Category: Crime

Logging Mob Movies #2: White Heat

When I saw ‘White Heat’, It really added a layer onto my opinion of James Cagney, putting him front and center as one my favorite and most watchable of actors. He plays a mobster momma’s boy in the film yet still feels like an ice-cold hard ass. He’s psychologically intoned with his mother, a comforting yet sharply spoken woman, who follows him and his gang across the country. It begins with the Jarrett gang robbing a moving train, where we see just how much of a snake Cody Jarrett, (James Cagney), is. His lack of emotion is characteristic of the mob leader: and in fact is re-enforced by his mother.

The plot behind White Heat is one of considerable complexity: It involves Cody Jarrett submitting himself to prison out of some scheme to save his neck, and an undercover cop, Hank, who shares a cell with the mobster. It eventually leads to the two becoming close inmate friends, and resulting in there mutual escape, along with a handful of other criminals. They’re a fresh gang again, and Cody means to take revenge against a man named Big Ed, a member of his gang, who thinks he can reign over Cody’s men, and mother, while he’s in prison.

The result is a memorable gangster flick with an enticing performance from James Cagney. One of the most famous scenes is while he’s sitting in the prison, eating dinner, when he finds out his mother has been killed: he stands up on the table and screams, going on an angry rampage, punching prison guards while simultaneously weeping uncontrollably. He’s a red-faced bull, and the only person who can tame him, his mother, is now gone forever. Cody Jarrett is more loose and careless than ever.

There are so many subtle hints that make White Heat the masterpiece that it undoubtedly is, building scenarios that seem very much ahead of it’s time. It’s revealed that the father of Jarrett lived in a psyche institute, which creates a new dimension, a second breed of terror about Cody Jarrett’s character; his genes don’t exactly scream of sanity.

The conclusion of the film is a completely riveting third act: Through his final criminal act, we see he is more than a man chasing fast-cash, but a tortured, self-destructive person. He’s truly mad, clearly and simply, and he revels in wrecking havoc and revealing to the world himself and his true nature. It’s stated in the film that he would fake bouts of crying as a child in order to get his mothers attention. Cody Jarrett would never kill himself, no matter the pain he feels. He has to go out with an explosion, with people’s attention, and with that very specific sense of self-superiority he carries within himself.

Logging Mob Movies #1: The Godfather

The Godfather, directed by early filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, is such a perfectly-executed and ambient cinematic experience; but not only does the form endow a sense of mystery and intrigue, but also the content: The story, of a family of Sicilian gangsters, is as poignant and gritty as any gangster film created. The dynamics of the family is like that of royalty; each son of Vito Corleone has their own problems, idiosyncrasies, regrets, and fears. Vito Corleone, played by a toned-down and wonderful Marlon Brando. Hot-headed and heir Sonny played by a young James Caan. Tom Hagen played by Robert Duvall. And Michael, the army-hero, played by a baby-faced Al Pacino.

The film begins with Vito’s daughters wedding, Connie, played by Talia Shire. Inside the shuttered-windows, behind the desk with a cat on his lap, Vito greets the tradition of wedding requests. Men who desire the help of Vito to punish the type who the police only give help to. Vito’s steam releases in his calm, reserved manor, when a man asks bluntly for his help, while rarely ever coming to see him for the simple sake of his friendship; obviously, the man is very daunted for just being in Vito’s presence, a mob lord, a violent commander, a Sicilian.

Vito Corleone has one stance in his business that is irrefutable: no drugs. He believes it will create illegitimacy and unwanted attention. It is suspected that Connie’s husband is in the drug business, as he works as a limited-worker for the Corleone’s, but Vito does not act: It is Sicilian rule that you do not interfere with a marriage. The drug-trade is the main cause for the familys failure: Sonny shows interest in drugs, which is displayed in a meeting where he makes an undesired outburst, thus causing the drug-lords to kill Vito in order to make Sonny the Godfather sooner. When Vito is hospitalized after being shot several times in the back, during a planned circumstance where Fredo is with him, who most find dull and unfit to defend against the assassination, Michael steps up to guard his father. He knows that the assassins will come for him and finish him; this shows the shimmer of courage and devotion that will lead Michael towards becoming The Godfather himself.

