Posts Tagged ‘crime movie’

Surveillance – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, September 22nd, 2010


Jennifer Lynch’s main accomplishment in life is being born as the daughter of visionary film-maker David Lynch. This film, her second feature, which she also co-wrote, did nothing to change that fact. She tried very hard to borrow from her father and his style is immediately recognizable in this abnormal thriller, even if she tries to give it some of her own flourishes. Two FBI agents come to a small town to investigate a series of gruesome highway killings. The local police is in way over their head and the tales of the witnesses are not entirely trustworthy. So the question is: what happened? And even more importantly: what is going to happen? But despite every attempt, there is nothing truly new, creative or unique here. The story is patently predictable, the violence is superfluous but not entirely unreasonable and the depth of human nature that are pumped have all been seen before. Without anything really standing out, including the performances from some name actors, the film has very little to recommend it. Still, if you are bored and have 90 minutes to spare, you can give it a try.

Random Observations:

Surveillance at the IMDb

Speaking of actorly performances: the film features the severely underused Pell James. Sure, she might not be the most talented American actress under 30, but she is certainly one of the prettier ones…

The film was co-written by Lynch and Kent Harper, who also plays a crucial role.

Sneakers – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, September 17th, 2010


Combining genres is tough. Combining thriller and comedy is nigh-impossible. Sneakers still attempts it – with middling success. It’s an absurd story of professional thieves that test out security systems so that real thieves don’t break in who stumble over what may be the biggest invention in human history. The thrilling moments are rare and so are the funny ones, mostly due to a charismatic Robert Redford in the lead role, while the impressive supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, David Strathairn) is mostly reduced to being annoying. Nevertheless, the film manages to be solid entertainment – and often, that is quite enough to be remembered two decades later.

Random Observations:

Sneakers at the IMDb

The film features a pre-elder-statesman-aged David Strathairn, which just goes to prove that some actors are born to play one part, even if they have to wait fifty years to fit the role.

Nice bit of Fabricated Truth trivia: this is the first “proper” entry I write since my return. And even though I’ve been back for more than a week, this is the first new film I’ve seen. (I watched Casablanca again a couple of days ago, because it’s just that awesome.)

Midnight (Call It Murder) – Minute Movie Review

Montag, September 13th, 2010


When watching older films, say from the 1930s, it’s easy to think that the overall quality of cinema was much higher. After all, pretty much all those films are pretty great. Of course, one often forgets that only the good films are remembered many decades later, while all the middling or downright bad fare is all but forgotten. Which would have been the rightful fate of this film, originally called Midnight, later re-released as Call It Murder, if not for the fact that Humphrey Bogart had one of his earliest (and smallest) parts in it. And while he is good, very little else is. The story is okay – the foreman of the jury who convicted a woman of murder and sentenced her to death is in trouble with his “laws are laws” approach when his own daughter kills Bogart – but the acting, the direction, the lightning, the sets – pretty much everything else is pretty bad. Add to that that the film is in the public domain and so naturally the DVD release is of terrible quality and it means that even if you love Bogart (And who doesn’t?), you would do well to just ignore the film and further labour under the delusion, that everything used to be better, especially in Hollywood.

Random Observations:

Midnight at the IMDb

Apart from Bogart, there are some second tier actors and actresses that film buffs may know, but even Margaret Wycherly or Henry O’Neill are not really noticeable. And yes, both their names are misspelled in the credits.

For the re-release, the film not only got a new title, but also changed the top billing to Bogart. Yes, everyone in Hollywood always wanted to make as much money as possible and loved a good scam. That is nothing new.

The film is based on a play that also flopped.

The film features one of my all time favourite slang words that significantly changed meaning, when one character states that another “made a boner”.

Scarface (1932) – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, September 10th, 2010


In the original Scarface (compared to Brian De Palma’s remake), Paul Muni is the scariest of all the old-time movie hoodlums. Through ruthless violence, he rises in the Chicago crime community, killing everybody who stands in his way. The film is, for the time, unflinchingly brutal – which ultimately caused producer Howard Hughes to release it without the Hays Office’s approval – but also a finely layered crime drama and the story of a man who is so caught up in his own situation, he slowly goes (even more) insane. Supported by an excellent cast, especially the always brilliant George Raft, the film is truly memorable for more than it’s violence.

