Tag Archives: crime

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

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To Live and Die in L.A. – Review

11 Oct

I’ve talked about William Friedkin before on this blog, and I’m sure I’ll be doing it again in the not too distant future. He’s a brilliant film maker who has very rarely allowed his vision to be compromised, so even if his movies aren’t always gems, you have to respect the guy. I mean he did The Exorcist and The French Connection for heaven’s sake. One of his movies that doesn’t get nearly enough attention that it deserves is his 1985 neo-noir thriller To Live and Die in L.A. While the film has gotten a cult following over the years, it’s not one that I hear discussed too much. I’ve just recently watched it and at first, I didn’t really know what to make of it, but then when it was over I really stopped and thought about the movie as a whole, and I gotta say that it’s one of his stronger films. It may not be quite on the level of The Exorcist and The French Connection, but like those movies, it defies Hollywood norms and turns the concept of a clean narrative completely on its head.

Richard Chance (William Petersen) and Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) are two secret service agents who are tracking down notorious counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), whose fake bills can never seem to be contained. After a routine check of what is believed to be Masters’ printing lab, Hart is shot and killed by Masters and his bodyguard. This fills Chance with an overwhelming need for vengeance, a need that he makes explicit to his new partner, John Vukovich (John Pankow). As the investigation turns up new leads and the two earn Masters’ trust as two potential buyers of fake bills, more problems arise with the legality of their actions. Vukovich sees the danger in how deep they are getting, but Chance is so blinded by his hate for Masters that they may both fall down a criminal abyss and never find their ways out.

At its surface, this sounds like a pretty standard revenge thriller, and for most of the movie that’s how I saw it. I want to get my initial reactions out of the way first, because a lot of my complaints about the movie are still valid. For one thing, this film has a very strange way of editing that can either be seen as way too stylistic or just plain sloppy. Scenes end before it seems they should and we are transported to another time and place entirely. It’s hard to keep track of how much time has passed between these cuts and where we have just jumped to. It was also kind of hard to take Petersen’s performance seriously at some points. He’s supposed to be a hard boiled anti-hero, which does come across well at times, but other times it’s a bit too much and resulted in some unwanted laughter at his overly dramatic performance. Finally, for a while, the story seemed so plain and generic that I had a hard time getting into it. A serviceman who is consumed by revenge goes against authority to get what he wants. It’s your everyday “play by my own rules” scenario. Luckily, To Live and Die in L.A. offers a lot more than your standard revenge film, and that’s where this movie really stands out.

This is a movie that has to be seen in full to really appreciate everything it has to offer. It got to a point pretty late in the film where it kicked into high gear and made everything before it come into focus. Chance’s character is one of the tragic anti-heroes of film and the subtle manipulations he made throughout the movie may not hit you immediately, but it soon hits you like a brick. He manipulates his partner who get pushed further and further to the edge throughout the movie. He also manipulates a woman named Ruth, played by Darlanne Fluegel, a parolee who he extorts through his power as an officer of the law and through sex. It’s an odd relationship that fits in very well with the off putting nature of the movie. Along with the manipulation, which begs the question of just how evil Chance is compared to Masters, is deception all across the board that is revealed in the last scenes of the movie. This turns a standard revenge plot into a slow game of deceptive progression that heats up and finally explodes in the last act of the movie. This narrative progress is one that has be seen in full and made me appreciate the movie so much more.

Many people have linked this film to The French Connection because of the plot and the themes of crime and corruption. I definitely see it and I also see a link with the hopelessness that both films feature. The way this film is shot is classic Friedkin, with the dramatic scenes in close up, the fights almost uncinematic, and actions set pieces that are, on the flip side, very cinematic. Highlights of the movie include a brawl in a living room, a fantastic car chase that ends on the wrong side of the freeway, and a scene in a locker room that will make you feel like an anvil just fell on you. The cinematography by Robby Müller is excellent and really brings out the noir sensibilities this film clearly has. I know I keep saying this, but all of these elements are what save this movie from being generic and raises it to a movie that I haven’t really stopped thinking about since I’ve seen it.

To Live and Die in L.A. is a very well made movie that isn’t without its flaws. Some of the editing really didn’t work for me and Petersen’s performance was sometimes a bit too over the top for the realistic vibe that Friedkin was obviously going for. It’s still a very memorable, gritty, and ultimately tragic modern noir tale that takes viewers deep into the grimy underworld of criminal Los Angeles. It’s not Friedkin’s best work, but it’s a movie that deserves a lot more credit than it’s given. I definitely give this movie a recommendation. Give it a watch.

