Tag: crime

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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Seen: At the AMC/Loew’s at Boston Common.

My most anticipated movie of the summer! And that’s not me being ironic, it seriously was! And it’s here! And it’s GREAT! Fast & Furious 6 follows up the phenomenal Fast Five with even more ridiculous stunts and chase scenes and, best of all, badass ladies. The story picks up sometime after the previous film, with Toretto (Vin Diesel), O’Conner (Paul Walker), and their loved ones living quietly in a country without extradition. When their former adversary Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a super special agent (or something), shows up asking for help tracking down a deadly British gang composed of expert drivers, Toretto is talked into getting the old crew back together. His motivations, however, rest with the possibility that his dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) might actually be alive and somehow involved with these British assholes. They all work together to uncover some mysteries and double crosses and bad guys, while driving around real fast.

I first watched all the Fast/Furious movies a while ago and admittedly I was pretty hard on them but I’ve come around since, and now I’m a big fan of the series, for all its ridiculousness and wild antics and corny writing. I’ve been through the whole series a few times now, most recently the month before 6 came out (admittedly, we skipped 2). In Fast Five, most of the film focused on a complex heist plan that worked kinda like an Ocean’s 11 plot line. This time around, we see how the crew reacts when their plans don’t come together. Everything is thrown at them, sometimes literally, from tanks and planes to kidnapped loved ones and treacherous partners. But everyone contributes their own skills (except Tyrese, who doesn’t really have any), and you know somehow they’ll pull through because of FAMILY (a word that’s used enough times to make it the only component of a Fast 6 drinking game). It is a truly exciting, intense film with jaw-dropping action and a good balance of levity and melodrama. These characters are so enjoyable to watch, and everyone seems like they’re having a swell time, even with the more serious undertones of the over-arching story. Ludacris and Tyrese are especially adorable together (and daaaaaamn Ludacris has nice abs!).

So this is a pretty rad movie in general, and for the most part I felt it was as great as Fast Five but then I realized it’s got one amazing thing that the other movies don’t showcase enough: Kickass Ladies! For real though, between Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, and Gal Gadot, I was in super heroine heaven. They fight bad guys, they fight good guys, they fight each other, they fight all over the place! (They never actually pass the Bechdel Test, though I’d say they let their fists do their talking.) I was so happy about Rodriguez’s return that the amnesia cop-out didn’t bother me at all, especially since if I’m being honest you know I love most pulpy sensationalist twists/shortcuts. Also it meant she got to have all the fun of being a bad guy while still actually being a good guy! Wowee! Basically the ladies make this movie for me, even if as usual Jordana Brewster is given nothing to do and I kinda missed Elsa Pataky. But seriously these ladies are amazing and independent and written decently, and above all, ass-kicking. And while we’re on the subject, remember to read this Angie Han article.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: More Fast/Furious movies, I guess, if you’re marathoning like we do. Or Haywire to revisit the pure awesome that is Gina Carano.

Movie Review: Nema-ye Nazdik (Close-Up) (1990)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

I feel lately I’ve fallen off in watching foreign films, which has always been a resolve of mine though I don’t always keep to it. I’ve had several bumped up my netflix queue so hopefully I can get back into it this summer. Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up seemed like a good place to start, since I’ve heard it praised quite often, and have always been intrigued by the premise. Using careful re-enactments that feature the actual people involved as well as courtroom footage with some scripted speeches, the film examines the actions of Hossain Sobzian, a mild-mannered film buff who impersonates noted Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makmahlbaf. For about a week he ingratiates himself with a well-off family, saying he wants to make a film with them. His deception is revealed after a few days and he is put on trial for fraud, at which point director Abbas Kiarostami hears the story and decides to film the proceedings. He also recreates the events leading up to the trial, from various perspectives.

Innovative in its structure and storytelling, Close-Up is a strange and compelling film that rides the line between documentary and drama in unexpected ways. What sounds like a weird, somewhat sensational premise turns into an introspective study of obsession and creative desire. As far as I can tell, Sobzian is not some malicious con artist, but rather a lonely, dissatisfied man who stumbles upon a way to live within another person’s greatness. His Makmahlbaf persona allows him the confidence and social fluidity that he seems to lack in his own life, and while his actions are misleading and suspicious, it’s not hard to see why he might maintain this charade for the Ahankhah family, whose friendliness and cinematic enthusiasm immediately bond him to them. It’s a no-win situation, basically, and I could understand the reactions of all sides, with everyone seeking some sort of personal fulfillment through an association with fame but no one attaining it.

