Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movies 2014, Crime

            I have a love for movies that focus on criminality.  I like mysteries and conspiracies.  I like to see the mindset of criminals and the heroic lengths that detectives must go to in order to stop the reign of terror.  "LA Confidential", "Chinatown" , and "The Dark Knight" are some of my favorite movies, as such I consider crime to be its own genre and I often rope the few espionage movies released because they are highly related.  The only movie in this genre that I did not see but sort of wanted to last year was "Filth", which is about a corrupt cop in Scotland; "Filth" is on Netflix but it is kind of a 2013 movie, so I did not prioritize watching it, it slipped thru the cracks.  As for those I did see...

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For                           
            Way to strike while the iron is still... Not hot... actually it has been 10 years since the first "Sin City" so the iron is dusty, tarnished, and lost in a shed somewhere.  This movie is so late to the show that there are 5th graders who were not born when the first one was released (not that you would want a 5th grader to watch it).
            The only thing I can really compare this movie to is the first one which I remember quite well.  The visuals were striking at the time, and they are striking now, the technology has evolved and this iteration definitely looks better than the first one.  Smoother movement, cleaner CGI integration, and characters with great make up and costumes.  This world makes Batman's Gotham look like Superman's Smallville, it looks like the Grey Wastes of Hades.  So needless to say I like the look.
            I also like the characters and the anthology style.  Taking a look at the broader world from numerous angles that crisscross over the course of a few nights.... I just dislike the stories that they were stuck with.  The first movie took the better three stories and unfortunately the way this is all told is a mess.  The main bad guy suffers humiliation (and causing that humiliation costs the hero his life, it is supposed to be viewed as a little guy striking against the big guy which would be fine), in the next story the villain is killed and in no way is the humiliation a factor in that defeat.  That sort of break in the narrative happens a lot and the movie suffers for it.  There is also a section of the movie in which Josh Brolin is supposed to get plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen... So they just give him a hair cut; because apparently Clive Owen was too busy to come back to reprise his role?  I don't know, but it is a major weakness in the best of the three (four?) stories.  I will say that Eva Green is just as sexy and dangerous in this as she was in the other Frank Miller Adaptation I reviewed "300: Rise of an Empire" and her presence raises the movie a few notches.
Overall: 5/10
Let me be clear, Eva is the best character in the movie.

            I feel the need to ask why certain fictitious Cold War heroes still exist.  James Bond is one of them, the other is Jack Ryan.  The last James Bond movie, "Skyfall" was all about questioning whether James Bond was physically up to the task of espionage, he was getting older; that was paralleled with the government questioning if they should even have agents like James Bond around at all, that his form of spycraft was now of a bygone era.  That questioning gave a lot of depth to the character and made the end of the movie, James' rebirth into the world of spies all the more triumphant.  Jack Ryan does not have that.
            Jack Ryan is played by a young actor and dropped into the modern world, spurred into patriotism by 9/11.  I actually think that is a good way to start a modern spy movie, and the idea of a character being a veteran, but also a genius economist who investigates covert financial warfare is a cool pitch... Was any of this in the books?  It couldn't have been because they were written during the Cold War, and while the Russians in the movie would fit in a movie made with a Cold War backdrop, nowadays they just seem like paranoid delusions.  The movie's plot was Russians using financial trickery to ruin the US economy... Hate to make you question your world views, but the US is currently destroying the Russian economy by manipulating the energy market.  The plot to this movie seems 30 years out of date and it came out last year.
            Overall it has some good aspects, the scenes of working undercover are well put together, the action is good (especially the body guard fight in the hotel room), but there were other parts I was disappointed in, a helicopter crash seems almost comical in execution.  The movie is fine, but nothing special, and is hurt by seeming very out of touch with current geo political reality.
Overall: 6/10
I wonder if this poster design was meant to evoc Enron?

