Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year and Thanks!

I can't think of a more pleasant way for Criminal Movies to end the year, than receiving blog awards and giving out my own. Many thanks to Michael at "It Rains...You Get Wet" for thinking of me. 

Thanks also to everyone reading this year. I certainly do appreciate it. It never fails to amaze me, how many people get what  I'm trying to do in looking at all my favorite film criminals and anti heroes. As an added plug, if you're into crime movies, be sure to be a part of the Scenes of the Crime blogathon, which is going on now. 

Here are the rules for both awards, and a link to Michael's post, and I'll pick up all the requirements below.

Versatile Blogger

The rules for accepting are as follows:
  •  Display the award certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and include a link to whoever presented your award. 
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers. 
  • Create a post linking to them and drop them a comment to tip them off.
  • Post 7 interesting facts about yourself.

Blog of the Year 2012

The ‘rules’ for this award are simple:
  1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
  2. Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
  3. Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/our-awards/blog-of-the-year-2012-award/   and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  4. Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
  5. You can now also join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience
  6. As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

7 facts about myself:

1. I'm a lousy cook although I can make Macaroni and Cheese.
2. I really can't stand cold weather at all.
3. I read just about anything that's in front of me.
4. I don't understand using social media to complain about social media.
5. I think crime movies have very little to do with actual crime.
6. I'm fascinated to see what long term effects social media will have that we haven't thought of yet.
7. I really enjoy gardening.

15 (plus) Blogs blogs deserving their own awards:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Killer Joe

There aren't many people who would want to be a character in a William Friedkin film. He has a talent for capturing the limits of desperation in his characters in "Killer Joe" is no exception. Friedkin isn't interested in glamorizing evil, but neither does he pull back at the dullness and lack of imagination that it can spring from. "Killer Joe" is the second time he's taken the work of playwright Tracie Letts and translated it to film. (He also adapted "Bug")

In Killer Joe, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) a shortsighted, unintelligent and self centered younger man gets himself deep in debt to some formidable figures. Neither he, nor anyone in his family have any money to speak of. When approached for help, his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) tells him he's never had $1,000.00 at one time in his whole life. Chris has an idea however. He heard about a police officer named Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) or "Killer Joe." who does contract killing for $20,000.00 per victim. Chris reasons that they can hire Joe to kill his mother (Ansel's ex wife) and collect her life insurance, since they're under the impression that Dottie (Chris' sister/Ansel's daughter) is the beneficiary and they can easily get the money from her. Ansel insists that they split the take with his current wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon.) Chris agrees, although he and Sharla hate each other.

They set up a meeting with Killer Joe, but Ansel is unable to get out of work, leaving Dottie (Juno Temple) to greet Joe. He finds her attempting to imitate Bruce Lee's moves while watching one of his movies. "That looks hard." he remarks and advises her to get an instructor. He's immediately fascinated with the strangely gifted Dottie, who asks point blank if he's going to kill her mother. When he tells her he doesn't know yet, she tells him that she remembers her mother trying to kill her as a baby. She asks him about the most exciting thing that's ever happened to him, he describes a police call he responded to, where he encountered a man who set his own genitals on fire to teach his cheating wife a lesson. "Was he alright?" Dottie asks, and Joe coolly responds, "No, No, he was not alright. He set his genitals on fire." Chris calls the house and asks Joe to meet them at a pool hall near Ansel's work. He agrees, but adds "Don't change plans on me again."

They have a meeting and Chris explains what they need done, also telling Joe that they don't have the money upfront but can pay him out of the insurance settlement. Joe isn't interested in this at all, telling Chris and Ansel that the deal is $25,000.00 up front and not negotiable. Before leaving he has an idea though, and suggests they think about "a retainer." He tells them he can hold onto Dottie until the $25,000.00 is paid. Chris and Ansel discuss the idea and agree to do it. Ansel even reasons it might be good for her. They arrange to have Joe meet Dottie for dinner at Ansel's house, neglecting to tell Dottie that she and Joe will be the only ones at the dinner until moments before it happens.

