TIFF 2017 Racer and the Jailbird (2017, Michaël R. Roskam)

Categories: 2017 and Movies.

This is an entertaining, albeit slight, amalgam of the bank heist genre with one of those romances where the two alpha leads, who do risky things in their professional lives, fall in love with each other, but which is pretty much entirely ruined by an absolutely bonkers left turn (well, a series of left turns) into Crazy with a capital C. MASSIVE SPOILERS! Read More

Cold in July (2014, Jim Mickle)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I’m not sure exactly what to say about this bizarre film that offers a new twist (or several) on the age old “redemption through violence” theme in American cinema. The plot goes a very different way than I would have ever expected which is to the novel’s credit, I guess. But that big left turn (which becomes significantly bigger) is hard for me to reconcile for reasons I cannot quite identify. I often like movies like this, but something about this left turn didn’t sit well with me for the whole film. Read More

Cocaine Cowboys (2006, Billy Corben)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

I have heard about this film from a number of people and wonder if we watched the same movie. This is a poorly made film that absolutely reeks of early digital technology (even if 2006 would suggest it wasn’t made with early digital technology). Why is it that so many people are okay with watching movies that look like they were assembled in somebody’s basement? Read More

Triple 9 (2016, John Hillcoat)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

I am always flabbergasted by movies with huge, all-star casts that somehow suck. I am particularly flabbergasted when it seems obvious to me that these actors could have easily figured out the movie was going to suck. Such a movie is Triple 9, a film which somehow includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Norman Reedus, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot and Clifton Collins Jr. SPOILERS Read More

Detective School

Categories: 2016, Philosophy, Science, and Society.

If I have learned one thing from immersing myself in too many true crime podcasts, TV series and movies, it’s this: most detectives have never been taught to think. There seems to be an obsession with relying on instinct and (supposed) “known knowns” and nothing else; no rigorous investigation techniques, no awareness of the infamous “unknown knowns,” known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” no logic, no deduction, no method whatsoever. Just “I feel this way so it must be true.” And that’s a problem. That’s a problem because “instinct” isn’t really a thing. What sometimes feels to us as deliberate framing Read More

1971 (2014, Johanna Hamilton)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is an interesting, albeit brief, look at a crime in 1971 that resulted in the first ever whistle blowing on the American government (to my knowledge, anyway). A bunch of radical hippies broke into an FBI office and released the files to the press and Congress. The film is your standard talking heads + pictures documentary (with the exception of some brief reenactments) but its value is in the story which had never been told previously (at least on film). Fascinating stuff, and relevant given the state of affairs today. 7/10 Read More

Tickled (2016, David Farrier, Dylan reeve)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

It’s rare for me to see a movie that shocks me, that leaves me unable to process what I’ve seen for hours afterward. But this is one such movie. The GF and I kept having parts of conversations for hours afterward where we attempted and failed to process what we had seen. You should see this if you’re interested in human behaviour, in how the internet changes behavour, in true crime or in real life mysteries. But I also strongly suggest you do not learn anything about the film before you see it. Just know that it’s not really about Read More

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958, Mario Monicelli)

Categories: 1958 and Movies.

This is supposedly one of the classic Italian comedies, considered an all-time great film by numerous people. It is apparently a parody of Rififi, a classic film I have yet to see. So, one of the reasons it’s lost on me would be because I haven’t seen the target of its satire. Maybe that’s why it feels more like a farce to me. At this point, my dislike of certain aspects of Italian culture is well known to readers of this blog. Though  I love Antonioni and Leone, I struggle with just about every other major Italian filmmaker (oh, I Read More

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Categories: 1980, Movies, and TV.

In 1980, there was no real way for for North American audiences to digest non-English language television. So, on occasions when multiple-episode television programs made there way over to North America, they were screened at film festivals as “films.” A number of European “art house” films from the ’70s and ’80s are actually made-for-tv. It is a testament to the quality of some European television that their mini-series could pass for “art house” films in The United States and Canada. One of these films is Fassbinder’s 900 minute adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel I haven’t read but one of Read More

Bethlehem (2013, Yuval Adler)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is a reasonably compelling film that appear to apply a sort of naturalistic crime drama lens to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. There’s no soundtrack and everyone is working at being as realistic as possible in their performances. But the conflict really does feel like it’s been reduced to a crime story: an informant is put in a bad position when his handler targets his brother. That could be a crime plot. It’s not that it’s a bad film. Everything about it is generally good. It’s just that it feels more than a little odd to reduce such a complicated situation Read More

Backyard (2009, Carlos Carrera)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is an ambitious film, based on a true story, that centres around a female cop and some other women trying to end an epidemic of violence against women and murder in Juarez. It takes the general serial killer tropes and expands them into a more serious, almost Traffic-style drama. I really wanted to like it. However, there are some major, major problems: many of the characters are drawn too thinly; a radio DJ’s spiels are used as a major plot device and it feels forced and awkward (especially his early rants, which sound like they are introducing the plot) Read More

Animal Kingdom (2010, David Michod)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is like a blue collar gangster film with Italian Americans replaced by Aussies. This film has excellent acting and I like how incompetent the criminals are. It’s refreshing. But I struggle with the plot. You know the expression “Stranger than fiction”? Well, this plot is a little of that. Apparently it was fairly loosely inspired by a true story, which sort of makes sense because this is one of those ‘too weird to be believed’ stories. I guess I was just expecting more, given the huge amount of praise this movie got. It’s not that it’s bad – it’s Read More

Deep Dark Canyon (2013, Abe Levy, Silver Tree)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is a poorly made film. It’s evident from the first 5-10 minutes that this movie is not very good; tonally everything is off. I was actually surprised to find out that they had directed other films, because this movie feels like the work of first time filmmakers. They introduce the feud and interpersonal relationships so poorly that you are left wondering why everyone is so angry at each other. And it’s a slow reveal, but it’s so poorly handled that you don’t give a shit when it’s revealed because, well, you already don’t care about these unlikable people, and, Read More

The Company You Keep (2012, Robert Redford)

Categories: Movies.

