Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Devil in a Blue Dress

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

tn_devilinabluedressIt looks like  I’m continuing my informal and logo-free History of Black Film series a little bit into March. It could be argued that this is because I got side-tracked writing about ROBOCOP and then went out of town and got snowed in there and got behind schedule on my reviews. But in my opinion I’m really doing it in protest of the injustice of Black History Month being slotted in the shortest month.

I also want to admit that at the beginning I said I was gonna be exploring obscure black action stars, then instead I’ve been looking at lesser known black directors, not really the same thing at all. That’s not because the whole thing was poorly planned and thought out on my part, it’s because you gotta be fluid about these things and follow your creative instincts.

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS is another one where a black director adapts one installment in a mystery series by a black writer. Not that that’s a big category, I’m just saying that’s a parallel to COTTON COMES TO HARLEM. The director is Carl Franklin (ONE FALSE MOVE), the author is Walter Mosley and the mystery-solver is Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, later a private eye but as of this story an a WWII vet laid off from an airplane factory having a hard time getting work until a white P.I. played by Tom Sizemore (SPOILER: I don’t know if you should trust this guy) pays him to look for a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out in black underground clubs that a white man (but not white woman) would have trouble slipping into without causing a problem.
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Cotton Comes to Harlem

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

tn_cottoncomestoharlemCOTTON COMES TO HARLEM is a quirky, colorful love letter to the people and culture of Harlem, tucked away inside a crime story adapted from a Chester Himes novel. MGM packaged the DVD in the “Soul Cinema” series along with COFFY, FOXY BROWN, BLACK CAESAR and TRUCK TURNER, but to me it doesn’t really feel like a blaxploitation movie. If it is it deserves credit for being one of the most textured and gorgeous looking blaxploitation movies. I will intersperse some random screen grabs throughout this review to give you an idea of all the great colors, clothing, sets and locations. (read the rest of this shit…)

Angel 4: Undercover

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

tn_angel4In ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER, the chapter after the final chapter, Angel rises from the streets to invade the corporate world. “Executive by day, hooker by night. From the boardroom to the bedroom.” Cool idea, right? Seems like a very ’80s idea, but it was still the early ’90s, it wasn’t too late to explore those still relevant themes of corruption and cruelty hidden behind mirrored skyscrapers and fancy clothes.

I should specify, that’s what the box of ANGEL 4 is about. The movie itself is a standalone story where she’s not an executive and there’s no boardroom (or bedroom, really) and she doesn’t look like the same lady on the cover and doesn’t become a hooker again. But you know, you gotta let the marketing people express themselves too. They had a story they felt like they were born to tell, and they just had to let it out.
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Angel III: The Final Chapter

Monday, January 27th, 2014

tn_angel3ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER, the third and last of the four ANGEL movies, finds Molly “Angel” Stewart far from her roots. She is no longer played by Donna Wilkes or Betsy Russell, now she’s played by Mitzi Kapture (Silk Stalkings, Baywatch, The Young & the Restless). She’s not a prostitute or a lawyer or runner anymore, now she’s a photographer helping out the police (we see her go along on a gambling bust to take pictures of people running away) and in her spare time trying to work on a photography book about street kids. Most drastic of all she doesn’t live in Hollywood anymore, she lives in New York. (read the rest of this shit…)

Avenging Angel

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

tn_avengingangelAVENGING ANGEL takes place 4 years after ANGEL. Lieutenant Andrews (now played by Robert F. Lyons) has become Angel (now played by Betsy Russell from DELTA HEAT and SAW III-VII)’s guardian and paid her way to leave the streets of Hollywood for a college somewhere a few hours away, where she’s studying law and excelling at track and field. She goes by Molly again and has a preppie boyfriend named Terry (Richard DeHaven, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) who doesn’t know about her past as a gun-toting teenage prostitute.
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Angel

Monday, January 20th, 2014

tn_angelANGEL is a story about a young girl named Molly (Donna Wilkes from JAWS 2 and GROTESQUE) who lives near Hollywood Boulevard and buses out to the North Oaks Prep School. She gets straight A’s, she seems very innocent, and when a super nerd at school (who looks easily 35, but it’s okay because she’s 24 in real life) asks her on a date she turns him down by saying her mom says she’s too young to date. I thought she might be telling the truth, but after school she goes back to the boulevard, where everyone calls her Angel, she puts on makeup and starts walking the strip. Yep, our little angel is a teenage prostitute. It quickly becomes clear that she’s paying her own way through school, and that there’s a reason she’s not letting anyone into the room where she says her paralyzed mother is holed up.
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American Hustle

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

tn_americanhustleDavid O. Russell’s latest is a fictionalized take on a true 1970s incident when the FBI worked with conmen to entrap politicians to take bribes from a fake Sheik. The movie opens in the thick of it, right before a big attempted sting, with a long, quiet, unbroken take of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gluing on his toupee and carefully combing his remnants of real hair over it. It’s pretty representative of the movie: silly almost to the point of Will Ferrell cartoonishness, but you have to stare at it and contemplate it long enough that it’s on the verge of becoming more sad than funny.