Dottie finds the deal agreeable, but complications arise when local crime figure Digger Soames, comes looking for Chris to collect his money. The life insurance settlement doesn't pay out like Chris thought it would, setting up a violent confrontation.

"Killer Joe" presents us with an interest contrast. Chris' family is like a competition to see who's the most shallow and self centered. Ansel is the dull witted centerpiece that holds the family together. Dottie and Sharla live with Ansel, while Chris is the visitor, normally living with his mother. As Sharla points out, when he visits, he takes charge of everyone in the household. They tolerate him, as he's part of their chosen drama, but he remains an agitant. Even the dog doesn't like him. They all seem to agree that Chris isn't good at much except getting himself into trouble.

Sharla is Chris' most obvious and certainly most vocal adversary. She's hardly in a position to judge anyone else as it turns out she's likely the most duplicitous member of the family, a fact which only comes out because Joe is more informed than anyone in the family, and forces the issue. Gina Gershon really brings her to life, from business as usual, to gleefully combative  to weathering sadistic humiliation. She's more intelligent than the family and attempts to use that to her benefit. We know that this is a different kind of character when she answers the door half naked and when Chris is upset that she's not wearing pants, she explains, "I didn't know who was at the door." She has plans that extend outside the family, although they are stalled by Killer Joe's detective work.

Emile Hirsch's Chris begins as our main character. It's his problem that accelerates the action. At the start he already owes money to a guy who is going to kill him if he doesn't pay up. It's clear that no one cares for his mother very much and the idea to kill her for the life insurance seems like his only solution. This isn't an idea he could think of himself, however, and we find later that the insurance scam, and the idea of calling in Killer Joe, were actually suggested to him by an untrustworthy source, and he ends up in doubly in over his head, and just as broke. Chris and his family, for the most part behave like a family of snarling dogs. The only person he seems to care about is his sister Dottie, and even that concern seems to arise too little, too late, and twisted into more of a possessive concern than a caring one. He tries to coerce Dottie to run away with him, but pays little attention to her opinion on the matter.

Dottie's character is an interesting one. She's treated like a child with special needs, yet she seems more aware of the whole situation than anyone else. She figures things out long before they're given away. She knows that Ansel and Chris are planning to kill her mother, and that Sharla has a boyfriend on the side. Her father and brother offer her up as a retainer to Killer Joe, and she takes it all in stride. She actually seems quite interested in Joe, perhaps planning on Joe getting her out of her rotten family. She's certainly the best part of her family, although it's in their nature to underestimate her. They can't quite comprehend that she has her own ideas, and will at some point have too much of being treated as their pawn.

Matthew McConaughey is terrific as Joe, and this probably the best role of his career. He presents a character who appears to be everything that Chris' dysfunctional family is not. He doesn't get upset or quibble over trivia. He simply states his position quietly and courteously. He has no use for the squabbling chaos. He reminds Chris and Ansel twice that he would appreciate them paying some attention to the details they agree upon. Killer Joe is a dangerous and serious man, although towards the end we see his psychopathic leanings come to the surface when he demands the truth from Sharla. He's far more twisted than the family, insisting that they all sit down for a family dinner, knowing that in all likelihood, he may end up killing them all. Killer Joe presents the idea of evil as very polite and approachable, less concerned with the deed itself than the payment. We don't even see Joe kill Chris' mother, as if to say that the murder is just uninteresting to Joe, simply another job.

 We follow Chris for the bulk of the movie, watching his panic bring the plot into action. He has the chance to reconsider. Joe tells him "Call it off and you'll never see me again." Of course, having just been assured by Digger Soames that he only has a couple days to get the money together, he declines the offer and tells Joe to carry on. With a little more time, he does reconsider but it's already too late, leaving only the matter of Joe's payment. He decides to cancel the deal even though he's already received the services promised, and unwisely perhaps, thinks all it takes is having a gun of his own.

