Tag Archives: crime

Free Fire

26 Apr

With ‘Free Fire,’ Ben Wheatley Puts His Bloody Stamp On Boston Crime Comedy

Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy A24)closemore

“Free Fire,” the plucky black comedy about an arms deal gone awry, just might be the most gonzo crime movie to be set in Boston — and it wasn’t even shot here.

Ben Wheatley, the hip noirish auteur who turned heads with “Kill List” and, more recently, the near-apocalyptic anthropology experiment “High Rise,” shot this battle royal in a dilapidated warehouse in England. Much of the cast too is European and thankfully, only one is tasked with attempting our infamous accent.

Early on, we get a slick nighttime glimmer across the harbor at a silhouette that looks vaguely like our stately Custom House Tower. Beyond that, nothing in the film feels remotely Boston. And to compound the foreign-familiar feeling, it’s set in the late-1970s when 8-track was king, and John Denver rules the soundtrack. Why the British director and his co-writer and wife, Amy Jump, decided to set such a caper in Boston probably had something to do with the allure of our rich criminal lore that has become boundless in its cinematic incarnations.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)
Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in “Free Fire.” (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)

The orientation doesn’t matter so much as we’re quickly inside an abandoned factory warehouse where practically all of the action takes place (the film’s only 85 minutes long and I’d say that 84 of them are in, or just outside the waterfront warehouse that you can imagine being in the now bustling Seaport back when it was a desolate industrial wasteland). What Wheatley and Jump serve up is a thick den of thieves with hidden agendas and a double dealer, a plot structure Quentin Tarantino made retro-hip with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992 and his 2015 western redux, “The Hateful Eight.” Wheatley, a stylist of hyper violence in his own right, takes the barebones and puts his bloody stamp on it. Continue reading

Live by Night

14 Jan

Affleck Should Have Stuck To Directing For His Latest Boston-Based Film ‘Live By Night’

Ben Affleck, as Joe Coughlin, and Sienna Miller, as Emma Gould, in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ben Affleck, the good-looking, locally-reared actor, who from time to time has projected a wooden on-screen presence, has turned out to be a reliably decent director. His debut, “Gone Baby Gone” back in 2007, transformed Dennis Lehane’s Boston-seated crime novel into a cinematic pulp noir. That edgy effort had cinephiles anxious for more and Affleck rewarded their patience with another gritty crime drama, “The Town,” in 2010 and then “Argo” in 2012. His latest effort, “Live By Night,” brings another Lehane crime story to the screen.

It begins during the Prohibition Era in Boston, where the Irish and Italians are locked in a blood feud over the bootleg trade, and later transitions to Ybor City, the developing section of Tampa, Florida, where Italian and Latino crime coalitions govern the town and control the flow of molasses — critical for rum.

Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in “Live By Night.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures) Continue reading

Patriots Day

19 Dec

Wahlberg’s Dramatized ‘Patriots Day’ Won’t Suture Any Wounds

Mark Wahlberg as fictional BPD Sergeant Tommy Saunders in "Patriots Day." (Courtesy CBS Films)

So here comes the big cinematic rendering of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that rocked the city for the better part of a week and now seems destined to be etched into our collective history just below city-defining headliners like the Boston Tea Party, busing in the ‘70s and the murderous legacy of Whitey Bulger.

The good news about “Patriots Day,” which opens Wednesday, is that it delivers a modicum of cathartic release as well as an intriguing look behind the scenes as an active crime investigation takes shape. The bad news, however, is that it knowingly injects fiction into the mix in a way that nearly subverts the project’s mission of “getting it right,” as Boston-bred star and producer Mark Wahlberg has said repeatedly. In the process, the dramatization shortchanges those that were there — the heroes and the victims — and the character of our fair city.

Three screenwriters, including the director Peter Berg, are credited with the script. The studio’s publicists informed me that the sources ranged from conversations with the Boston Police Department and other local agencies that responded to news reports and “60 Minutes.” What they’ve cooked up feels like a cobbling together of news feeds condensed and sanitized into a singular heroic narrative that regularly brims with the Boston Strong motto.

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The Nice Guys

23 May

Shane Black, once evisceration fodder alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator” and a top-paid screenwriter “The Long Kiss Goodnight” in the 1990s, has been something of a rebirth monkey within the studio system – last seen directing an “Iron Man” installment and now, as writer and director, serving up something very retro, macho and immensely entertaining.

052016i The Nice GuysIn “The Nice Guys” we’re hanging out in Los Angeles circa 1977 where the neon buzz of “Boogie Nights” is everywhere and the veins of corruption, akin to “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown,” run deep. It’s in this tawdry underbelly that Jackson Healy (a paunchy Russell Crowe) makes a living by punching people in the face. Got a stalker? Want them off your back? Give Healy a few bucks and the problem’s solved. Healy would like to be something more than a hatchet but isn’t certain he’s got the goods to cut it as a private detective, though he might make a better one than Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a lush who talks so much he reveals all his cards before the hand’s dealt. To be fair, he’s coping with the loss of his wife and trying to raise a preteen daughter (Angourie Rice, channeling the sass of Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal in the 1970s).