Random Observations:

Scarface at the IMDb

The film is sold as a warning to society, having a title card in the beginning claim that it is all true and that the people should do something about horrible incidents like these. In fact, screen-writer Ben Hecht based much of the story on Al Capone, the original Scarface.

Whether it’s booze in the prohibition original or drugs in the remake, neither film is really about substance abuse.

Small part for Boris Karloff, who looks almost human here.

Directed by Howard Hawks. For once, I was not able to spot any characters, storylines or dialogue he used in other films as well.

Atlantic City – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 23rd, 2010


Burt Lancaster is an ageing petty criminal with delusions of grandeur. He takes care of his dead friend’s widow, works as a small time bookie and dreams of the golden days when Atlantic City was run by the mob. Susan Sarandon works as a waitress in one of the casinos and dreams of being a blackjack dealer. When her husband and sister, who ran away together, arrive in town hoping to sell some drugs, all their lives will be changed. Louis Malle’s film is a harsh and bitter look at small time life in the once great city. There is no room here for greatness, just for everyday hopes and dreams, most of which are ultimately squashed. The plot or rather some behaviour of the characters is not quite consistent, but it detracts little from the otherwise very good film. Surprisingly sweet and funny, this 1980 film is a forerunner for the crime revival of the 1990s – just without the delusion of grandeur.

Random Observations:

Atlantic City at the IMDb

“I never wear a seatbelt. I don’t believe in gravity.” How’s that for a great line?

In the great tradition of themed weeks at Fabricated Truth, I have deemed this Louis Malle Week.

The film is a French-Canadian co-production, but was shot on location in Atlantic City, USA. (Which, incidentally, is the German title of the film.)

The great Wallace Shawn has one of his earliest roles in the film as a waiter. It’s always interesting to see such “big name actors” in their humble beginnings. And yes, I am aware that only one of regular readers has any idea who Wallace Shawn is.

The Black Dahlia – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 16th, 2010


After being moved to a higher office in the Police Department because their charity fight brokered everyone a pay increase, rivals Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett team up. They are having a good time of it until a girl is murdered and Eckhart’s desire to find the killer and once more claim the spotlight starts to create trouble. But this is only half of the overly convoluted, stupid, erroneous and downright insulting thing this film calls it’s storyline. Director Brian De Palma set out to make a modern day film noir and his recreation of 1940s Los Angeles is certainly very beautiful, with great production design and cinematography, but in all that glory he forgot to create a compelling and coherent story or to hire actors that can act or at least direct them decently. The film is overly ambitious and fails spectacularly, which is still better than all the middling fare out there, but not enough to make it worth spending any time with.

Random Observations:

The Black Dahlia at the IMDb

The film is based on James Ellroy’s novel, which in turn is based on a true story. Which in this case means: the murder actually happened, but it was never solved and none of the people apart from the victim in the novel ever existed, and even the real Elizabeth Short aka The Black Dahlia bore little resemblance to the book or film version. So basically they just used a true murder as a hook to get people interested in the crappy story. (For full disclosure, I should add that I have never read the novel, but if the story is anything like in the film, it’s bound to be bad.)

Whatever happened to Josh Hartnett? There was a time when he seemed like the next big thing, but now he seems all but forgotten. Could it be that this film exposed his limited acting ability?

The only actor in this film who is any good is Aaron Eckhart. Everyone else, even otherwise talented people like Fiona Shaw, Hilary Swank or  Scarlett Johansson turn in absolutely lacklustre performances that are distracting from the film more than anything else. On the other hand, maybe that was intentional.

The Yakuza – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, August 13th, 2010


After his daughter is kidnapped by Japanese Yakuza, an American businessman with ties to Japan asks his old friend Robert Mitchum to get her back. Mitchum knows Japan and uses the chance to return to the woman he loves, while also caching in an old favour to help his friend. But things don’t go as smoothly as planned and before long he and his partner in crime Takakura Ken must face their opponents time and time again. The film is an excellent portrayal of Japanese culture, especially their idea of honour, a great action movie and also a touching drama that is perfectly acted by both the American and the Japanese cast. Brutal, honest and above all thrilling and touching, this is an underrated gem that deserves to be rediscovered.

Random Observations:

The Yakuza at the IMDb

This concludes our celebration of the great Robert Mitchum. If you are still not convinced that you should see as many of his films as possible, all I can say is that you are missing one of the best actors of all time.