It becomes clear though, that this is more Dottie's story than Chris'. She's a character who has formed her own peculiar morality, started perhaps by the memory of her mother trying to kill her when she was an infant.  The fact that Joe kills people for money seems fascinating to her. He certainly represents an existence very different than the one she's had so far. Joe is a very active character and shows an intelligence that's lacking in her family surroundings. She finds his brand of evil charismatic, as if he's a dark variation on the knight in shining armor. She's used to being thought of as a possession, and the retainer status given by Chris and Ansel doesn't seem shocking to her. She simply imposes her own terms on the arrangement. Although historically close to Chris, she isn't interested in running away with him, as we learn when Joe announces their wedding plans. No one has an objection except Chris, who insists she's running away with him. When Dottie picks Joe, Chris informs her that she has no say in the matter. Finally, she corrects him, and Ansel as well, whose complete failure to stick up for his family has become obscene. Joe realizes he's lost control of the situation as well, and has no choice but to see he can't control everything.

"Killer Joe" ends up being an interesting reflection on the nature of choice and of evil. Chris and his family are introduced as passive characters with a choice to make. It appears as a simple problem of balance, Chris weighing the life of his despised mother against his own. Initially both he and Ansel make the decision with little trouble. It's an idea, not an actual deed. Anything over $1,000.00 seems like a fantasy to Ansel. None of them are required to get their hands dirty. Killer Joe will take care of it and they can be bystanders. However, lacking the money to get the deal going, they do have to get their hands dirty, allowing Joe to consider Dottie as his retainer. This agreement is certainly made with the idea in mind that the money is a sure thing, but that they would agree to it under the best conditions makes it no less reprehensible. They're exerting control that isn't theirs over another life, just as certainly as Joe does when he kills people. Of course they don't realize this, Chris' family (with the exception of Sharla) is not intellectually capable of much calculating. They come to their conclusions after the fact, when they're already surrounded by consequences.  Once they engage Joe, an active force of evil, the time to reconsider is over. They're all too busy pondering their own self interest to consider such questions, at least, until it's too late. It's a very dark, brutal and graphic cautionary tale.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Good Thief

I'm not usually a big fan of remakes, largely due to Hollywood's ever building remake fever. I can't blame them in a way since film studios are all about business. If remakes weren't a proven formula for making money, without the risk and cost of taking a chance on original material, then the remake fever would stop tomorrow.

While I enjoy a lot of foreign film, I can appreciate that many viewers don't want to read when they watch a movie. I'm more accepting of those since remaking it in English exposes the film to an audience that wouldn't get the story at all otherwise. Rarely does a remake improve on the original, after all, if the original hadn't already received a lot of attention in spite of language barriers, it would never have been picked for a new version. Sometimes, however a remake can stand on it's own very well.  The best are like wonderful covers of original songs, bringing a new interpretation to an old classic.

"The Good Thief" is certainly in that category. The film is a remake of Melville's hugely influential crime classic "Bob LeFlambeur." (Bob, the Gambler) It's directed by Neil Jordan, whose suitability for crime films was obvious in his own classic "Mona Lisa." Jordan doesn't go too far from the original story but adds some updates here and there. It all hinges on Nick Nolte's portrayal of Bob Motagnet, an retired criminal who has served his time, and is now content spending his days on gambling and heroin. For a junkie, Bob is remarkably well liked, and a fixture in his community. He even has a nice friendship with Roger (Tchéky Karyo,) the cop who put him away. Bob has been around the block and has nothing to prove anymore. He's helpful, well mannered and not easily shocked. He's also idolized by Paulo (Said Taghmaoui) a young guy who anyone can see wants nothing more than to figure out how to be Bob, although he doesn't grasp that Bob has a code of his own. We see Bob's sensibilities at work when he intervenes in the arrangement between a prostitute, Anna (Nutsa Kukhianidze) and her pimp, picking a fight as a distraction to lift her passport from the pimp. Anna is grateful and also fascinated by Bob, but he has little interest in a relationship and all but presents her to Paulo. She goes along with it, but sees Paulo as little more then a Bob knock off.