The two get tossed together after a porn actress named Misty Mountains dies in a car crash (one that is both a fulfillment of a 12-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy and a cagey homage to Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out”) and her aunt, who wears Coke-bottle bottoms for glasses, insists she’s still alive and hires March to find her; another interested party hires Healy to get March off the case. The reluctant pairing of the two isn’t as stark as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in “48 Hrs.,” but it is a near equal stroke of genius. Gosling is something of a dopey James Rockford infused with a splash of Ratso Rizzo, while Crowe fills the screen as a weary bull, unsure of himself but quick to act with his hands. They hop from one hot situation to the next – a porn pool party with Earth, Wind and Fire in the house and March’s daughter unexpectedly in tow – unraveling a growing conspiracy that seems to choke the city almost as much as the pervasive smog.

Black layers in devilish sight gag after sight gag with smooth pulpy nuance, while maintaining the requisite forward motion. Nothing about the film feels contrived, though you think there should be a moment of pause somewhere. Much of the reason there isn’t any is because Black’s all in, and so are Crowe and Gosling. Their play off each other is one for the ages. It’s a noirish delight that both puts its arm around you with avuncular warmth and smashes you in the face. Black loads up the reels and never relents.

Black Mass

17 Sep

Cartel Land

9 Jul

The documentary “Cartel Land” from Matthew Heineman – and boldfaced produced by Kathryn Bigelow – is a stunning exposé of the lawless southwest along the U.S.-Mexican border, where the crystal meth drug trade thrives and vigilante forces on both sides of the fence try to stem it. It’s nothing short of “The Wild Bunch” meets “Traffic,” sans the cathartic denouement.

070915i Cartel LandHeineman gained a perilous unlimited access to his subjects; it might be more accurate to say he’s embedded. The film begins with the steamy nighttime capture of an outdoor meth lab where the brewers wear bandannas to conceal their faces from the camera – and the noxious vapors. They do what they do out of opportunity. “As long as god allows it, we make drugs,” one offers meekly. They learned how to make their cocktail from an American chemist and his son. (Maybe Walter White is still kicking around?)

From there we meet Tim “Nailer” Foley, who leads Arizona Border Recon and is listed as an extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He and his posse are well-armed, skilled and intrepid and never seem all that extreme, though some of their philosophies on other races and their intermingling might gain Donald Trump’s assent. Foley is a man’s man in every sense, lean, angular, philosophical, survivor of a hard life and tragedy, and he’s charismatic to boot.

You could see “Nailer” in a Clancy novel or Peckinpah movie, as well as Dr. José Manuel Mireles, who across the divide leads a paramilitary Autodefensas group that liberates villages from the tyranny of the drug cartels. Mireles, tall, striking, with a broad mustache, looks something like Robert Ryan in “The Wild Bunch,” and when we meet him he seems to have the popularity and adoration that followed Pancho Villa. About the only ones who have issues with his bringing stillness and order to remote outposts are the drug dealers, kidnapers and Mexican authorities, who as Heineman has it look to be complicit with those corrupting agents – a point that doesn’t get well explored.

Foley’s reflection on his troubled past and the revelation that Mireles is a surgeon by day and a grandfather give depth to the men and their community, while chaotic scenes of gunfire – with Heineman right in the middle of it all filming – fill the screen. It’s gorgeously shot and a step up for Heineman, whose last doc, “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” was a heavy handed look at the ills of the medical/insurance industry. “Cartel Land” is much more organic and visceral, and the image cut by the two figures, both fearless and fighting their own righteous war, is legendary in scope, even if the pendulum or reality says differently.

Black Souls

22 May

‘Black Souls’: This dark mob family drama doesn’t go where you expect, unless it’s Italy

The three brothers in “Black Souls” lead very different lives: Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) runs the family goat farm in a remote village in the Italian foothills while Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) run mob operations in Milan. Luciano wants nothing to do with the new initiative and works tirelessly to steer his son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) away from it too. But Leo, who does a little strong-arming on the side himself,  has his sights set on Milan and beyond.

052115i Black SoulsSmall doings carry big ramifications, and quickly Luigi and Rocco, looking to buy influence – 30 keys of coke will do that – and expand, find themselves in the middle of a potential turf war with Leo square in the middle as the agitator between Luigi’s cosmopolitan go-for-broke flair and Rocco’s staid, more conservative approach. It’s easy to see why Leo gravitates toward Luigi’s playboy as opposed to Rocco, who married, has a daughter and, at the root of it all, shares the same conservative sensibilities as Luciano.

As director Francesco Munzi’s weave has it, all parties wind up back at the old family farm, where past meets present and generational sensibilities collide as dark dealings loom at the corners. Much of what transpires feel leaden and reminiscent of “The Godfather” scenes on Italian soil: quiet and purposeful, and steeped in tradition and the unwritten code of the underworld.

There are several junctures where “Black Souls,” for all its somber drive, appears to move in predictable and clichéd directions, but Munzi and his writers – working from Gioacchino Criaco’s novel – smartly never quite go there. The developments add up to something new, unexpected and ominous, though not fully sating. Much of Munzi’s vision hangs on his four principals and on cinematographer Viadan Radovic. Most is asked of Ferracane, whose Luciano becomes the tortured Job of the mountain.

In large, he and the cast all deliver. But Munzi hangs on the emotional residue of a scene far too long, so much so that the magic he and his actors have conjured up begins to settle, and the poignant flourish suddenly becomes stale. There’s no denying Munzi’s hypnotic poetry and simmering macho cadence, but for all its bleakness, “Black Souls” could have been a gangbuster with a touch more soul.