Final Grade: B+

Good Time – Review

28 Sep

Every now and then, a movie comes along that completely destroys the conventions of its genre. Sometimes that works well, and other times it holds the movie back. It all depends upon the creative force behind the project. Ben and Josh Safdie have recently proven that they are more than capable to create a movie that defies all the rules expected in a feature film. Their newest film, Good Time, is the perfect example. The trailers for this movie had me really intrigued, but I didn’t get the proper feel of the style going into it. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but what I got was something so different and disturbing that I dare say this is a movie that should not be ignored. Good Time is a piece of art that defies all expectations and rules but also feels like one of the realest movies of 2017.

Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is a petty thief who is looking for a score that could potentially change his life. He’s careless in many ways, bust most of all by utilizing the help of his mentally challenged younger brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), with his crimes. After successfully robbing a small New York bank for $65,000, Constantine and Nick think that they’ve made it out scot free. That is until a police officer gets too close to Nick and scares him, which sends the two brothers off running with the police in hot pursuit. After a chase, Nick is arrested, while Constantine ultimately gets away. After hearing about the abuse Nick is forced to put up with, Constantine begins an odyssey into the underbelly of New York City to raise $10,000 to bail his brother out of jail. As the night progresses and more altercations keeps Constantine from the money he needs, his desperation starts to wear him down and reveal a side of himself he didn’t want to believe existed.

Something that I sort of guessed about Good Time is that it would feel very episodic. I had Collateral in mind before seeing this movie, but the two really don’t share many similarities. Good Time is very un-cinematic in the way it tells its story, and I found it a bit hard to grasp onto at first. The beginning of the movie really pulled me in, but it became hard to find the rhythm the story was moving at. After awhile, I decided to stop looking for it. I would simply let the film wash over me and wherever it went, I went. This is one of those movies that it all makes sense after it’s over and looking back on it, I appreciate it more than I did as I was watching it. Scenes lead into the next almost at random as small occurrences that seem minor are enough to shake up the lives of the few characters that share the screen. There’s little rhyme or reason as to why things happen, just that it’s the sole consequences of the characters and not for the sake of driving the plot forward. Some may say it’s anticlimactic. I say it’s brilliant.

Speaking of un-cinematic, the look of Good Time is really something to behold. It was sort of marketed as this neon lit trip down the rabbit hole like something out of the mind of Nicolas Winding Refn. There are a few scenes that do go a little over the top with the lighting, and sometime it was a bit distracting. For the most part, however, that is not the style of this film. This is a grimy, dirty, and highly unflattering film. The sets are run down and gross and the actors are made to look their worst. These are bad people operating out of bad places and the Safdie brothers really work to make that clear. A lot of scenes are also shot using off balanced angles with the foreground obstructing the view or close ups that come across as jarring. This is a disturbing film and this is really the only way this film could’ve been shot. Any other way would’ve robbed the audience of the proper tone. I do wish that some scenes toned it down with the lighting however. They didn’t always fit.

A while ago, I reviewed The Rover and I commented on Robert Pattinson’s understated but superb performance. Pattinson is one of those actors who can give an unexpectedly brilliant performance when paired with the right script and film maker. His understated performance in The Rover works really well, but his performance in Good Time is something else. This one is much more kinetic, dark, and completely devoid of innocence. His command of the screen is evident in this film and the weight of the character is clearly heavy, but he carries it all very well. Ben Safdie as his mentally challenged younger brother also gives a startlingly real performance that I wasn’t really expecting. There’s a strange cameo in the beginning by the always excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh to top off the cast of excellent performers. This may be one of the best acted movies of the entire year.

Good Time is a truly unique cinematic experience by the Safdie brothers. I’m unfamiliar with their earlier works, but if it’s anything like this I really need to check it out. That being said, I’d love to see more from them in the future because this felt like pure, in your face cinema. This is a darkly disturbing film that will make you long for the shower after the credits start to roll. If you have become overwhelmed with the summer blockbusters that have all come and gone, take a look at Good Time, but make sure you buckle in first.