His retirement is interrupted when an old friend informs him of a high profit idea for a heist. A new casino has decided to use very high priced art for decor to attract an upscale clientele. Rather than hang the actual paintings in the casino however, they hang good quality fakes which are backed by the originals in a high security private vault. Being familiar with how a heist works, they decide to let the word get out about it. Bob will go to the casino and gamble, as his reputation will draw all eyes to him, while the heist crew with help from an inside man, sneaks in and takes the paintings. There's too much money in the heist for Bob to refuse.  He locks himself in his room ad kicks his heroin habit cold turkey in preparation. He sells a fake Picasso painting to a local crime figure to make some money to outfit the heist.

As you'd expect, the heist doesn't go according to plan. Paulo can't help but reveal some private details to Anna in his attempt to be as impressive as Bob. These details are soon picked up by someone else, a police snitch who sleeps with Anna. When Paulo realizes what has happened, he takes out his anger on both Anna and the snitch (although only after the snitch has told Roger the details) Bob sends Paulo out of town, as he's now wanted for murder. Roger soon gets details of the plan and has a team move in, on the crew while Bob gambles at the tables, with Anna at his side. Despite all of their planning they can't account for everything, including Bob's incredible luck at the tables.

"The Good Thief" is a heist film, that doesn't really care about the heist. That's just the excuse to put Bob into action. Nolte creates an incredibly compelling character, that doesn't care about the law much, but is very concerned about decency. Despite his particular sense of moral obligation, he isn't at all naive. This is a guy who counts on being let down and betrayed by his best friends, yet he does't become bitter. It's possible that it's the pull between this knowledge and his own code that lead him to seeking out his heroin, his coping mechanism for a very unrealistic situation. He intervenes when a man in danger of deportation is about to shoot Roger the cop. This intervention makes the man a snitch for Roger, he sets aside his loyalty to Bob to keep his own status safe. Paulo, who Bob treats as a protege, is unable to control his temper and this also presents an obstacle to Bob's plans. Regardless, he keeps going, playing his own part. I can't imagine anyone else portraying the laid back weariness like Nolte does here. His character communicates both how low he has fallen and the charm that makes everyone like him.We believe Roger's reluctance when he talks about trying to catch Bob at his latest heist, and says "That's part of the problem. Everyone likes him."

Although it all occurs around the framework of the original "Bob LeFlambeur," Jordan takes the structure and tweaks it to make it his own. This Bob is a junkie while the original wasn't but it makes sense within the character. The technology and the music are updated to reflect their times, and the switch from Black and White to color is embraced. Although there is still a grittiness to the world, it's a bright one. The film also points at it's own remake status, being largely concerned with fakery; fake paintings, fake heists, even Paulo, the fake Bob, not to mention Bob's own storytelling talents. He's fond of pointing out Picasso as the greatest thief of all. Bob is a failure and he knows it, but it isn't the most important thing. After the heist at the end he tells Roger, "It isn't about winning or losing. It's about attitude." It's important to Bob that he do both gracefully. He's very good at losing that way but to have a chance to practice this attitude at winning is as much a shock to him as anyone. Another interesting change is the relationship between Bob and Anne, which here allows Bob to be more of a father/mentor figure than romantic interest. Nutsa Kukhianidze plays her as unpredictable, a character who hasn't quite been around the whole block yet but feels like it, and thanks to Bob, just realizes she has a few things to learn.

Yet "The Good Thief" is not an imitation of the original  I'm sure that Neil Jordan had seen the original more than a few times. Perhaps he wondered why he couldn't have a film where Bob was just a little luckier, and found himself making that happen. He didn't want to make a flawless copy, but his own version of the story which rather than the film noir cautionary tale, where the loser pushes his luck until it's gone, we watch a few losers get unexpectedly rewarded. With this set up and these characters, a happy ending is far more surprising than a harsh one. Even Paulo, who perhaps doesn't deserve it, gets a happy ending because luck doesn't discriminate like we do. Whatever it uses from "Bob LeFlambeur," this version of Bob is certainly "the real thing" as Anne would say, less a remake than a variation on a theme.

