Category Archives: Crime

Nobody Knows (2004)

Wow! This review is two months overdue. I was burned out by watching crappy movies and having to writer about them. It was exhausting. I am slowly getting back to the swing of things. I read an article about 10 Criminally Overlooked Movies You Should See Now from Anomalous Material at the end of May. There were some movies that I have seen and watch they would watch more. I heard about Nobody Knows when I listened to the Cinebanter podcast about it. Hearing Castor’s recommendation, I wanted to check it out from the library. I’m glad I did.

Yûya Yagira was the youngest actor to win the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Akira Fukushima. He is the eldest of four siblings when his mother, Keiko (You) has to move to a new apartment. The catch is that she has to pretend that she has one child. So, the two have to smuggle Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) and Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) in suitcases into the apartment and have another sibling, Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) come in by train.

When the family is all together, Keiko has to explain to the little ones that they cannot leave the apartment or make any noises to expose them. None of the kids go to school, so that would not be a problem. Akira looks after his siblings like the father figure. He buys the groceries for his family so they could eat something.

One day, Keiko leaves a note for Akira saying that she had to leave to work in another town, but has left plenty for the kids to live off for a while. Akira does visit his father, but he has another life that is separate from theirs. He cannot help them. Keiko is gone for a month before she returns before Christmas with presents for everyone. The reunion doesn’t last long when Keiko leaves again with no explanation.

The kids think that their mother is coming back. When the weeks turn into months, they realize that their mother is not coming back to them. They have to survive on their own. Akira is left being the primary caregiver to his little brother and sisters. This is a heavy burden for Akira. When he meets a neighborhood girl named Saki (Hanae Kan), things becomes even more complicated.

I was glad that I saw this movie, because this shows a side of life that is rarely seen or portrayed onscreen. I read that this movie is based on true life events. The depths of despair that these kids have to go through is unbearable. How could a mother be so thoughtless and uncaring over her own children? It makes you question how come people would walk away from their responsibility as a parent? It boggles the mind. I don’t have children. There are plenty of couples out there who want children and not being able to have them and people would have them and they throw them away like trash.

Judgment: This movie made me question would you do in the same situation.

Rating: 8.5/10

American Gangster (2007)

 The man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in New York City. He didn’t own his own company. White man owned it, so they owned him. Nobody owns me, though.

– Frank Lucas

I have previously watched American Gangster when an aunt loaned me the DVD of the movie. I watched a third of the movie when I stopped, because it was too long for me to pay any attention to it. I knew that the movie was nominated for two Oscars including a Best Supporting Actress nom for Ruby Dee for her five-minute role and for Best Art Direction. Watching the movie against almost made root for the bad guy… almost.

Harlem 1968. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) mourns the death of Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III) who was a surrogate father to him. Bumpy was Frank’s teacher for dealing with the gangster life, especially for a black man in those times. Frank wants to take over in Bumpy’s place, but do things a little better. He wants to get the best product, which was cocaine to give to the people of Harlem. He wants to show his dominance with the other gangsters of the neighborhood like Tango (Idris Elba) who treats Frank like a servant and Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who is all talk and no bit.

At the same time, an undercover cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) tries to be on the straight and narrow in a sea of corruption in the police department. Richie’s partner, Javier Rivera (John Ortiz) discovered a car that had almost a million dollars in it. John wants to keep some of the money, but Richie wants to do the right thing and turn them all in. he Richie is not the most popular cop in the precinct. He is going to night school to get his law degree and having to pay child support to his ex-wife, Laurie (Carla Cugino).

There is a crooked cop, Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) who confiscated drugs from busts, water them down and sell them back to the bad guys for a profit. He wants to get some hush-hush money from Frank, but Frank doesn’t want to be another police lackey.

Opium and heroin are on the rise during this time and about goes to Bangkok to get the purest heroin that he could find. He finds it and sells it on the street as “Blue Magic” for dirt cheap. With the money from selling the 100 kilos of heroin, he buys a home for his Mama (Ruby Dee) and the rest of his family. Frank decides to expand his business and include his brothers in the process.

Meanwhile, Richie is hand selected to lead a special group of DEA agents to help bring down the drug trafficking ring. their first target is Frank Lucas.