Final Grade: A

Logan Lucky – Review

17 Sep

Steven Soderbergh has always been something of an inspiration to me. He helped start the indie craze of the 1990s with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, has made some excellent mainstream films like Ocean’s 11, dabbled in the world of surrealism with Schizopolis, and also was the creative force behind one of the most chilling television shows in recent years, The Knick. He’s a film maker that can pretty much tackle anything, even though I’ll be the first to admit he doesn’t have a spotless filmography. After taking time away from the big screen following 2013’s Side Effects, I was excited to see him return with another heist movie, this one being Logan Lucky. This has been a movie I’ve been anticipating for awhile, but I never really got my hopes up for it. After seeing it, I can say that while it’s far from Soderbergh’s best, it’s still a damn fun movie.

Sometimes it seems that certain people have all the luck, and they could really share some if they wanted to. That’s a description that is far from fitting for the Logan family. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) had a promising football career, but an accident killed that dream and left him with a limp. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) had his fair share of luck after his time in Iraq left him with a prosthetic arm. Still, the two seem to be surviving just fine, that is until Jimmy is fired from his construction job and begins scrambling to find a way to provide for his daughter, who he still keeps in close contact with after his divorce. This prompts Jimmy to dig deep into his plans and reveal a scheme to rob the funds from the Coca-Cola 600 race, and the only time to do it is on Memorial Day, one of the biggest races of the year. In order to do this, the brothers enlist the help of local ne’er do well, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who they have to sneak out of jail with just enough time to pull off the heist. With the old Logan bad luck facing them down, the team have to use every ounce of ingenuity to get through this unscathed.

Right off the bat, the best thing about Logan Lucky is its characters. Jimmy and Clyde are such a believable pair of brothers, and part of the reason they work so well is the chemistry and dynamic between Tatum and Driver. Channing Tatum works great as a leading man in this movie, and it’s really cool to see a down to earth, blue collar guy leading a major heist. There’s such a difference between Jimmy Logan and Danny Ocean, but both characters work great. Driver is one of my favorite elements of this movie, and every line he delivers was spot on and hilarious. Daniel Craig also goes against the mold here as the gung ho Joe Bang, and his brothers played by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid match his level of slightly unhinged mania. It’s a motley crew of people that make such a fun ensemble cast. I also have to give a lot of credit Farrah Mackenzie, who plays Jimmy’s daughter. She is awesome in this movie and performs way better than your average child actor. I see a bright future there.

While I do really like the blue collar element of this movie, I couldn’t help but thinking this movie was lacking in what I will call the “AHA department.” This is where you watch a heist movie and you think you’re seeing everything, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. That’s a staple of modern heist movies, and it almost feels like you’re witnessing a magic trick. There’s a feeble attempt at this in Logan Lucky, but for the most part what you see is what you get. There’s nothing terribly complicated or interesting about the heist, and that’s something of a disappointment. There’s also a lot of suspension of disbelief that has to happen for this to seem credible. For some people, it’s more than can be tolerated. If someone said they had a hard time buying everything they saw in this movie, I wouldn’t argue. Even I did at times. What saved the movie for me was the level of chemistry between the characters and the depth that they each individually had. You want all of them to succeed in their own ways, and because the character are so likable, it’s possible to look past some of the glaring storytelling flaws.

What Logan Lucky did have plenty of that surprised me is humor. I knew going in that this was going to be a light hearted and fun film, but there are moments that are just downright hilarious. Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are very funny, but the real comedic stars of this one are Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson. They are just so over the top and relishing the characters they are playing. They had potential to be really annoying, but they were just the right amount of goofy. There’s also a near unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane in here as well, and his scenes were some of the highlights of the entire movie. The writing may be lacking in terms of cleverness in the heist, but it more than makes up for it with the genuine laughs it provided.

Logan Lucky isn’t Soderbergh’s best film and it isn’t the grandest return he could’ve made to the silver screen, but I will say it’s clearly a project he wanted to do. This movie has a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a slew of great characters all bouncing off of one another. This is pure, lighthearted film making that offers up plenty of feel good energy. The actual heist could have been more creative and the third act feels a little rushed, but this was still a fun film. I doubt it’s going to make anyone’s list of best films of the year, but it’s one that may be worth checking out.

