Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Movies of 2014, Crime pt2

            Wow, it has been weeks since I last did a blog on crime movies from 2014.  So here are 4 more movies that have to touch on that topic thru various means.  Corrupt governments oppressing people, a hitman getting revenge on the guys who killed his puppy, Corrupt governments selling drugs, and a guy who wishes he had gotten any part of that stuff on tape.

            Really?  Another one of these?  Not really complaining.  Most movies out of the growing subgenre of “Untouchable aging badass” tend to be really entertaining.  I look forward to its future entries… mostly… as “John Wick” is a little rocky to start off.  This movie has issues.  Mostly in that the writing is weird.
            First the positives, I like the action scenes which are clearly the reason this movie exists, I like the strange level of world building with the ultra-class hotel that caters to hitmen, I like some of the little style touches when they make the subtitles appear in different places around the screen and emphasizing different words with color, and I like that John Wick gets hurt during the movie making him one of the rare untouchable badasses that is somewhat touchable.
            Now on to the weird writing.  This movie starts with Wick mourning the loss of his wife… or as much mourning as Keanu Reeves is capable of displaying.  After the funeral he receives a gift from his wife in the mail, a puppy he can love so that he can go on living a normal life.  Then he is randomly attacked by mobsters who steal his car, kill the dog, and cause him to enter a state of despair that sends him on a roaring rampage of revenge.  Here is my question: Why not just write the movie so that the mobsters kill the wife?  Why have a dog in the movie at all?  Yeah the cliché of a wife dying to motivate the “hero” is sexist, but it at least makes sense.  And it is not like portraying her as this angelic being who died of natural causes and is totally separate from his violent world is any less a sexist cliché.
I have never been a fan of this guy's acting.  I have documentation.  (Image)
            John is a retired hitman who kills dozens of people in this movie, dozens of goons who probably have puppies, wives, and children of their own.  They are doing a job just like Wick did back in the day before retiring to be with his wife, but he shows no sympathy toward the vast majority, only letting some he knows personally an opportunity to walk away before he continues mowing down the army of bad guys.  He shows little respect for the safety of passersby and is so emotionally blank (see again: Keanu) that I am left watching one of the biggest over reactions ever.  Yes, I like dogs.  Yes, I think the bad guy was an asshole (He is an actor from “Game of Thrones” who has an infinitely punchable face).  Yeah, they are crooks… But so is Wick.  If he can go on to live a normal life so can they, he is denying them the same opportunities he was afforded and all they know is that he is some rage monster out to kill their boss.
            If the wife had been murdered and Wick nearly killed then his desire for revenge would seem less silly, and you could complicate things by having him being a new man, that he thinks he is betraying his wife’s memory by being violent even if it is to avenge her.  Heck, have her be a former assassin too, that she felt bad for having killed people and that she and John were trying to get past it all.  That way his spiral into violence has some weight.
            The movie is also weirdly toothless.  There is a scene that takes place in a spa/pool/nightclub with a bunch of mobsters and women in bikinis.  For a rated-R movie there are (shockingly) zero boobs.  And the only blood splatter is digital, fading to mist instantly.  Few people are left alive to cry or howl in agony.  There are few instances of guts, I would say it feels like a video game, but many video games go out of their way to portray extreme violence is epic detail.  Essentially the weight of Wick’s attacks is diminished.
            The movie also starts on a plot hole.  The mobsters that kill Wick’s dog first see him at a gas station, where they offer to buy his car and he says, “No”.  Then they attack him that night… Except Wick doesn’t notice anyone following him (maybe the stone cold assassin is oblivious), he parks in his garage so they couldn’t have spotted the car by driving by.  So did the goons find him by searching his plates?  Wouldn’t there be a red flag?  The only cop in the entire movie is crooked and knows John personally, the chop shops know John’s car on sight, and everyone in the movie knows who John is… except these three car thieves.  What?  And you do not have the excuse of them being new criminals from out of town, the main thug’s father was Wick’s direct supervisor.  This guy should have known who Wick was.
Overall: 5/10 
There are some lines, "I'm think'n I'm back." that seem kind of bordering on hack catch phrase.
But they just miss being one.
            The movie reminds me a lot of “Lincoln”.  The complex political leverage and lobbying surrounding a great man fighting for civil rights in the south, with issues in his home life pressuring him and drawing his attention away at various moments, ultimately ending in a speech that spells out important principles, but the looming specter of assassination hangs over the whole thing.
