37 posts categorized "Thiller"

January 24, 2018

THE YAKUZA — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The YakuzaRobert Mitchum was a hot property coming off the success of “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” when he made Sydney Pollock’s “The Yakuza” in 1974. It was the same year that “The Yakuza’s” co-screenwriter Robert Towne scored big with his screenplay for “Chinatown,” which Roman Polanski crafted into a timeless masterpiece of political and familial corruption in Los Angeles.

For his debut screenwriting effort Paul Schrader works with Towne on “The Yakuza” to create an ambitious cinematic apologia for the atrocities levied on Japan by the U.S. during World War II, albeit on a deep personal level. The screenwriters are quick to point out in stark narrative terms the awful damage done to the Japanese by America’s fire-bombing missions that paled even the horrific destruction done by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yakuza

The film is a crash course in the ethical codes of the Yakuza, Japan’s transnational organized crime syndicate. Robert Mitchum’s World War II vet Harry Kilmer still carries a torch for Eiko (Keiko Kishi), the Japanese woman whose life he saved while serving as a U.S. Marine. Kilmer went so far as to borrow money from his fellow Marine George Tanner (Brian Keith) to help Eiko open a bar in Tokyo.

Tanner has since switched from being a private detective to selling guns to the Yakuza. A lost gun shipment has caused the Yakuza to kidnap Tanner’s daughter. Kilmer agrees to do his old War pal a favor and travel to Tokyo to track down Eiko’s Yakuza-connected brother Tanaka (played by the amazing Ken Takakura) to help rescue Tanner’s daughter. Tanner hooks Harry up with Dusty (Richard Jordan) as a personal bodyguard whose instincts for survival are no match for Harry’s fast-twitch defense mechanisms.

Yakuza Pollack

The convoluted narrative holds secrets about Tanner, Eiko, and Tanaka that cause Mitchum’s stoic character to take violent action, even against his own flesh. Although clunky by modern editing standards, “The Yakuza” is a fascinating film that earns its sequences of shocking violence, and pays off with a crisis of personally expressed morals that transfer from Eastern to Western philosophy through Tanaka and Harry Kilmer.

Eiko-keiko-kishi-and-robert-mitchum

Robert Mitchum was in his stride when he made “The Yakuza,” doing a movie every year and making it look easy yet poignant with every performance. “The Yakuza” is a beautifully flawed film that nonetheless catches you off guard when you least expect it.

Rated R. 112 mins. (B+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Documentarian Jeremy Workman ("Who is Henry Jaglom," "Magical Universe") joins the boys to talk about Sydney Pollock's THE YAKUZA (starring Robert Mitchum, Keiko Kishi, Ken Takakura, and Richard Jordan). We kicked off the episode as our debut live-feed on Facebook.  Click here to watch http://bit.ly/2rCMzwU

Although it was Cole's idea to do Mitchum's follow-up to "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," Jeremy still had his diary notes from seeing THE YAKUZA way back in 2001. Cole broke out a bottle of Hitachino Nest's REAL GINGER BREW because it only seemed right to have a legit Japanese craft beer on the show. This is one damned fine beer. Bon appetite. 

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Jeremy Workman

Hitachino-nest-real-ginger-brew.
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August 27, 2013

CLOSED CIRCUIT

Espionage Everywhere
British Spy Thriller Scratches the Surface on Endemic Surveillance

Closed CircuitGaping plot holes don’t prevent this nearly current espionage thriller from grabbing its audience and keeping them hooked all the way to its socially volatile ending. As the title hints, England’s CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) method of public [and private] surveillance comes into play during a case involving the terrorist bombing of Burough Market in central London. The trial of a foreign suspect plays out in a secret London court where romantically-linked defense attorneys (played by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) struggle to find the truth beneath a thick stack of government-propagated deceptions.

Audiences familiar with the NSA scandal regarding America’s secret FISA court-approved surveillance of every aspect of foreign and domestic communication will be ahead of the film’s curve. Still, it is no less comforting to recognize that the UK is just as much of a police state as the US.

The movie has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Eric Bana’s ever-reliable presence — this time as Martin Rose, a defense attorney called upon to defend the bombing’s accused mastermind Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) after the “suicide” of the original defense advocate. Bana’s terse masculinity serves the part well. You always have the sense that Bana’s self-possessed character is the kind of man who doesn’t need to carry a gun to defend himself.