Final Grade: B

Detroit – Review

9 Aug

In 1967, Detroit was shaken by the 12th Street Riots which lasted from July 23 to July 27. In just 4 days time 23 civilians were killed and 16 police and military members were also killed. The number of wounded on both sides go way into the hundreds. It was a very dark time in America’s past that was caused by racism, classism, and poverty and the tensions among the three being pushed to their very limits. In the middle of all this, an incident occurred at the Algiers Motel in which 3 people were killed under unknown circumstances. This is the focus of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Detroit, a shocking look at what has remained unseen for 50 years. While it’s true no one really knows what happened, it’s clear that Bigelow did a lot of research and investigating of her own, and Detroit will remain as one of the high points of film for 2017.

Amidst the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, multiple lives are affected while some are changed forever. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a private security guard and factory worker who is called to defend a small convenience store overnight, which is situated right beside a National Guard outpost. Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the lead singer of The Dramatics, and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) become separated from the rest of the group and end up at the Algiers Motel. It’s here that they meet Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and try to hit it off. A prank involving a starter pistol attracts the attention of the National Guard where Melvin is and they all head over to the Algiers. It also attracts the attention Officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), a racist cop who believes he has complete authority over the streets of Detroit. At this convergence at the Algiers Motel, violence and hatred erupts which ends in the death of 3 people and a subsequent investigation that held the eyes of all in Detroit.

Detroit is a very intense movie that depict real life events, so it’s important that Kathryn Bigelow and the rest of her crew depict things in a very specific way. Luckily, Bigelow has shown herself to be just the person to portray very dramatic real world events with her other films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. With Detroit, a sense of environment is very strong and it succeeds at putting the viewer right in the middle of things, regardless of how chaotic and disturbing something may be. There are times where this film is a marvel to look at and listen to. It feels so genuine and authentic at times that I actually felt like I was transported back to a certain time and place. Part of this has to do with the excellent cinematography. Handheld camera work is something that can be completely overdone nowadays, and it’s often used in movies where it’s unnecessary and is just something to be seen as “artsy.” It’s used perfectly in this film and it never feels out of place. There’s also a very heavy usage of close ups where character’s faces are held in full frame for a good amount of time. It’s a risky move for Bigelow and it requires her to also have found just the right actors for the parts.

The performances in this movie are so good it’s almost scary. In fact, in a couple cases it is scary. John Boyega isn’t in the movie as much as I thought he was going to be but he gives such a natural performance that feels completely unlike his role in Star Wars, which is a good thing since it’s practically impossible to compare these two movies in any way shape or form. Will Poulter, who plays Krauss, is a force to be reckoned with in this movie and it’s by far one of the best and most complex performances of the year. His character is a complete psycho, and the frightening thing is that he doesn’t see that he’s doing anything wrong. Poulter gives a performance that is as horrific as it gets. Finally, the breakout star of this movie is Algee Smith, who I’d say is more of the focal point of the ensemble cast. His IMDb only has in credited in some random things and a part in Earth to Echo, which I think MAYBE three people saw. He is outstanding in this movie and has a bright career ahead of him. Seriously, Hollywood, keep your eyes out for this guy.

Detroit also had pacing that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s really the best way the movie could have been done. When I saw that the run time was about two and a half hours, I was a little concerned that it would be overstuffed with useless plot elements that could have easily been removed to turn it into a two hour movie. I really had nothing to worry about, however. The first part of the movie sets the stage for the riots and the characters for a while. Once we get to the Algiers, however, we remain there for a very long time. The whole incident is shot in real time and during this whole event we hardly leave the premises of the motel. This goes on for a really long time, but it never feels boring or overlong. Finally, the third part is the aftermath which keeps the stress from the time at the Algiers raised high. I hate using this word, but the storytelling really was riveting and I couldn’t peel my eye away from the screen for more than a second.

This has been a pretty wild summer for movies. There has been so much great stuff that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Amidst all of the cinematic joy, Detroit stands tall as one of the best 2017 has to offer, and yes I realize how often I’ve been saying that. This is a powerful movie about a really dark and tense time in American history and Kathryn Bigelow has the hard task of dramatizing it. The performances and film making are all top notch in this movie and it has to be remembered come Oscar season.