            The movie is worth watching and has a powerful core with David Oyelowo nailing a mythic performance as King.  The movie does a lot of cool stuff with a surprising hate crime bombing, very touching exchanges between several characters, and careful to show how both black and white protesters were assaulted (as racist as it may sound it might be important to show a white audience that white people were victims too, because without that fact they might end up caring less, because a lot of them are un-empathic assholes).  There was one scene with a man whose grandson was gunned down in a diner that had my eyes welling up.
            There are times that the movie slows down, prime examples being the parts in which the members of SNCC bicker over prideful bullshit (one is for King’s methods and sees King as a hero, the other is an idiot).  I thought Carmen Ejogo (I actually thought she was white a few times and it sort of confused me... Fire the lighting guy I guess?  Maybe I was just watching this like a racist) was okay as Coretta (King’s wife), but nothing amazing (I actually wish they had spent less time with the family and more time with the protesting).  And I feel that there was a general lack of levity, I know that this stuff was bleak, but there isn’t a single guy cracking jokes?  Maybe it is just my love of dark comedy that makes me expectant of some gallows humor in nearly anything, I guess you could laugh at the argument against civil rights which boils down to, “if you start letting them vote and walk down the street without being afraid of random violence, next thing you know they will think of themselves as people and want freedom of opportunity and from poverty” which is crazy troll logic at best.
One last complaint: the camera work was sometimes a little off, there were instances of people being so far to the left of the screen their faces were nearly cut off, while behind them is a lot of dead space (maybe this was an intentional choice to show them as wrong or eschew, but I mostly just found it strange, like I wanted to turn my head).
Overall: 7/10 
It is an alright poster.
            Named after (presumably) what I mumble to anyone who wakes me up before the alarm.
            Another entry that resembles “Selma” in that it is a biographical movie about a very specific event in a person’s life, connections to the government not giving a shit about black people and minorities, and… has the looming specter of an assassination hanging over the proceedings.  It is also very much in contrast to a movie like “Argo” which portrays spy work in a positive and quirky light, while this makes you feel much less patriotic.
            While I have always suspected or known on various levels that criminal activities are used to fund spycraft operations, this movie draws a very uncomfortable picture of the United States Government.  Gary Webb exposes the questionable ethics of drug policy and then is drawn into a massive story about conspiracy to use drug money to fund Central American violence.  Blocked in all official channels and left to wonder where to turn when all of his contacts start to disappear or disavow him his career and life are destroyed.  It also ends on a speech that spells out important principles… (MOVIE FORMULA DETECTED).
It is worth watching, but it is about an incident that is less legendary than Selma, and a man less renowned than King, so I have by default less to say about it, even though I would recommend it over “Selma” because I feel that it had more humor, and the wife and family were played better.  This is a less relevant movie than “Selma” though I feel it more enjoyable to watch.
Overall: 7/10 
Gary, hate to break it to you, but the truth is both more important... and a lot less important these days.
            In pretty much any other year this would have probably been a #1 pick, but this year was so good for movies it will merely have to be in my top 6.
            This movie kind of reminds me of “There Will be Blood” but rather than being about the growth of the oil industry it is about contemporary gonzo news, and instead of wondering whether the money turned the main character into a crazy person or if he was always that way… Well in “Nightcrawler” the main character is pretty clearly a violent psychopath from the word go.
            I am not sure when Jake Gyllenhaal got a bug up his ass and decided he really did want to be given a gold statue for acting, but he’s doing a damn good job and is getting unfairly overlooked.  He is in every scene of this movie and seems to constantly be vibrating with anger, determination, lust for power… He is always just on the verge of snapping.  It is delightful.

            And any plot that has me asking, “How is he going to get out of this?”  And then gives me an ending prompting me to say, “Oh, well that was ingenious.”  This is a movie that did that.
Overall: 9/10
It is hard to find an image for this movie that isn't covered in praise for it.  I kind of wonder how the star and director of "Drive" would have done the script differently. (Poster)


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