For more on all sorts of crime films, stop in to the Scenes Of The Crime blogathon. And of course, join in.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Check out the Scenes of the Crime Blogathon, and help us celebrate crime movies! Everyone is welcome. Official details are here: http://www.furiouscinema.com/2012/12/scenes-of-the-crime-blog-a-thon-rendezvous/

What About It?

"Pusher" is Nicholas Winding Refn's first feature film and from it it's easy to see that he would be an interesting director. As the title suggests, the film is entirely about a drug dealer, but this isn't a drug dealer out to rule a city, so much as the blue collar version.  We see him move from a fairly comfortable working arrangement to facing certain death withing a week as a result of a few bad choices and unfortunate  circumstances.

Pusher's main character, Frank is not very good at his job, and he's not very good at dealing with people. We see that dealing drugs makes him pretty impressed with himself, and the prospect of a deal easily wins out against sound judgement. He trusts people he shouldn't trust with his money and proves himself untrustworthy many times. Frank is above all things a pretender. He's not ambitious at all, but he imitates those who are, only to end up lacking he skills that could make him successful. When facing torture at the hands of his supplier, Milo's thugs, he insists "I didn't do anything wrong." and that is truly his approach to life and business, although even a passing look at his decisions would show many things he'd done wrong just because he was too lazy to do things right.

The drug deal that accelerates his down fall is a good example. He's approached by a guy he's never seen before for a rather large heroin deal, which he needs right away. Although he's suspicious at first, the man's insistence that they served time together causes Frank to play along. Rather than admit he doesn't recognize him, he asks Milo to supply heroin for the deal even though he already owes Milo money. When the customer meets him to confirm that the deal will happen the next day, he has another stranger with him. He tells Frank "He's with me. He's alright." and Frank accepts it. When the time comes to make the deal, he allows the customer to completely control the situation. He gets into the customer's car, and does nothing when the car starts driving off. He agrees to give up the drugs before he's paid as well. If he'd been paying attention, it should've been little surprise to find the cops would be in the picture soon, as it was an obvious set up.

He makes another deal, sending a woman named Rita to Amsterdam with his money to pick up heroin and gives her a hard time about her own payment for doing it. Clearly she isn't trustworthy as she returns with baking soda, which he doesn't even check himself. He only finds out when Milo's enforcer Radovan tests it, because it was offered as payment. Frank wants all the rewards but he doesn't want to work as if he's entitled to everything he wants just because he exists. He has no sense of loyalty. Even his best friend Tonny, is kept around just because Frank feels smarter than him. It's obvious that he doesn't like Tonny much. All Tonny cares to do is talk about sex, which seems to be of no interest to Frank. He gets angry when Tonny makes mother jokes, but he's obviously made enough of them that Tonny has his reactions down to a routine. When the deal with the Swede goes wrong, Frank takes it out on Tonny, beating him badly enough that he likely needs to be hospitalized. He has no indication that Tonny said anything to get him in trouble, but beating him is just how he chooses to vent, rather than admitting that he himself made a bad call.

Vic is the only other person who cares about him, and presumably he cares about her. He tells Tonny that he can't have sex with Vic because she's a prostitute, but when he's hard up for money he attempts to set up a date for her hoping to get the money. With Vic we see that he's really wearing down her tolerance for his company. She tells him she needs to charge him more rent because he hides drugs in the house. Their relationship is more based on drugs than any affection. We see Frank ignore her requests for attention repeatedly. She asks him to get a pervert across the street to leave her alone. He agrees, but then doesn't bother to show up. She tells him about her sick dog, but he pays little attention. He's not interested in anyone's problems but his own.