Final Grade: A+

Baby Driver – Review

8 Jul

It seems like I’ve been having great luck with movies recently, and the trend just keeps on going. I’ve been really looking forward to Baby Driver since I first saw the trailer for it. Writer and director Edgar Wright is best known for his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy which consists of Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World’s End, all starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. He was also the director of Simon Pegg’s and Jessica Stevenson’s cult tv show Spaced. This looked like a bit of a departure from what he normally does, but it also looked like it still had that frenetic yet controlled style he employs. Let’s just say Baby Driver takes everything great about Wright’s work and enhances it to whole new levels to create one of the greatest action films you’ll see all year.

Despite getting into an accident as a child, losing both his parents, and suffering from a permanent “hum in the drum” as a result, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best escape driver in the entire underworld. Doc (Kevin Spacey), a major thief in the criminal underworld, is lucky to have him on as a permanent member of the team, despite other employees finding his constant state of listening to music and lack of any kind of vocal interaction unnerving. After one particular job goes wrong, Baby finds some comfort in an unassuming waitress named Debora (Lily James). Their relationship seems to be growing fast, but Baby is soon coerced back into the business by Doc and forced onto a crew consisting of his long time partners Buddy (Jon Hamm) and his wifeDarling (Eiza González), but also the sadistic Bats (Jamie Foxx), who threatens everything Baby stands for just for the hell of it. With this job closing in, Baby starts making plans to betray the team and make his escape with Debora, but it won’t be easy to escape the eyes of his brothers in arms and he’ll have to fight them with everything he’s got to truly escape.

Baby Driver is a lot of things. It’s a drama, it’s a dark comedy, it’s a gangster flick, it’s a heist movie, but more than anything else it’s an action film. This movie has more energy than any action movie I’ve seen in a long time and you can tell that everything that Edgar Wright is as an artist and a film maker went in to making this movie as great as it possibly can be. The car chases and various escape sequences are exhilarating, and the fact that the stunt work and various crashes and last ditch escapes were done in camera and not using computer generated effects makes the whole experience all the more worthwhile. The first car chase had me hooked, but the ride was far from being over and it just got more exciting from there. This is a good time to bring the editing up. If this film doesn’t get recognized for its editing at the Oscars, then I really don’t know what I’ll do. Wright puts this entire film to Baby’s various soundtracks, and when I say that every scene moves in time with the music, it’s no exaggeration. The best way to describe this film would be to use the word “precision.” We’ve all had that conversation about what song would work in what kind of scene. Well Edgar Wright and his team took that idea to the limit and created a whole new way to watch a movie.

With movies like Baby Driver that immediately combust with such high energy, it’s usually inevitable that the middle of the movie will slow down to an almost unbearable crawl for characters and other kinds of motivations to be built on. Somehow, someway, Edgar Wright found the perfect formula to expedite this whole process while still making it easy to care about the characters. Jamie Foxx’s character is introduced somewhere around the end of the first act and beginning of the second act which doesn’t slow the movie down even a little bit. In fact, Foxx is so excellent in his performance of Bats that the movie found another burst of energy with his arrival. Time is also given to Ansel Elgort and Lily James and their budding romance. This is where the movie stumbles ever so slightly. The tough guy talk didn’t need to carry over from the crime scenes to the romance scenes. It just didn’t fit very well and the attitude was just a little bit to much in these moments. If it was toned down a little more I think these scenes would have hit the mark a little bit better. When the third act begins, however, all mistakes are forgotten and my eyes were glued to the screen while the action never ceased to let up.

I feel like there’s something of a stigma around action movies that say films in this genre can rarely be called works of art. Much like horror films as of late, there’s been a cool trend of more artistic action films, and Baby Driver falls firmly into that place. Wright and his team know how to make a film look great and sound great while also thrilling audiences with off the wall action sequences and entertaining characters. When the lights came up in the theater, it was almost hard to finds words to properly elucidate the originality and technique of the film I just watched. Edgar Wright isn’t just a good film maker. He’s clearly an excellent one and an auteur in his own right. I’ve been taught by many people that film is a visual art, where the story should be shown more than it should be told. This movie takes it another step and uses music to help tell its story in a way I haven’t seen in a movie before. When music isn’t playing, it felt weird. This was a risky thing to do. It would be very easy to mess up a movie where music is constantly playing, but this one pulled it off with such finesse.

In case I haven’t made my point perfectly clear already, Baby Driver was fantastic and easily is and will remain one of the best movies of the year. It’s action is shot beautifully with excellent stunt work and precision driving, the soundtrack knocks the second Guardians movie into next week, and the editing is some of the best I’ve seen in years. This takes action films somewhere new and unique, even though the story is less than totally unheard of. I can’t say this film is style over substance, because the two work tandem so well. It would be a sin to miss this movie, so get to it as soon as you can.