Though the story and character investigation are fascinating on their own, it is Kiarostami’s interesting narrative techniques that elevate the film to something truly special. Using the actual people involved in these events to act out their own story leads to a kind of distanced documentary feel, with the performers knowingly creating a copy of the real thing. The long shots and real-time scenes that cover different elements in Sobzian’s story are pieced together non-linearly, cutting back and forth from staged memories to courtroom footage that is obviously affected by the presence of Kiarostami’s cameras. It is never entirely clear if Sobzian is simply putting on an act for the cameras, and indeed I think it’d be naive to assume he wasn’t to some extent, but his deep respect for film as a medium and his regret that the Ahankhah family felt wrongs seem genuine. The long-form coda brings some satisfaction to all parties, a sort of sigh of relief after building tension between parties both seen and unseen. It’s just a really beautiful, memorable film, a reminder that there are so many ways one can tell a story.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I’m honestly not sure what films are similar to this, but I can say that now I’d like to see any of Makmahlbaf’s films, especially The Cyclist, which is referenced a few times.

Movie Review: Gimme the Loot (2013)

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Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

When I saw a trailer for a movie about young graffiti artists trying to bomb the home run apple at Shea Stadium, you know I was totally into it immediately. Luckily, Gimme the Loot came to Kendall for one week and I got to see it! Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) are two best friends and partners in tagging, living in the Bronx with little money but a lot of connections they hope to exploit to make it big. Malcolm thinks he has a way into Shea Stadium through his brother’s boxing buddy, but they need $500 for a bribe. Most of the film tracks the duo’s mission for cash over the course of two days, which mostly leads to various mishaps and an ever-growing (and totally called-for) hatred of Queens. And asshole rich people. Because fuck rich people, you know?

Smart, well-paced, emotionally engaging, and just generally charming, Gimme the Loot is a joy to watch despite the fact that bad things keep happening. Like seriously, nothing good happens in this movie, and yet you’re left feeling strangely comforted at the end. The leads are so, so good in their roles, so fully embodying these characters, that it’s just nice to spend time with them for an hour and twenty minutes. I especially loved Washington as the takes-no-shit Sofia, who is funny, super-tough, and sympathetic. Hickson’s character, on the other hand, is endearingly goofy and dumb, and the two make a great pair. As an appropriately awful foil, Zoë Lescaze plays the entitled, aimless, and disgustingly rich Ginnie, who feels like she walked out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Her life seems far removed from the experiences of Sofia and Malcolm, and while they initially find some common ground, it’s eventually made clear that she wants none of their company. And so we are reminded, rich people suck, making this a realistic movie.

It was clearly filmed on a small budget and that mostly works ok, the low-quality digital is a little distracting but it also gives the film this hazy buzz that works well with the overall aesthetic. This is a hot, sweaty summer movie that feels like it could be taking place in the 80’s or 90’s except for everyone’s smartphones, so the slightly fuzzy, yellowed look is appropriate for that vibe. There’s also a fun soundtrack and some interesting insights into graffiti culture within New York. At first I wanted more of the actual tagging stuff, but I became so absorbed by Sofia and Malcolm’s struggles and relationship development that it didn’t really matter. Overall I sincerely enjoyed Gimme the Loot, but have to say I was a little disappointed to see that a nerdy white dude had written and directed it. Not that a white person can’t write about different types of people, it’s just that when I see a film that’s primarily black actors and apparently telling a realistic story of a mostly black community, I’d like to think that a promising black filmmaker is the one holding the reins, you know? Especially because white male directors get to tell everyone’s stories, all the time.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm, I’m not sure. If you want a movie that’s more involved with street art as a movement there’s Beautiful Dreamers or Exit Through the Gift Shop. Or I guess Do the Right Thing is a summery New York movie with racial/class tensions…

Movie Review: Something Wild (1986)

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Seen: On dvd on our projector, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

When dweeby, nondescript businessman Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) meets the unpredictable Lulu (Melanie Griffith), he finds himself thrown into a wild weekend road trip in which his outlook on life and his reasons for existence are called into question. They meet in a restaurant where he intentionally doesn’t pay because petty crimes give him a thrill, and she calls him on it, and he accepts a ride from her back to the office for some reason. She essentially kidnaps him, wins him over with kinky sex and kleptomania, and then convinces him to pose as her husband for her high school reunion. When her dangerous ex Ray (Ray Liotta) enters the picture, their adventure turns sour.