The cinematography is upheld with grace and congruity: the end-scene baptism is a highly memorable montage and comparison, and evokes the often under-toned nature of the mob: Their conscience is as good as the people they love perceive it to be. Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary film is the benchmark for all gangster films: through it’s widely acclaimed release and critical-praise, it will never be forgotten.

Bernie (2011)

The titular character Bernie is played by Jack Black in a low-key, subtle comedy that is unusual  for the uproarious actor. Directed by  Richard Linklater, who made the town musing film ‘Slacker’, this is a homage to the antics and gossip of a small town. The focus is on assistant funeral director, Bernie. A boisterous and overwhelmingly friendly personality, Bernie is a magnet to the old ladies of the Texas town Carthage. He checks up on the widows he’s consoled with after there husbands death. He brings food and cookies, flowers and smiles. Overall, the town thinks Bernie is an entirely optimistic and wonderful human being. And he is. But when a sudden criminal act swoops over him, surprising even himself, the town starts to talk more.

At first I was a bit ambivalent with the whole structure of the movie; It consisted of dialogues with people all around the town about various topics, usually about Bernie and the people he talks to and the things he is involved with. But It does become first-person Bernie, though not all the way. It’s like a comedic documentary, and the ‘criminal’ events and Bernie are true people. We see at the end of the film  a photograph of Jack Black sitting across from the real Bernie.

Jack Black’s performance is one where his own movie ‘personality’ is set aside. In Bernie, the comedy comes only from the character written by the screenwriters. Black must find comedy through looking glass of such a different, energized character. He uses enthusiasm and double-chin comedy to express the character. His pants are pulled above his stomach and his voice is a tone higher than usual.

The casts of town folk interviewed are real, with a sort of mockery that seems signature to Linklater’s style.  One women is bizzarely shaped with yellow, jagged teeth. She says nothing: just laughs and jiggles as her companions gossips. There is an old man with a trucker hat, explaining things like ‘Bernie never acted like a man’. Each one adds a punch to the perception.

Matthew McConaughey takes up a role in the film, and fills it well as a small town Lincoln lawyer. He always adds solid comedic spice with an airhead persona; he is fighting against the belief of the town and attempting to prosecute Bernie for his crimes. He tries to poke fun at Bernie in court, but fails with self-deprecating wit, only revealing his own stupidity.

The movie is a funny, but emotionally resonate exercise in small-town observation. It features a career-lifting performance from Jack Black and a cast of hilarious, stereotype heavy characters.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

This Sundance punch is a gritty, neo-violent mess of a movie, featuring a cast of SWAT-team members dropping the guns and bringing out classic but hyper-realized hand-to-hand combat. It slides story to the side, deciding to instead focus primarily on the kinetic fight sequences and over-the-top kills. A SWAT team is raiding a drug lords building complex, an untouchable resort filled with only a handful of innocent residents; most are criminals or drug addicts. The objective is to silently rise to the top and remove the drug lord: Except, after being flanked by the maniacally violent, meth-head henchman, the officers realize that it’s not going to be that easy. And in fact probably even a challenge to stay alive.

The voices in The Raid are synced with English voice dubbing. It worked fine for me, especially since there is such minimal dialogue, most of its running time filled with maximum violence. The only thing that I thought could have made a difference is having the voice-overs recorded by Japanese-English actors, instead of straight American voices. The scene transitions are well-done and there are some moments of sheer tension: A blade, cut through the wall that covers the covert officer, positioned directly onto his cheek. The next slash is in his head.

The noirish atmosphere fits well with the dark mood of the tale. Residents are shown lighting and smoking foil-crinkled pieces sprinkled with crystal. There is one guardsmen in the building that is torn between loyalties, a fresh dynamic to insert into an otherwise straight-forward tale. Like the grind house movies of the 60s and Tarantino, this movie strives on imagining the most creatively possible deaths. Smashing a head into a splintered door, using peripheral objects as convenient stakes of death; It’s like a piranha movie with the piranhas replaced with sweaty, knife-bearing psychopaths. Chaos on each floor, and a heightening sense hopelessness, no end in sight.

