costume). The undercover duo pursues a drug dealer in a full-press foot chase across several blocks of New York’s ‘70s-era urban wasteland. Tearing a page from Costa-Gavras’s playbook for his 1969 political thriller “Z,” Friedkin energizes the sequence with unconventional crosscut editing to keep the audience off balance.

Retired detectives “Popeye” Doyle and “Cloudy” Russo appear in the movie in supporting roles. Friedkin kept both men on-set during filming to advise him on practical details regarding behavior and enactment.

For as much as the film’s heart stopping centerpiece chase-sequence — between Doyle in a commandeered car and a trigger-happy assassin on an elevated subway train — overshadows the film, it is Doyle’s on-foot subway track pursuit of the French criminal mastermind Alain Charnier (played by Fernando Rey) that hooks the audience with its New York-centric elegance.

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Doyle plays a tense game of cat and mouse with Charnier who repeatedly enters and exits a delayed subway car at Grand Central Station while waiting for its doors to close. Friedkin exposes Doyle’s manic obsession, and its faults, in pure physical and intellectual terms. Rarely has an audience been put so squarely in the mind’s-eye of a protagonist.

“The French Connection” operates on William Friedkin’s brawny visual intuition and his innate ability to cull character traits from action and atmosphere. The influence on his actors is unqualified. Every performance bristles with complete conviction. The heightened drama of the criminal activity at hand, and the detectives attempting to capture its agents, is real.

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Rated R. 104 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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