Similar to America’s bogus justice system for accused terrorists, the British courts deem the evidence so “sensitive” that the imprisoned defendant is not allowed to know the details of the charges being brought against him. Supposedly unaware of Martin’s romantic past, the court appoints Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) to the defense team. Although one of the attorneys should in good conscience recuse himself or herself, Martin and Claudia have too much ambition to let such an opportunity for media exposure pass unexploited. They are willing to risk their careers — all or nothing. Never mind that once either of them receives the evidence, it becomes illegal for them to communicate in any way. This is where the story’s biggest plot hole opens up. Although the screenwriters do their best to fill in the gap for the court’s motivation behind such a problematic pairing, the predominant surveillance element of the plot gets in the way.

Director John Crowley (“Boy A”) keeps the tense dramatic movement tight through quick plot reversals that slingshot the story toward a logical, or illogical conclusion — depending on your perspective. Although the film’s action sequences are limited, punches of gritty encounters strike with lightening bolt efficiency. Crowley’s use of surveillance camera footage heightens the drama, although the director doesn’t utilize the effect with sufficient purpose to serve the storyline.

As with other surveillance-themed movies made recently, screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”) lacked knowledge of the Edward Snowden disclosures that have alerted the world to a depth of US and UK government corruption — some of which is on display here.

As it stands, “Closed Circuit” is a well-executed sketch of an unethical government and judicial system exploiting the public's fear of the unknown in order to manipulate the same terrorist acts it pretends to defend against. You get the sense that the number of surveillance-related espionage is about to get a lot deeper over the course of the next few years.

Rated R. 96mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)



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January 08, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

All Talk
Lynne Ramsay Can’t Commit to Horror
By Cole Smithey

KevinForced, stultifying, and artificial beyond belief, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's off-key treatment of Lionel Shriver's novel. Ramsay co-wrote the screenplay with brother-in-law Rory Kinnear. The story is about a bad-seed son who terrorizes his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) from the minute he's born.

Unsure of whether it wants to be a cynical drama or a horror thriller, the poorly paced film inches through Kevin's bad behavior from infant to teenager. The only thing more reprehensible than Kevin’s unwarranted hatred of his mother is his parents’ unwillingness to straighten the kid out even as his behavior spirals out of control.

Kevin plays nice when daddy Franklin (played by a miscast John C. Reilly) is around but he has a knack for methodically pushing his mom's buttons the rest of the time. As an infant, Kevin never stops screaming, except when dad’s around. At six-years-old, Kevin trashes his mom's newly designed home office with a squirt gun filled with paint. Discipline is off the table. Instead, daddy gives Kevin a toy bow-and-arrow set reinforced by readings from Robin Hood--the only book Kevin owns. Later, Kevin will graduate to a high-powered bow, also given as a gift from pops. The teenaged Kevin is bound for disaster. However, when the much foreshadowed crisis moment finally comes, it arrives with all the force of an overflowing bathtub—not the least because it occurs off-screen.

Production designer Judy Becker’s lazy approach relegates the film’s mise en scène to an afterthought. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a text book example of how not to design a film. Everything is bright shiny surfaces without texture or depth. Context is nowhere in sight.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” plays like a narrative negative. What the viewer sees are all the extraneous scenes between what should be shown. It’s as if the editor confused what was on the editing room floor with what should have gone into the projector.

Filmed in stagnate fly-on-the-wall compositions, the film emphasizes Tilda Swinton's inscrutable performance as a woman unable or unwilling to come to grips with her nightmare spawn. In short, Eva is the same brand of idiot as her husband and her diabolical son. There’s no one to empathize with in the story-not even Kevin’s abused younger sister who barely shows up except to be inexplicably blinded in one eye by her hateful sibling.

Some people should never be parents; some children should never be born; some novels don't deserve to be made into films. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a minimalist mystery with no hook. Whether there’s more to Shiver’s novel of “maternal ambivalence” is immaterial. The movie sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from a well executed art film like "Melancholia," whose characters take action in a framework of fertile social commentary. Rather, “Kevin” falls into a pejorative category with half-films such as “Martha Marcy May Marlene” or “Shame” where the abstract narrative and underdeveloped themes never connect. It’s not enough to instigate suspense. There has to be a story. Moreover there has to be character development. You won’t find any such luxuries here.

The parents of a psychopathic child don’t even bother to have the conversation the film's title suggests. Perhaps the filmmakers hope their audience will do their verbal articulation for them in circular what-if conversations. Sadly, there isn't much to say about Kevin except that he wasn't properly disciplined as a child and so he went all Columbine without going so far as to take his own life. A year ago Mumblecore was the dumbest film movement around. Now dumb is the province of a minimalist subgenre that has yet to be named. Perhaps we should call it the “Shame on Martha and Kevin” movement. Let’s just hope it stops here. Film audiences should be so lucky.

Rated R. 112 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

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