The movie is very impressive in its editing techniques. Dark-lit halls reveal a mob of gun-wielding henchman; and then pounding, vibrating music as the bullets soar through the air. The filmmakers make use of slow motion, and an insanely intense shootout brilliantly constructed with a shaky cam to match the chaos of it all. At times, though, it cuts to so many places that appear so similar to the last that it becomes hard to keep track of who’s who. With the characters being introduced very briefly at the beginning, the impressions aren’t very long-lasting, but the magnificently choreographed fight skills shine through and clear. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, but such a thing doesn’t and shouldn’t exist: If you like skillfully designed action sequences and over-the-top violence, it’s safe to assume that you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Raid.

Contraband (2012)

Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale star in this flashily shot heist thriller with somewhat of a pulse, but yet in the end adds up to a genre exercise that doesn’t really exercise much at all, other than Wahlberg’s biceps. It’s character driven and has plenty of pans swooping over city-lit buildings with picturesque, faded yellow lights that would look like Michael Mann’s Instagram if he had one. There aren’t very many moments of grave suspense, and in fact most of the subplot conclusions are extremely predictable. Though it may be generic, one shouldn’t discredit the movies impressive qualities, especially its intriguingly grainy, darkly-colored photography.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t isolate itself from its predecessors, like it does the citizens of Gotham. It is constantly referencing the mythology and the prequels, little nuggets that the pure fan-boy can appreciate. The director, Christopher Nolan, commented on the graphic novel “The Long Halloween” with much praise, and that is the sort of recognition that makes us assured that he’s the man for the job, or should I say was. His trilogy has marked itself on the wall of epic blockbusters, juxtaposing itself boldly against The Matrix and even The Lord of the Rings. But this isn’t the breakthrough conclusion that acts like a parent to the earlier entries; no, this is a bomb-flying thrill ride at times, but a slow-paced dialogue romp at others. It’s not the sort of comparison that does any sort of cinematic justice.

Batman has been gone for eight years, following the death of Harvey Dent. When a notorious villain involved in the League of Shadows surfaces, who they call Bane, he is pumped into confronting evil once more. A death-trap, his physique is not as tuned as Bane, and the Police haven’t stopped hating him. He deals with personal meditation similar to the strenuous training in the first Batman film, “Batman Begins”.

“I believe in black eyeliner.”

The first quarter of the movie, I feel, is unbearable. It is the worst constructed aspect of the film, with redundant dialogue and one-line emotions. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, and people are starting to poke fun at him; long-nailed Wayne and the like. But do we really need several unknown and unexplored characters throwing out nasty puns about him? Then, we see Alfred for the first time, directing a kitchen full of young maids preparing the meals for a banquet; he is the hearty caretaker, not an objective wedding planner. But then, Nolan turns it around with a waterfall of emotion: Alfred tells Bruce how he wishes he had a family, and would move on from the Batman gig. He tells him about his dreams. While this Is expected in the conclusion, and there are definitely hugely poignant moments between the two, the frequency of there tear-sharing causes it to have less of a punch.

One thing that causes The Dark Knight Rises to seem like a recovering of 2009’s The Dark Knight is that Mr. Wayne is coming out of retirement. We watch Bruce inch himself back into the world, re-establishing his friendships with Foxx and Jim Gordon; but we know them, and we know how they will respond, essentially with the same elbow-nudging wit as everyone else. I really think the dialogue was neglected here: 2009’s Dark Knight is jam-packed with philosophical and memorable ramblings.

Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman

Here, the one-liner is prominent and over-used. And the only one who deserves and can perform them, Is Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. A master jewel thief and a secret Wayne admirer, she leaps hesitantly between her own self-interests and actually making a difference, while always bursting with her signature sass. Spoiler: She doesn’t really purr at all.

John Blake

There are a lot of new characters in Rises, and pretty much all of them were involved in Nolan’s film ‘Inception’. Introduced is police officer John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is an idealistic orphan with a strong intrigue for the Harvey Dent/Batman case. He believes Batman didn’t kill Harvey, or at least refuses to believe it. He was a sign of hope to him and the other children at the orphanage. Jim Gordon soon becomes aware of the Police Officer, and moves him over to his side. He is an overall strong character, even if not entirely necessary, especially on the final film.

