Archives for posts with tag: crime

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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

This movie came out 20 years ago, and I had almost no idea what happened in it. That is to say, I thought it was Air Force One, but with Nic Cage as Gary Oldman. It’s not.

Cameron Poe (Cage) is an Army Ranger from Alabama. We are told. His accent is from nowhere on Earth and presumably from nowhere else either. Some guys are unpleasant to his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter), in a bar, and then try to beat him up too. He accidentally kills one of them, and goes to prison. Eight years later, a parolee, he is put on a prison transport plane home. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and he’s never seen her.

MV5BMGZmNGIxMTYtMmVjMy00YzhkLWIyOTktNTExZGFiYjNiNzdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Here is our second infusion of characters. There’s a young, by-the-book US Marshal Larkin (John Cusack), and an older swashbuckler who drives a convertible with the plate “AZZ KIKR” (Colm Meaney) on the good side. For the villains, a litany of goofy nicknames and surprisingly major actors: Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich), Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames), a serial rapist called Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo), and total weirdo who apparently once wore a victim’s face as a hat (Steve Buscemi), among others. They hijack the plane. Nic Cage tries to stop them from escaping.

Aside from the accent, and the terrible hair, and the outfit, Cage is mostly fine. Malkovich and the rest of them are convincingly off-putting in various stations on the train line to Psychotown. John Cusack is a weenie, Colm Meaney is a jackass. Dave Chappelle is Dave Chappelle.

It’s bad. But it commits, so I’ll allow it.

Director: Simon West
Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes
Score: 2/5

Somehow I made it through middle school without reading S. E. Hinton’s novel. I think it was pure contrariety. Other people liked it, so I refused to.

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The thing about this movie is that everyone is in it, and somehow few of them have aged. A friend suggested that they all joined a vampire cult, and, frankly, it is really hard to believe that Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe, especially, are 35 years older than they were when they made it.

Also everyone is shirtless all the time.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rating: PG
Length: 91 minutes
Score: Unrateable

This resembles the John Buchan short story in very few particulars and is, I’m sure, worse than the Alfred Hitchcock movie I haven’t seen. Moreover, it is chock full of battle-of-the-sexes clichés and heavy on modern-audiences-don’t-know-what-an-oubliette-is exposition. It is, nonetheless, completely charming.

Summer, 1914. Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) is a mining engineer back in London from South Africa, and he is full of ennui. Just when he’s about to chuck it in and head back, a man (Eddie Marsan) is killed in his flat, having left Hannay with a notebook in code and a lot of stuff about a German spy ring. Naturally, Hannay is suspected of the murder. He goes on the run, concluding that his best bet at not being hanged is to expose the spy ring. Trains, planes, automobiles, suffragettes…

MV5BMTYyMjcxNDExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MTIwMw@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) falls in his way and is somehow not irritating. She tells him off, withholds information, climbs walls, and generally does everything that such a character usually does, and yet is charmingly spunky rather than hamfistedly shrill. Also they have very good chemistry, even when she calls him a “prehistoric boor” and he calls her an “unhinged hysteric.” We’ve seen it all a thousand times, but here it manages to be amusing instead of hackneyed and lame.

Oh, obviously there are spies, and Patrick Malahide is quietly sinister while David Haig flutters about the place. It’s not, you know, good, but it is deeply enjoyable.

Stray observations:

  • At the beginning Hannay is wearing a white necktie with a godawful white waistcoat and a ventless black jacket. No one has ever worn this combination on purpose, and certainly didn’t in 1914.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Victoria’s brother is so much less unbearable than he is as Carstone in Bleak House or McKechnie in Parade’s End.

Director: James Hawes
Rating: PG or so
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 3/5

Jack Reacher is not very good. It’s competent, and sometimes even pleasing. But it half-asses everything. There’s weird family drama, there’s strange unexplained personal mystery, there’s Werner Herzog. Not one of those things goes anywhere.

Because he is a shadowy ex-military type who decides to go in for his own personal brand of morality or justice, Reacher (Cruise, obviously), has no possessions. So he must wash his shirt while speaking to Helen (Rosamund Pike), and doesn’t have another one to wear. So he’s shirtless. She is the DA. That is a thing that happens.

And then Reacher has to be incognito, briefly, so he wears a Pittsburgh Pirates cap. The audience has just enough time to be put off that Tom Cruise is wearing anything other than a Red Sox or Yankees cap before, with a self-aware smile, he hands it to the man next to him. It’s a very strange meta moment.