Final Grade: A+

Branded to Kill – Review

11 Jun

There are many film makers that create movies that leave me baffled. David Lynch and his fever dreams like Eraserhead and Inland Empire stand out, but who can forget the psychedelic nightmares of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his films like The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre? A name that never really stood out to me was Seijun Suzuki, a Japanese film makers that was actually blacklisted from directing because of the odd and unmarketable nature of his movies. One of, if not his most infamous creations is the 1967 gangster film Branded to Kill. This is a movie that takes genre conventions and blows them out of the water. Is this film just one giant narrative mess or is it a satirical, yet experimental, look at the gangster subgenre? That’s for the viewer to decide.

Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) has the honor of being the third ranked hit man in the Japanese underworld. He also has found a strange, and often unsettling, kind of love in his newly wedded wife, Mami (Mariko Ogawa). Hanada is assigned many important missions by the yakuza, including the killing of three seemingly unrelated civilians. He is also approached by a mysterious woman with a death wish named Misako (Annu Mari), who hires Hanada to kill a foreigner that she will be seen with the following day. When this new mission goes wrong, Hanada is soon on the run and betrayed by almost everyone he knows, with the only possible exception of Misako. Things only get worse for Hanada when he finds out the mythic hitman, known only as Number One (Koji Nanbara) is gunning for him and will stop at nothing until he is dead.

Take that summary with a grain of salt since Branded to Kill was not the easiest movie to follow, and it took me a little while after finishing it to fully process what I saw. At it’s core, this movie tells a classic gangster noir tale about murder, love, femme fatales, and betrayal. What makes Suzuki’s film so odd is the way this simple story is told. There are jumps in time and location that is incredibly jarring and takes a while to get used to. This movie is only an hour and a half long, but it felt so much longer than that because time and space was played with so much. The story could take place over the span of a week or a couple of months. Telling a totally linear story was clearly not Suzuki’s intention. While I do very much appreciate the strangeness, the odd continuity, and all of the confusion that goes along with it, I’m not sure how this really fits with telling the story. What I mean is that I can’t really thematically see any reasoning for telling the story like this. The third act gets really out of whack, which is appropriate for the action, but I’m not sure about the other two acts.

Despite Branded to Kill being totally strange, it still has a classic noir vibe which I really like. The lighting is harsh and the violence is sudden, but definitely leaves an impression. Another great example of noir that pushes the boundaries is another Japanese film called Pale Flower, which I reviewed quite some time ago. Branded to Kill takes it to another level, however, and some of it genuinely shocked me. This film came out in 1967, which is still some years before exploitation cinema hit audiences internationally. This film almost pushes things to that exploitive level. Like it comes real close. There are things in this movie that would have made mainstream audiences in America at this time lose their minds. Hell, there’s some things that would make modern American audiences gasp. I have to give Suzuki credit for daring to go the extra mile.

This brashness and willingness to go places traditional films of the time went didn’t come without a price. This is one of those movies where the history kind of provides a good context as to how to look at an appreciate the film itself. Seijun Suzuki made 40 B-movies for the Nikkatsu Company. That’s a lot of time dedicated to working for a company, but it didn’t last forever. Nikkatsu was not pleased with the original script for Branded to Kill, so they had Suzuki rework it. Instead of keeping it the traditional gangster tale, he made it something completely different, which is the movie I’ve done my best to illustrate as a crazy, untraditional ride. Nikkatsu was even more upset with the end result, and this got Suzuki fired. Jokes on Nikkatsu. Over time, Branded to Kill has become something of a cult classic.

Branded to Kill is certainly not for everyone, and it even took me a little bit of time to fully wrap my head around what I just saw. It takes a gangster story with hints of noir and turns it into a dreamscape where time and logic are unimportant. Sometimes I felt like this worked against the film, but most of the time I was really into the weirdness. I have to give Seijun Suzuki credit for making a movie that no one else at the time seemed interested in making, even if it end with him getting fired from Nikkatsu. For any fan of off the wall kind of movies, I’d recommend Branded to Kill. Anyone looking for something easier to comprehend, you can find plenty of other great gangster stories out there.

Final Grade: B