Even his relationship with his supplier Milo shows Frank's lack of loyalty. Milo is willing to bring in a sizable amount of heroin overnight so Frank can do a deal. He even overlooks the fact that Frank owes him money already. Yet, Frank thinks nothing of going to another dealer for product to sell in Milo's territory. When things go bad, he simply tries to avoid Milo even though he's expressly told to come see him. While Milo is certainly overzealous in his collection efforts, Frank's stupidity only hurts his own case. He shows little urgency in getting the money he owes together until he finally realizes that the deadline has passed and he may not be walking again soon. It's hard to be sympathetic to Frank when he hasn't figured out how to treat anybody well. Milo may be a psychopath when pushed, but this isn't news to Frank. He knows why Radovan hangs around and even makes use of his talents himself.

"Pusher" isn't Scarface and it also isn't a film about bottom level junkies who'll do anything for a fix. Most of the drug use here is by for the most part functional people as recreation. Until things go badly, Frank's relationship with Milo looks more like a friendship than a business arrangement. Milo's chief concern is cooking and the drugs just keep the money coming in. Even Radovan, the enforcer would much rather be cooking Shish Kebab than breaking legs. But, as with most people, he can only be pushed so far. Unfortunately for Frank, when he's pushed too far, he sees torture and killing as parts of the business. While Frank is a beta dog trying to look like an alpha, Milo is the real deal. He's put the work into his business and aims to keep it going. Compare his severe collection efforts to Frank's and it becomes obvious why Frank has "bad luck." Frank visits people who owe him money, and he's greeted with "Why didn't you call? I would've had cash." Frank just didn't bother with collections because it was work. "Pusher" is a bleak film, but a believable one. It's refreshing to see the blue collar drug world, looking much like the rest of the world. If you've ever noticed an employee working somewhere and wondered why they work at a job when they obviously can't be bothered to put any effort into their work, then you have a good comparison for Frank. Of course, at most companies, you'll only get fired. You'd think Frank would put more effort into it, but I'm not really surprised that he doesn't as laziness becomes too much of a habit to break after awhile.

Kim Bodnia does a fantastic job making Frank a believable character. He's desperate when he needs to be, and clueless the rest of the time. He makes Frank seem like a guy you could run into on the street. Mads Mikkelson is terrific as Tonny, the irreverent best friend with far too much energy and not enough sense to know who his friends are. Laura Drasbæk's Vic is an interesting character, although she gives the least away. We wonder why she tolerates Frank, and it makes sense when she comes to her senses and leaves him. It's an interesting relationship dynamic, not really romantic but almost, although we wonder why they bother. Zlatko Buric's Milo is the most entertaining part of the movie. Aside from his drug dealing and his momicidal rage he comes across as a nice guy. This makes his fits all the more alarming. He's happy to offer you coffee and pastry while he considers whether to kill you or not. Slavko Labovic's Radovan is also more than he appears. While he does a great job at being the intimidator, he's not fond of the work. He'd much rather own a restaurant, but still, he has a job and he does it. We can tell that he'd rather Frank pay what he owes, but it isn't Radovan's call when he doesn't.

While Pusher was originally a stand alone piece, it was expanded to a trilogy, Pusher II gives us a story with Tonny as the lead, and Pusher III focuses on Milo. All of them are well done and it's not the material you'd expect to make a film trilogy. The original has also been remade a couple of times. It's no surprise that Nicholas Winding Refn became more well known, as he hasn't stopped taking interesting directions in film. Here, he shows us a story that could well have happened. With Pusher he already had a strong style. He doesn't feel the need to show us everything that everyone said, but is confident that he can skip to results and we'll put the pieces together. He knows how to use music and that a kitchen table can be menacing when presented the right way. He knows that approaching a sink where a man waits with bolt cutters is as effective as showing a torture scene. We don't wonder why Frank scrambles to get away. He gives us a dreary landscape where drugs most common use is as an antidote to boredom. Drug dealing however isn't a good line of work for the lazy as Frank would likely tell you if he could ever be honest with himself.

What Happens?

We're introduced to the characters as the film starts. We see Frank (Kim Bodnia,) Vic (Laura Drasbæk,) Tonny (Mads Mikkelson,) Milo (Zlatko Buric,) and Radovan (Slavko Labovik,) make an appearance in shadows as their name appears beneath them.