There is currently talk of a remake, which naturally, would be a complete travesty. The only good thing about it could be that it would draw a little attention to the all but forgotten original.

Directed by Sydney Pollack, the film has more than Mitchum’s name to attract casual viewers. And of course there is the screen-writing dream team of Robert Towne and Paul Schrader.

I’m used to shots of starting and landing planes to establish the location as an airport, but this is the first film I’ve ever seen where a Lufthansa plane was used.

The Wrong Man – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 2nd, 2010


In a turn from form, Alfred Hitchcock actually tells a true story in this film: misidentified by several eye-witnesses, musician Henry Fonda is thought to be a hold-up man that pushed over several stores and offices in his neighbourhood. His insistence that he is innocent is not believed and he has trouble confirming his alibi. In short, a rather bad situation. The film is rather slow in the first half, focusing on his initial arrest, but considerably picks up speed in the second half. It’s not as exciting as the director’s numerous fictional works, but the sheer absurdity of the story and some further plot twists stranger than fiction make the film a good cautionary tale about the reliability of eye witnesses.

Random Observations:

The Wrong Man at the IMDb

Instead of his usual cameo, Hitchcock narrated the opening.

Since this is a true story, it’s obvious that the real criminal is caught in the end. (How else would anybody believe the wrong man’s story?) Naturally, he looks nothing like Fonda.

A nice supporting turn from Vera Miles as Fonda’s wife, who slowly crumbles under the pressure.

Dial M for Murder – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, Juli 28th, 2010


When Ray Milland plans to have his wife Grace Kelly murdered after he learned of her love for another man, the plan seems perfect. But naturally, it doesn’t work out and so he has to improvise – which also seems to work out in his favour. But as crime writer and true love of Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, remarks: perfect crimes are committed easier on paper than in reality. Alfred Hitchcock’s film is a good, but not perfect thriller, that is suspenseful despite the obvious story. It’s not his best film, but good actors all around make it worth watching.

Random Observations:

Dial M for Murder at the IMDb

Incidentally, just like Gene Kelly wanted to film Brigadoon on location in Scotland, but the studio objected, the studio forced Hitchcock to make the film in 3D. So at this point, we should have relearned the power of the studios in American Cinema of the 1950s.

I’m not a big fan of 3D movies, but this is one film I would have been curious to see in that format. I’m sure Hitchcock managed to make the most, i.e. very little but significantly more than James Cameron, of it.

Normally, it’s very clear who you as the viewer are supposed to be rooting for, usually the good guys. Of course, there are some films, where you are supposed to be on the criminals’ side, because they are oh so charming, just lovable rogues who don’t really harm anyone. In this film, it is also clear who you should be rooting for, but I was very much in the corner of the bad guy, which is why the foreseeable ending disappointed me so.

The Inspector is played by John Williams, the actor, not to be confused with the infinitely better known John Williams, the composer.

It’s a real shame that Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 (two years after this film was made) and thus ended her career. She was quite a good actress. And yes, also rather easy on the eyes.

I Confess – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, Juli 23rd, 2010


A German refugee in Canada commits murder and confesses to his priest Montgomery Clift. When it comes to light that Clift benefited from the death and he becomes a suspect, he must decide whether to follow his church’s rules and keep quiet. Alfred Hitchcock later disowned the film and said he should never have made it, but there is actually a lot to like in this psychological drama. The issue is engaging and it is pure joy to see Clift act his way through it, relying solely on facial expressions to convey his emotional turmoil. The ending had to be changed from the stage play in order to pacify the censors and thus naturally is rubbish, but apart from that, this is a very good film.

Random Observations:

I Confess at the IMDb

I’ve liked Karl Malden ever since I first saw him in Patton, but I was unimpressed by his performance here.

The film was made in more innocent times, when Catholic priests were actually still considered morally decent…

The film was shot (partly) on location in Quebec, so maybe that is why Hitchcock, who was notoriously displeased with shooting outside a studio, later dismissed it.

Since the villain is German, it follows naturally that he must have been evil and wicked and crazy. Maybe times weren’t more innocent.

This concludes week two of American Cinema of the 1950s Appreciation Month (or whatever it was called). What we have learned so far is that Hitchcock is at his best, when he trades in his thriller chops for some actual drama, and that Gene Kelly is best when he is making more jokes and dancing less.