So, the first thing that’s off with this is the ages: Redford is significantly too old to play his character and most of the other (admittedly fine actor) friends of Robert Redford are also slightly too old for their characters. But it’s more his daughter’s age that is ridiculous. Was this the novel? Was this the movie? Regardless, it feels like a cheap emotional hook to try to make us sympathize with Redford’s character before we learn “The Truth.” A better movie would have let the audience decide what they wanted about Redford’s character before the “The Truth” comes out, Read More

Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino)

Categories: 1997 and Movies.

I saw this years and years ago, and I didn’t like it. I don’t know why. I guess it was just the stubborn thing for me to do. I didn’t like Pulp Fiction the first time, either. I guess I can see why people thought of this as some kind of misstep from the wonder boy, because it’s certainly way less ambitious than his last film. But I think it’s certainly underrated. It may be his weakest feature – and that’s debatable – but it has held up much better than True Romance, the film that launched his career and Read More

American Gangster (2007, Ridley Scott)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

This review is of the extended version, not the theatrical version. This movies tries to balance a number of competing crime genre tropes: the true crime story, the drug dealer biography, the police procedural; it often feels like a couple separate films put together. It’s ambitious but I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. However, how Scott handles the climax is so adept – it manages to combine moments of extreme tension with a nearly Godfather-esque handling of the arrests – that I want to forgive him for the minor missteps over the rest of the film. Personally, I don’t care Read More

Killing Them Softly (2012, Andrew Dominik)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

Like a serious Other Guys. This is an artsy-fartsy gangster film, but unlike so many of its ilk, it’s actually executed well. It’s a little heavy handed in its theme and tying it to the country’s economic woes, but the point is well taken. The cast is excellent, as is the direction (mostly). This is a revisionist gangster film where people are actual people – flawed, regular people. That speech at the end is a little preachy. 8/10 Read More

The Drop (2014, Michael R. Roskam)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Are there not crime movies with Protestant or Jewish small time criminals? (Actually, I can think of some Jewish ones, but not Protestant). Or maybe some atheists? The Catholic gangster/criminal thing is a little done to death at this point, no? The characters aren’t likable or compelling and, until the twist, there’s not much compelling about the plot either. Tom Hardy does voices! It’s part of his shtick! 5/10 Read More

Boardwalk Empire (2010)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

SPOILERS!!! Had Boardwalk Empire premiered in 2000 instead of 2010 – hell, had it premiered in 2005 instead of 2010 – I think we’d think about it very differently. (Or, at the very least, I would.) It’s a show full of great actors, with great costumes and sets and a fantastic sense of place. If the CGI is sometimes a little weak, it would have been totally acceptable in the early century. I think we would have forgiven the complete lack of depth in the writing because everything else about the show is so good. We would have been okay Read More

Ajami (2009, Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is an ambitious, compelling, complex portrait of daily life (with a little crime thrown in for good measure) in Israel. In its ambition, it’s trying to be Short Cuts or Traffic but in execution it’s more Babel or Crash (okay, it’s not that bad). Though the actors appear to be amateurs, they are very compelling. As others have noted, the filmmakers don’t take sides in the religious / ethnic conflict at all, it’s just taken as context for the story. The problem with the film, and the thing that prevents it from being a masterpiece is the end, which Read More

Thought Crimes (2015, Erin Lee Carr)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is a provocative and morally ambiguous film about the so-called “Cannibal Cop”, the NYPD police officer who was charged and convicted of conspiracy to kidnap women, without kidnapping any women, and certainly without eating anyone. The film is not the best technically made film you will ever seen. The pacing isn’t perfect and some of the shots depicting the porn at issue were oddly distorted. However, this is still a must-see documentary. The film depicts the rather alarming nature of the “trial by outrage” of a person who actually didn’t do the vast majority of the stuff he was Read More

Killer Legends (2014, Joshua Zeman)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I remember sort of enjoying Cropsey, finding it kind of frustratingly made, but compelling enough to give it a pretty decent rating. I didn’t write a review, so I have no idea exactly what I liked/disliked about it. But watching this film, which could be called Cropsey II, I worry I was far too generous. This movie is a mess. It’s ostensibly about the origin of four major American urban legends. The research these guys do is so surface-deep, though, that I worry that it isn’t at all reliable. (They are willing to go back to the ’50s, pretty much, Read More

30 for 30: No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (2010, Steve James)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

Steve James remains one of the few filmmakers I am aware of who can involve themselves to a great extent in a documentary and yet still give that film a feeling of journalistic integrity. Since I was 11 when this happened, I was completely unaware of this. But really hard for an outsider to me to understand how people could think Iverson was absolutely, without doubt, guilty, given the evidence or lack thereof. But the film is much more interesting than just allowing me to learn about an incident in the life of a famous, trouble athlete and its legacy Read More