Bane

The villain of Rises is the notorious Bane, a brass-shouldered leader with a clan full of devoted followers. His story is told in a Roman-like fashion, showing him at a young age, living underground in the hell of a Gotham prison. He did what no-one else could: he made the jump into the light, as a young child. The connections between this film and Batman Begins makes me think one ought to back it up and watch Batman Begins again; Scarecrow will seem funnier. And with the League of Shadows being referenced a lot in Rises, some will be clueless, but if you see Batman Begins, It all connects beautifully and conclusively. Even Liam Neeson makes a guest appearance from his earlier role, albeit only for a few seconds.

Miranda

Marion Cotillard, the actress playing the delusional wife in ‘Inception’, stars as Miranda, a charity-driven woman trying to work with Wayne to better the world. She is sensitive and business-like, and even despite obvious differences between the two, they grow on each other and become intimate. She takes over the company when Bruce steps up to the Bat-mobile, and is trusted to watch over a Russian scientist’s fission reactor that could potentially provide sustainable energy. The scientist is in the first scene, I believe, since the first scenes of a movie you don’t know who to focus on, I settled for Bane. The scientist was taken out of the plane, which was crashed by Bane and company, and pronounced dead: In reality, Bane parachuted him out.

People were saying from the start that Bane was difficult to understand through the mask. His breathing and talking are one in the same, and the static does sometimes make it difficult; but mostly whats causing the difficulty is the purposefully off-pitched acting from Tom Hardy. He follows a string of low-pitched words with an accentuated high-pitched voice, creating a chilling enthusiasm behind such massive biceps.

The camerawork is staged very similarly to the other Batman films. Slow pan-ins to old men with jaws hanging low in awe, scrolling scenery of the city. Mostly every scene transition converts into a pan, moving in towards something, whether its Catwoman cracking a safe or a Wayne board meeting. During the exposition, this transitional panning is used to a conscious point: let’s slow down the cutting and the drowning Hans Zimmer score and actually have some intertwining plot strings. And it lasts nearly an hour.

The Dark Knight Rises has memorable parts, though it also has parts that create gaps in the chronology out of lack of profundity. Even with a few narrative bumps, it is still an intense, world-encompassing, (well, city-encompassing), film with enough characters to give us a tour of the whole city.

Drive – Film Review

Ryan Gosling stars at the Driver, a quiet and existentially mysterious character who never questions his actions; he swerves from oncoming cars, hides behind trucks in the dead of night, and takes criminals he has never met and takes them to a safe-house at the conclusion of their heist. He is, iconically, a Travis Brickle character for the mob, although Travis seems narcissistic in comparison.

The Driver does not only do the night-gig, he also is a driver for Hollywood. A metaphor for living in someone elses life, the thief’s, he wears a wax mask and plummets through set pieces, flipping his car upside down for the shot. When he meets a girl, he finds a purpose, in more than one way. The film is brilliantly lit in the backdrop of its illuminated city and fast cars, and Gosling does a fine job for having the camera set on his face for the majority of the time; it gets tiring and makes it difficult for Driver to have any sort of cult-following, his face with a toothpick is the poster-boy image of the whole film.

Their are moments of shock in the film that should not go unappraised; its suddenness in action, from quiet scenes of inner thought, to barrels being blown, mixes for a strange and all the more interesting conflict. We do not know The Driver, but nonetheless find a connection, even though he shows no uproarious emotion from the girl he meets, (Carey Mulligan) to make the audience cry out of joy and happiness, what a poor movie would indulge in. In a sense, The Driver always wears a mask, and by being a driver and quiet onlooker, he seems to like to indulge in voyeurism.

The film blends great acting, visceral action, and visual panic to create a stirring, contemplative film. The villian, or avenger, played by Ron Perlman, is appropriately esteemed by his own figure and nastiness, and Perlman plays him in a very appropriate, albeit niche, manner. The film succeeds for the people who accept it what is is: A tense, contemplative heist-genre film with a crew of fine performances and casting.

Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory

The third film in the Paradise Lost series is a provocative and concise look at the errors in the justice system; rather than emotional testimonials, though it has many, it leans its elbows on new facts from DNA and circumstantial evidence. It has created celebrity out of the Memphis Three, which consists of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly, who ever since they were convicted of the murder of three West Memphis boys have sustained their innocence, other than a temporary guilt plead from Misskelly, who was lead on by the police: he later revoked this on account of the polices pushing.