Who does this guy think he’s fooling? Why is he so vain? Won’t somebody tell him how terrible he looks? So when FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) angrily grabs the toupee and makes it stick straight up, and Irving just stands there angrily, I already feel for him. It’s a funny sight gag, but also it says something about human vulnerability. We can be so hung up on a phony image that we fool ourselves. (read the rest of this shit…)

A Perfect World

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

tn_aperfectworldI started 2013 with a review of the broad but likable baseball movie TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, where I wrote, “I don’t know if this is true but I heard it’s good luck for movie critics to start a year with a Clint Eastwood review.” I made the whole thing up, and the results were inconclusive anyway. I wouldn’t say last year was exactly a day at the races for me, but at least I wasn’t one of the horses. There were a few scares but they coulda been worse. I’m still going.

It doesn’t really matter if the superstition holds water, though, ’cause a Clint movie is a good way to start a year anyway. I might make it a tradition. I decided to go with A PERFECT WORLD this time because I’d been meaning to see it for a long time and I was reminded of that recently when the screenwriter, John Lee Hancock, directed SAVING MR. BANKS. Between that and THE BLIND SIDE (and maybe THE ROOKIE, I haven’t seen that one) Hancock’s John Hancock has become sort of better-than-expected middlebrow feel good type movies. In comparison his script for A PERFECT WORLD, directed by Clint and starring Kevin Costner, is pretty bleak. I mean it’s about a sweet relationship between a fugitive and a little boy. And it means it. But it doesn’t try to make you forget that this is a murderer taking a little boy hostage, putting him in danger and exposing him to terrible, traumatic events, even making him point a gun at people. He tries to be nice to the kid and encourages him to do harmless fun things his mom doesn’t let him do, but that doesn’t make him Mary Poppins or Sandra Bullock. More like a deadbeat uncle who tries to be your bro. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Wolf of Wall Street

Monday, December 30th, 2013

tn_wolfofwallstreetTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET is the incredibly entertaining new movie from director Martin Scorsese (Michael Jackson’s BAD), based on the memoir of scumbag fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort (executive producer of SANTA WITH MUSCLES), adapted by Terence Winter (writer of a 50 Cent video game and 2 episodes of The Cosby Mysteries). Leonardo DiCaprio (POISON IVY) plays Belfort in the saga of his meteoric rise from innocent Wall Street rookie to multi-millionaire cokehead innovator in greed and callous thievery. After THE GODFATHER and all these other classics that show how organized crime operates like a business, here Scorsese flips it around to show how business acts like gangsters.

Man, we take it for granted after so many big, showy movies with great directors – or we don’t want to admit it ’cause he’s still got kind of a baby face and we remember when he made the teenage girls faint in their pants – but jesus, DiCaprio sure has turned into a good actor. WOLF is Scorsese picture #5 for him, and it seems for a while like he’s mostly doing his usual moves. He’s got the intensity, the energy, the accent that’s old timey and not very naturalistic but he goes so all-in that I buy it, the face that teeters between boyish and Benicio Del Toro. Early in the movie he even crash-lands a small aircraft and stumbles away, as if he’s doing callbacks to THE AVIATOR. He should do that in all his movies, it could be his “I’ll be back.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Homefront

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

tn_homefrontHOMEFRONT is a Jason Statham vehicle with an interesting pedigree: screenplay by Sylvester Stallone (Academy Award nominated writer of ROCKY), meth manufacturing villain played by James Franco (Academy Award nominated lead for 127 HOURS), James Franco’s girlfriend played by Winona Ryder (Academy Award nominee for LITTLE WOMEN and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE). Unfortunately the weak link is director Gary Fleder (CableACE Award winner for an episode of Tales From the Crypt), who’s just the guy who did KISS THE GIRLS and RUNAWAY JURY and stuff like that. He’s not terrible but also not the type of strong director that could shoot a bullseye with a simple story like this.

This is the second movie in a row where Statham starts out wearing a long hair wig. This time it’s because he’s a DEA agent undercover in a biker gang. He busts the kingpin Danny T (Chuck Zito), whose son gets shot to death by other cops. Danny and his gang want to kill the shit out of him for this so he has to shave his hair. Also he either goes into witness protection or just retires and moves to a small town somewhere in Louisiana. (read the rest of this shit…)