The movie came with the theatrical version and the unrated version. I wanted to see the theatrical version, because it was short. The movie is 2:45 at least. That is a lot of movie about a bad guy selling drugs to his own people. The unrated version would make it three hours. No thanks. I was able to take the movie. there were some good moments in the movie that was bogged down by filler scene that I could do without.

Judgment: It’s interesting to see a movie about a black gangster, but I wish that it was a tighter story.

Rating: 7/10

Memento (2001)

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.

– Leonard Shelby

It has been a while since I have seen the film that put Christopher Nolan’s name out front and center, the #29 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Memento. It was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay and  Film Editing. The strange thing is that the story is based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story, Memento Mori. Personally, I don’t like movies that go backwards through the narrative. There is something tragically simple about this movie that make me forget about my past grievances with this way of storytelling.

I don’t know how to approach this review without spoiling the ending, which is in the beginning of the movie. Hmm… Be forewarned. A man who has short-term memory loss, Leonard (Guy Pearce) had just shot a cop named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) in head. He takes a Polaroid for a little reminder that the person that he thinks raped and murdered his wife (Jorja Fox) and lost him with his memories will be documented.

As you know the narrative is backward to retrace the events that lead to Teddy’s demise. The puzzle is slowly being put together. Leonard has an arm full of Polaroids. All of the clues to find the killer has been either in the Polaroids or have been tattooed on his body as a reminder of his ultimate goal of revenge.

Was Teddy telling the truth? Because a person named “John G.” was the person that was there that night his life changes. Teddy is not his real name. Leonard realizes this from Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a woman who Leonard befriends while he is investigating. Is she working for him or against him? He cannot trust anybody unless it was written on the back of the Polaroids.

He tries to remember Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky), a former case of his when he was an insurance investigator. He thought that Sammy was faking his condition which it is exactly like his. Everything that Sammy remembers before the accident, he knows. He has trouble building new memories like Leonard. His wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) thinks at she could do something to trigger his memories, but nothing happens.

Leonard has to deal with betrayal, manipulation, murder, drugs, and theft all for the ultimate goal of solving his wife’s murder.

The movie is carefully thought out about what happens next. I thought the flashbacks in black and white broke up the movie in a good way to see how Leonard knows certain things and not others. This is probably the best performance of Guy Pearce’s career. I thought that the ending was different from what I remember. It blows my mind that the movie about memories and not making new ones could make me questions how the ending or beginning was.

But I did have some questions about certain elements of the movies that didn’t make any sense to me. What happened to the drug money? How did Leonard get those items that belonged to his wife? I cannot think of how that happened. I went over the movie again.

Judgment: I know that Nolan is capable of making movies outside of the Batman franchise that could still be good.

Rating: 9/10

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Today and tomorrow I cast out demons and work cures. On the third day, I will be perfected.

– Jesus

 

After the rapture did not happen last week, I wanted to see the controversial Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The only thing that I have heard is the controversy of having Jesus portrayed as a flawed mortal and not the savior most people know. I didn’t realize that it received the Criterion treatment, but I knew that it was nominated for a single Oscar for Best Director. I think that I would have had a strong reaction back then instead of now.

Based on the 1960 Nikos Kazantzakis novel, the movie is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe). Jesus is a mortal living his life as a carpenter living with his mother, Mary (Verna Bloom). He is haunted by bouts of fainting spells, widespread pain all over his body and the voices he hears. He doesn’t know if it’s God or the Devil talking to him.

His best friend, Judas (Harvey Keitel) visits him to ask him why is he building crosses for Roman so they could crucify his fellow Jews. Jesus takes pity on the people that he has sent on the cross. The villagers think that he is a traitor and should be killed for his actions. Whenever he walks across the town with the cross, people throw rocks at him. He is spat upon by Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), the local prostitute.

Jesus continues to hear the voices speaking to him. He is conflicted because he doesn’t want to be the messiah. Jesus tries to make God hate him so he could make another person the messiah. He is afraid of every aspect of his life.

He wants to seek forgiveness from Mary Magdalene before Jesus sets off on his journey for absolution. She doesn’t understand why he couldn’t love her and she does for him. While he was purified on his sins, he tries to preach the word of God, but he is not the best speaker to deliver God’s message.