            Speaking of Cold War leftovers.  Apparently the Equalizer was an 80's TV show about a retired British secret agent fighting for the little guy.  This movie is a modern adaptation of that concept and it really shows how it would have worked a lot better as a TV show (preferably as a Netflix series).  This movie starts as him trying to help a prostitute escape the life, and ends with him taking down the entire Russian mafia... No joke the movie ends with him murdering the head of the Russian Mafia in his mansion in Russia.  Mother Fucker, Marvel Super Heroes have difficulty pulling off that kind of stuff in a franchise, this is one movie.  And it is clear by the ending that this is going to be a franchise, but he has already destroyed so much that there is no way that any sequel will be able to challenge him and remain in the "reality" this movie tries to establish.
            If this had been a 10 episode series with each of the mini-stories in this movie pumped up to a full episode it would have built to the final much better and would have been really awesome.  There is a lot of room to grow the extended cast's contributions to the narrative and I thought the character was really great.  I like characters who are positive forces in the lives of those around them, unquestionably the Equalizer is.
            There is some silly aspects to the movie, mostly in what I like to call "Short hand symbolism".  This is when blatant references to other works of fiction are thrown into the narrative as a way of telling the audience themes.  In this movie they have Denzel Washington reading the "100 books you should read in your lifetime" and several are referenced and explained to the audience, most notably "The Old Man and the Sea".  A story about an old man who goes out to face one more great test of his strength and ability and even though he does not catch the fish he learns that he is still able to?  I wonder what that could symbolize in a story about a retired spy being called back into action by a friend in need of the skills he used so skillfully in his youth?  Yeah, they also name check "The Invisible Man" as he tries to live in anonymity.  While I do consider this lazy on some levels, I get why it is done, and maybe for some people it lends some profundity to the narrative, even as Denzel stabs a man to death with cork screws.
            I would say this movie is cut from the same cloth as "Jack Reacher" and "Taken" so if you liked those movies you will definitely like this.
Overall: 7/10
Moviebob described this movie as a "Dad Movie", and judging by how much my dad liked it that seems accurate. (Poster)

            I chock this up to being the biggest surprise of the year.  I kind of hated the first one as the premise is hardly explored at all and the metaphor of a poor black veteran being preyed upon by white landed elites seemed a bit on the nose for the only metaphor in the whole thing.  This thing kind of blows the roof off of that.
            It helps that there is a strong central character with a goal that drives the plot.  The plot being a running tour of the various Purge festivities.  In a world without law would you break into other people's houses to rape them?  Would you hunt down and lynch the wall street broker who destroyed your retirement account?  How about hunting the homeless for sport?  Lots of little mini-episodes all get touched upon, and a larger background plot of an anti-Purge rebellion that hints at a larger franchise plan makes this whole thing much better than the first, so much so that the first "The Purge" seems like the rushed and cheap cash grab sequel that a studio would hammer out to capitalize on the success of this movie.
            I will not say it is at all perfect.  I still think this thing lacks a lot of teeth in places (especially the digital blood effects).  They also completely ignore the issue of child safety in this world (un-fun fact, children are most often abused by family members, so on a day in which crime is condoned, logically a lot of off screen children are getting raped horribly).  I actually think you could clean up some of the logical hiccups of the movie by saying it takes place in an alternate timeline, hint that Reagan was responsible, rather than the nebulous NEW FOUNDING FATHERS.  I and must further reiterate that Paul Verhoeven would be a great director for one of these, or John Carpenter maybe.
Overall: 7/10
The best poster of the year?

            I saw this movie months ago and still do not have really solid feelings about it.  It is well produced with great acting, great lighting, and its structure is rock solid, information is revealed at a flawless pacing adding twist-twist-twist to the whole thing, which keeps you engaged the whole time.
            Since this is a movie built on twists I will just give it a recommendation and leave it at that.  Maybe down the line I will write a long spoiler filled review, but as of now I do not want to.  It is worth watching.
Overall: 8/10

This one is pretty good too.  Evidence, arc words, and the time frame of the movie, a lot of information in here.

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