I have to admit, for about the first half hour or so I was disappointed by Something Wild, seeing only a typical “Privileged White Guy Falls for Manic Pixie Dream Girl” type of movie, and also bummed there wasn’t more of an actual road trip. Melanie Griffith’s character seemed so one-dimensional, just a collection of impetuous quirks wrapped up in gaudy jewelry, while Jeff Daniels’ character was insufferable- a timid super-square who seemed to be cheating on his wife for no reason. It all felt sort of cliched and boring, despite the talents of its leads and the great music (David Byrne, hello!). Luckily, as the film progresses, it reveals itself to be much more than I had initially thought.

Sure, Something Wild relies on a now-familiar formula to establish its central relationship, but as it moves from the story of a man who is assumed to be nothing more than he appears and a woman who has seemingly severed herself from all worldly cares and attachments, and becomes something more complicated, I became more and more engaged. These characters are not what they appear to be and it takes more than a few drunken joy rides and whimsical outfits to truly cut through their defenses. The addition of Ray Liotta’s sinister criminal Ray is enough to completely twist the film from unconventional quirky-road-trip-romance into dark obsessive drama. The earlier commentary on the shallow yuppie lifestyle and flexibility of the law seems irrelevant in the face of the violence and uncertainty, but it all comes together through the developments of the lead characters, and by the end I was hooked. Plus I loved that closing musical performance from Sister Carol.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course, the basic premise (nerdy dude helps wild damsel-in-distress) and director cameos reminded me of Into the Night. But I might instead go with a road movie romance, something like Wristcutters: A Love Story, The Go-Getter, or Fatih Akin’s In July.

PS IMDb says that the two older ladies in the secondhand shop are the moms of Jonathan Demme and David Byrne and I really hope that’s true because oh my gosh ADORABLE.

Movie Review: Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac) (1924)

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Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

The Hands of Orlac was originally supposed to play during the Thon, but the print didn’t make it (or something?) so I didn’t get to see it. Which was fine, actually, because its intended 4AM time slot would not have worked given its length and slow pacing. Adapted from the novel by Maurice Renard, the film details the experiences of renowned concert pianist Orlac (Conrad Veidt) after he’s injured in a massive train accident. His wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) begs the doctor to save his hands above all else, and so an experimental surgery is performed that replaces Orlac’s hands with those of a recently-hanged convicted murderer. Haunted by the origin of his new hands, he becomes convinced that they’re turning him into a criminal.

I’ll admit I expected something more sensationalist given the premise of this movie. I thought it would be all bug-eyed murdering and wacky visions but actually it’s mostly a depressing drama about a guy who’s going insane and the wife who has to deal with it. The story moves slowly, gradually revealing Orlac’s horrific realization about the supposed power of his hands and the desires they might instill in him. He’s haunted by strange dreams and the ghost of the convict, and feels his own hands are so alien that he won’t even touch his beloved Yvonne. He worries that this paranormal presence is causing him to change, and to possibly commit criminal acts in his sleep. He spends so much time brooding and staring manically at his hands that his household goes bankrupt, and Yvonne is the only person man enough to handle things. And then towards the end it turns into this unexpected mystery thing.

Maybe if my expectations had been different I wouldn’t have been a little disappointed with The Hands of Orlac. It’s just… slow, really, which is fine, but not what I was feeling, I guess. I did come out liking it, just not as much as I wanted to. I enjoyed the performances of Veidt and Sorina, who have scintillating sexual chemistry, as well as the devious turn from Fritz Kortner. There’s a good twist at the end and a surprisingly strong emotional drive throughout, and generally the tale is interesting even it’s much more subdued that I had anticipated. I really liked the score as well, with its thumping piano and shrill strings, though I can’t say if it’s the original (I watched the version on netflix instant).

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well the Robert Wiene/Conrad Veidt connection had me wanting to revisit The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, so that can be your German Expressionist double feature for the day.