Meanwhile, Judas is sent to kill Jesus, but he doesn’t. He decides to join him on his ultimate mission with the apostles to preach God’s message to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus makes some selfish decisions that could ultimately effected the course of his purpose on Earth.

My first thoughts of this movie are that , why is Harvey Keitel in this movie? He has his regular accent in B.C. Israel. Say what? Ever heard of a dialect coach? I felt like the story was not intriguing enough for me to invest my time with it. Let me tell you, it was a lot of time. The movie is 2 1/2 hours long. I did not feeling anything with the movie. If you have been a regular reader of my blog, then you know that I am not a religious person. Organized religion bothers me that I have to be this person and not myself.

I wish that the movie would have provoked a response, but I think that people are not as easily offended today then they were twenty years ago.

Judgment: This movie should have been dumped into the Dead Sea where it belongs.

Rating: 3/10

Rashômon (1950)

No one tells a lie after he’s said he’s going to tell one.

– Commoner

I do not know that many Kurosawa’s movies. I have only seen Seven Samurai and have reviewed as part of the LAMB in the Director’s Chair spotlight a while ago. I wanted to see more of Kurosawa’s film because I enjoyed Seven Samurai very much. I wanted the #8o Film of All Time on IMDb, Rashomon. It was nominated for Best Art Direction, but it won an Honorary Award for Foreign Language Film, not the competitive Oscar. It was expected to be blown away, but I felt cheated.

The story takes place in the ruined temple of Rashômon where is a torrential rainstorm. A Commoner (Kichijirô Ueda) seeks refuse from the rain. He sees the Priest (Minoru Chiaki) and the Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) look visibly distraught. The Commoner asks the men what is disturbing them. The Woodcutter tells him about a terrible that happened in the middle of woods on top of the mountain.

He recounts finding a woman’s hat in a tree branch, then a samurai’s cap, a piece of rope and finally the samurai’s body. He goes to the police. The Woodcutter tells his account to the trial of the bandit, Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune).

Tajômaru tells his tale when the Policeman (Daisuke Katô) arrested in the woods after the murder. Tajômaru tells why he did what he did, because he wanted to capture the wife, Masako (Machiko Kyô) of her husband, Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mori), but not kill him. Tajômaru ties up husband to a nearby tree. Masako tries to stab Tajômaru with her pearl inlay. He forces himself upon her. Afterwards, Masako says that he dies or her husband.

The Woodcutter thinks that the story is a lie. The movie gives three other versions of the story. One of them is true, but which one.

The movie’s plot was not what I was expecting. Granted, I went into this completely blind. The premise seemed silly to me. I have to watch an hour and half of people counted stories from different perspectives. That’s it. I felt cheated. I thought it was going to be an epic movie, but it was very quiet and subdued. I didn’t care for it. I started and stopped it at least three times, because I was not invested in the story.

Judgment: The theme is interesting, but the rest is not.

Rating: 5/10

Half Nelson (2006)

Man… I’m sweating like George Bush on Judgment Day.

– Dan Dunne

I haven’t seen Half Nelson in a couple of years. Ryan Gosling received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. I thought I might revisit the movie to see if the movie is still effective. The answer to that question is no.

A young upstart, Dan Dunne (Gosling) is teaching at an inner city junior high school in New York City. He tries to get his students to think about history and how they should learn from the past to become people in the future. He also coaches the school’s girl basketball team. His life is thrown for a loop with his ex, Rachel (Tina Holmes) comes back to town. She comes to the game, but it was a losing game.

After the game, one of Dan’s students, Drey (Shareeka Epps) comes into the locker rom to find him smoking a crack pipe in one of the stalls. He wants her to kept what she saw a secret. He gives her a ride home when her deadbeat father doesn’t even bother trying to pick her up.

Drey begins to cut Mr. Dunne’s class. Drey’s mother Karen, (Karen Chilton) is concerned for her daughter. So she won’t end up being the wrong crowd that got Drey’s brother in jail. She especially doesn’t want her hanging out with the local drug dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) and making her hustle for him.

During time at the teacher’s lounge, Jimbo (Denis O’Hare) express his disgust that a crack pipe was recently found in the locker room. Dan and Drey develop a close relationship that for some people would be perceived as inappropriate.