The film also nods to its earlier chronicles of the west Memphis three, and rightfully so; It has created an uprising that is worth analyzing in itself, with celebrities such as Johnny Depp and the Dixie chicks coming out in support of the re-trial. The power of film and documentary is displayed here, yet also how easy some people can be persuaded if facts are presented wisely. Though we here little from the people who think the boys still remain guilty–except extremely self-conscious moments where they refrain from talking intelligently–It takes a little bit of hypocrisy a long way; we are shown how police corrupt the judicial system through quoting out of context, interrogating for hours for a slip of wording from the interrogate, though this is little different than the editing being done in this film.

It displays great affinity for pace, through pans of the high-tops of a forest, most likely the one shown in the film to be where the murder occurred. We aren’t only told the details, we are also taken to the scene of the crime, where the boys were located in a river. Their is a somewhat eerie magnitude towards Damien Echol’s personality, a black-dressing, quiet, yet intelligent man. But I found Jason Baldwin to be very convincing, who through his time in jail became more and more articulate, and at first refused to plead guilty in order to be released; he agreed partly for Damien, who would be sentenced to death if not. He proved to be strong-willed. But one thing fails to quench my curiosity throughout these films: Where are the displays of emotional crisis? The crying, outbreaks, and natural sobs that would help so much to authenticate their innocence. Throughout, they take it like stunned kids: they are kids.

The film is a great, albeit scattered documentary about unjust witch trials in West Memphis. The people interviewed show the passion behind the unjust nature behind three boys’ conviction, as well as the passion of the filmmakers standing back and filming it all.

Memento

Christopher Nolan’s memento takes the narrative linearity of film and flips it upside down; Leonard, played by Guy Pierce, must work backwards to find out his wife’s death because he no longer has a short-term memory. The premise of this is fulfilled to its fullest: He writes notes, not on a pad, but tattooed across his body. The motel-clerk has him booked for two rooms, so he can receive two payments. And everything that Leonard encounters could potentially not be what it seems.

Tense, provocative, and highly intelligent, Memento displays British director Nolan’s talent,and sets the tone for his later, also highly psychological films.

The Dark Knight

8/10

The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a despairing door into a city of madness and corruption; The Joker, played with enigmatic gesture by Heath Ledger, has one thing planned only: To turn Gotham city into crumbling dust. Christian Bale returns from the earlier entry, Batman Begins, as the Knight, and lives up to his corporate splendor as he did during his role in American Psycho, though they are very opposite. The film is an amazing feat in special effects and cinematic action, featuring some enthralling shots filmed in a Chicago-based tunnel and a philosophical tone.

Maggie Gyhlennal plays Rachael, who is split between her love of Harvey Dent, the intelligent district attorney, or her old friend Bruce Wayne. The relationship has the strained essence through out, and it’s conclusion is expressed in a way by the hands of the joker. Christopher Nolan and his brother Johnathan, a co-scriptwriter, packed the Dark Knight with philosophical dimensions: throughout the movie, the joker pokes at Batman by demanding he remove the mask, and when people die because Batman refuses, he feels it is his fault; yet, the wise Alfred reassures with the fact that he would kill people anyways. It’s in their nature and we must only focus on our own and its benefits.

Their is a mysterious, gangster-like element to the film, also: the five Italian crime families are introduced, and Batman goes to them to find information on the joker. The use of sub-plots makes a great effect, the gangsters, Rachael and Harvey, Jim Gordon, and even more, similar to Scorsese’s The Departed. It balances it all perfectly, each consequence of a character leading to another, good or bad. We live by our choices, Batman must know, and his choices need to be above himself and for the sake of Gotham; because if we sit down and look at personal choices, they are self-interested, neurotic (the joker), and disillusioned (Harvey Dent).  Though it all swings in accord with the Batman mythology, I did find The Joker’s ease in persuading Harvey Dent onto his side rather unrealistic; Dent, above all people, would be hard to pull onto one’s side: he is a defense-lawyer.  Why would he bend over a few dark sentiments from The Joker?

The Dark Knight is a huge bang in the blockbuster genre: It virtually re-defined the comic-book genre almost to the point of not calling it one: Noirish, cinematic, philosophical, and intelligent, The Dark Knight is an entertaining benchmark in dark science-fiction.