That’s what I remember about this movie. So, as always, if you like watching Tom Cruise do Tom Cruise things, this is a reasonable installment.

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Score: 3/5

Action movies that don’t go for it are such a disappointment. John Wick is not that kind of disappointment. It’s also very few other kinds of disappointment. This is a film that sets out its stall very early and then follows through completely. If you’re not sold in the first twenty minutes, stop. But if you are, keep going.

In the world of John Wick, contract killers have their own demi-monde, with stylish safe zone hotels and absolute codes of conduct. This may be more or less true; I wouldn’t know. I doubt that their concierges are quite as perfectly anticipatory of guests’ needs. It also seems unlikely that they all have such careful (but various) taste in interior décor: Wick’s house is all cool greys and straight lines, where one of his rivals lives in warm neutrals and rounded cushions. Both are extremely pleasing.

Of course, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) doesn’t want to be a hitman, and has successfully quit. But then his beloved wife dies, and somebody steals his car and kills his dog.

This dog, man. It is a very, very cute puppy, and I think I knew that it would be killed, but I still couldn’t believe it. Even I would probably come out of hitman retirement if he were mine and someone hurt him, and I’m not one of those slightly alarming people who couldn’t give a damn when a person in a movie dies but just can’t watch Marley & Me.

As you’ve surely sussed out, John Wick decides to make a comeback and proceeds to kill everyone. With élan. And extreme prejudice. And often a knife.

Director: Chad Stahelski
Rating: R
Length: 101 minutes
Score: 4/5

Clive Owen is a writer. Clive Owen wears a black fedora while he writes. Clive Owen is broke. Clive Owen becomes a croupier. Clive Owen narrates his life in the third person. In his own words, he is addicted to watching people lose. Clive Owen, you are beginning to suspect, is kind of a jackass.

Croupier is narrated by the main character Jack (Mr. Owen), and the conceit is that he is writing a semi-autobiographical novel as events transpire. As conceits go, it’s not maddening. But Jack himself is maddening. He’s one of those chaps who is smug about his own iron moral compass (he does not, of course, gamble), but doesn’t really seem to notice when it hurts other people. He’s living with Marion (Gina McKee), but is mostly awful to her. He is of course annoyed by and spiteful to the publisher who will probably pass on his book, because he’s the only person who’s ever not been published. He’s very punch-happy, of course in the dead-eyed, casually violent manner we all remember from his turn in 2001’s Gosford Park. And, as in that wonderful film, he hates his dad. Maybe Croupier is what got him that part.

Oh, and then Alex Kingston arrives with a sob story, a criminal scheme, and a South African accent. Events transpire. They more or less make sense, but Jack is hard to root for, even when people are manipulating him. Everyone else is perhaps still more unpleasant, but that doesn’t really help. It’s extremely trying to watch someone think he’s better than everyone else, even if it’s true.

Stray observations:

  • Clothes for women in the 90s were so terrible and ill-tailored.
  • Clive Owen looks ridiculous with blond hair.
  • I’m not gambling-savvy enough to spot a lot of casino by-play. I’m okay with this.
  • I can’t stand Alex Kingston, because my first exposure to her was in terrible seasons of “Doctor Who.” This is not really her fault, but it’s also not going away.

Director: Mike Hodges
Rating: unrated, but about R
Length: 94 minutes
Score: 3/5

Sir Alec Guinness was born 100 years ago this year, and my local slightly artsy cinema is doing a retrospective. Four comedies and Lawrence of Arabia, which I find a suspect selection, but they did a David Lean series last summer and no one wants to watch Bridge on the River Kwai again so soon.

Anyhow, they started with Kind Hearts and Coronets. Briefly, a young man, born of a mésalliance, does away with everyone between him and the dukedom, all eight of whom are played by Sir Alec. These range from the autocratic duke who is happy to watch poachers being flogged to a doddering old parson to the robust and hilarious suffragist Lady Agatha. He is brilliant in all eight parts and you should see this movie if you haven’t yet. I mean, it’s only been out for sixty-five years.

Stray observations:

  • The women suffer from the prejudices of the period; Sibella particularly speaks in that unbearable pouty voice apparently found irresistible by men in the late forties. Her hats are…fantastic. In all senses of the word.
  • I want to go on a cycling tour of old churches in the English countryside. I promise not to murder anyone on the way.

Director: Robert Hamer
Rating: NR
Length: 106 min.
Score: 4/5. Points deducted for Sibella’s being unbearable. Sir Alec himself gets 5/5, especially for Lady Agatha, who is not subtle but whose presence onscreen convulses me.