I think that the movie lost its luster for me. I guess, I couldn’t believe that nobody would have pegged this guy as a crackhead. If he was using regularly, he would look like death. I wouldn’t believe that he and Drey would be close friends. I’m surprised that other teachers or administrators wouldn’t have found out.

I know that the movie won a couple of Spirit Awards for both Ryan and Shareeka. I think the movie felt disingenuous to me. It’s a shame, because I loved this movie a couple of years ago. I don’t know what happened.

Judgment: Ryan Gosling comes into his own in this movie.

Rating: 7/10

The Big Easy (1987)

Just relax, darlin’. This is the Big Easy. Folks have a certain way o’ doin’ things down here.

– Remy McSwain

The Big Easy is probably one of my favorite Dennis Quaid movies. It’s not because the movie is great, but this is the sexiest role that he has ever been in. There is something alluring about this gorgeous man having that New Orléans accent that hypnotizes you. Quaid is from my hometown of Houston, Texas so I wanna keep up with my fellow Houstonian.

The Big Easy refers to New Orléans, Louisiana and Det. Remy McSwain (Quaid) is being plucked from his bed, snuggling with a stuffed crocodile to be the first to response to a murder. A man is found facedown in a fountain. McSwain’s boss, Captain Jack Kellom (Ned Beatty) tells him that it might the start of a gang war between the mob guys. They call them wiseguys.

Assistant District attorney Anne Osbourne (Ellen Barkin)  is assigned to the case, but she is also looking into the deep corruption in the police force. There are accusations of bribery, tapering with evidence, extortion and murder. Remy uses his charms to woo the bloodhounds from off their backs. He says that it’s the New Orléans way of doing things. Sometimes you have to bend the law to get the job done.

Anne tries not to fall for his charms, but he slowly lowers her defenses until she is ready to pounce. He pounces hard. She is reluctant to get involved with him, but the passion outweighs any code of ethics. Everything is fine, but Remy gets caught in a hairy situation that he might not get out of.

The movie is eye candy first. There is nothing deep and meaningful about this movie for me. There is a mystery element that was brushed to the side until the end of the movie. It felt like an afterthought. There were some points in the movie that I wanted to slap Anne to say that he is not good for you, girl. You gotta admit that he is sexy as hell.

Judgment: You get the chance to watch Dennis Quaid stripped down. Nuff said.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Do you no good to go poking around under rocks, Justin. Some very nasty things live under rocks, especially in foreign gardens.

– Sir Bernard Pellegrin

2005 was my snobbiest year to date, because I didn’t see that many of the Oscar nominated films of that year. When Brokeback Mountain came out, it was the end-all-be-all for me. The adaptation of John Le Carré’s book, The Constant Gardener was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won Rachel Weisz Best Supporting Actress. The movie is a solid effort that swept under the rug.

after coming from his Oscar nominated direction of the seminal movie, City of God, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles followed up with this movie. A diplomat from the British High Commission, Justin Quayle (RalphFPiennes) leanrs of the death of his wife, Tessa (Weisz) from his colleague, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston). They go to a morgue in Loki, Kenya to identify her body. People think that it was an accident, but others think that it was an assassination.

Quayle is reminded to the times that he has had with Tess. He was filling in a lecture for his friend, Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy) when the idealistic Tess challenged him about the actions of the US to go to war with Iraq. They have a mutual attraction with each other and quickly marry. Tess wants to go to Africa with Justin so she could do something about the AIDS crisis on the continent.

After Tess’ death, reports surface that Tess was supposedly having an affair with her African escort, Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé). Quayle wanted to know why Tess was killed. It could have been from her probing into the pharmaceutical  companies of KDH and Three Bees who are using the African people as lab rats. She wanted to expose the companies for suppressing clinical trails, especially the adverse side effects, for a drug called Dypraxa that would suppose to treat tuberculosis. Justin wants to continue Tess’ crusade and investigate her death when everybody in his life is telling him to leave well enough alone.

I didn’t know what to think of this movie when I was watching the first half of the movie. I have seen movies that are heavy-handed with political messages like Syriana, Rendition or In the Valley of Elah. They will jump a subject down your throat, and you want to turn off the movie. Don’t talk at me. Let me understand what you are saying. When the conspiracy begin to unravel, the movie really started become intriguing where Justin’s life could be in the same peril as Tess’.

It did make me think about how the African people are portrayed as a continent of expendable people. With the rampant AIDS infections, famines, rebel child soldiers, and the ethnic cleansing; it shocks me that almost nothing is being done to help the African people. It makes me sad and angry that they have to fend for themselves.

Judgment: A taut thriller through and through.

Rating: 8/10

Chinatown (1974)

Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.

– JJ Gittes

Roman Polanki’s Chinatown is currently #68 Film of All-Time on IMDb. It is one of the those films that everyone in the entire world has seen except for yours truly. It was nominated for eleven Oscars and only won for Original Screenplay. I knew very little about the movie when I started watching it. I don’t know if it was a good thing or bad that I went in blind, because I felt little cheated with the movie.

A cocky private detective, JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) looks into the lives of unfaithful spouses when the wife (Diane Ladd) of the Chief Engineer of the LA Water Company, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) wants to hire him to see if her husband is cheating on her.

Gittes takes the case and follows Mulwray throughout his day which included a city council meeting to approve a proposed dam  to help with the drought the city is currently in. Following Mulwray, Gittes sees a man going to different waterways to see if he makes the right direction opposing the measure.

Gittes is about the give up on the case when one of his associates, Duffy (Bruce Glover) tells him that Mulwray is in Echo Park with a young blonde, Katherine (Brenda Palmer). News of the affair is front page news across the city. The trouble is the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) comes to Gittes office to serve him papers.

Gittes believes that he was setup to expose Mulwray indiscretion to make him look like a fool. Mulrray suddenly disappeared and winds washed up in a riverbed. While looking over the body in the morgue, Gittes picks up a pattern of high-powered people at the water company are being drowned. He wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery before he could be the next victim.

If I knew that this movie was be about water conservation, I would have laughed in your face. That is the mystery. who would kill the chief engineer of a water company. I thought that I was going to hate this movie, but there was something with chemistry between Nicholson and Dunaway that made hold on.

Judgment: I thought the mystery itself was ridiculous and too much soap opera plots for me. 

Rating: 7/10

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man is one the those classic movies that is on people’s top ten lists. This movie comes in as the #65 Film of All-Time on IMDb.  I wanted to see this movie, because it was taunted as one of the greatest mysteries ever. The movie won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was well deserved. I cannot get the feeling that I was disappointed with this movie.

The setting takes place in post war Vienna where the city is divided into four sections; French, British, Russian and American. An American comes into the city, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) with the promise of a writing job from his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It turns out that Harry recently died from a car accident and he was being buried the day that he arrives.

Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) questions Martins about his relationship with the departed Lime. He clues him in over a couple of drinks that Lime was being investigated for racketeering. He allegedly dabbled in selling black market penicillin to hospitals and having the recipients of the medicine die as a result.

Martins hears that Lime was killed in an accident. An acquaintance of Lime’s, Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White) tells a completely different story that what has been told. He said that Lime was murdered instead. Martins’ Porter (Paul Hörbiger) said that Lime was alive when three men carried his body away from the scene. It was Dr. Winkel (Erich Pronto) and a Romanian, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) with a mysterious third man.

Martins meets up with the girl that he saw at the funeral, Lime’s main squeeze, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). She is an actress with a play in a local theater. During their time together, Anna warns Martins not to get in too deep with the investigation that he wants to launch into the mysterious circumstances of his friend’s death. He feels that the investigators are not handling the case the way that they should.

Major Calloway and Sargent Paine (Bernard Lee) are thinking that Anna may have something to do with Harry’s death. When one of the people who Martins talked to ends up dead, he becomes public enemy number one.

I heard a couple of a things about the movies. I guess I might have misinterpreted them. The movie started out like a comedy of errors with Holly Martins being a sloppy drunk mess, then it’s supposed to be intriguing with the swirling mystery. I was a bit bored with the movie. I was thinking, “Okay. When is the part that something is supposed to blow me away?” And then it came with Orson Welles as Lime. He was very charismatic as the arrogant bastard of the story. He saved the movie for me.

Judgment: The mystery thriller was bogged down with too much for my taste.

Rating: 6.5/10

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