HOLLYWOOD GANGSTERS THROUGHOUT THE DECADES! [time permitting I'll add a few more "decades" throughout the day].THE EARLY 30's: William A. Wellman's THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931, HBO Max) for the first time.One of the classics of the pre-code era gangster flicks (along with Howard Hawks' production of "Scarface" and Edward G. Robinson's "Little Caesar"), "The Public Enemy" is also a model of efficiency about not only how to tell a great story in well under 85 minutes, but ending it without glorifying the criminal while sending you off the theater with a gut punch. I'm usually bored by law-abiding family members of the anti-hero in crime dramas, but here the brother (Donald Cook's Michael) and especially the mother (Beryl Mercer's Ma) of a protagonist that goes out in a torrential rain shootout (great close-ups and use of B&W photography to make the water look like deluge) elevate the power of his performance with their reactions. Poor ol' Ma Powers fixing that bedroom that will never be used. :'( Tracking their rags-to-riches rise in the criminal underworld from 1909 until the then-present, "The Public Enemy" makes you feel like you've been on a long journey with Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), his partner in crime Tom (James Cagney) and a rogues' gallery of savvy old criminals (Robert Emmett O'Connor's Paddy Ryan, Murray Kinnell's 'Putty Nose,' etc.) they meet along the way. Great high-def transfer on HBO Max too, a reminder that just because they're old and B&W doesn't mean classic movies lose any of their impact for first-time viewers aware of what they're getting into. 4.25 MACY'S NYC STORE ESCALATORS THAT LOOK THE SAME 90 YEARS LATER (out of 5... I should know, I just stepped on 'em recently).
THE MID-50's: Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING (1956, Criterion Blu-ray) for the first time.There are a handful of Kubkick movies I've refused to watch because they're like expensive vintage wine: so rare (they don't make it anymore) and so tasty (like only the work from a once-in-a-generation visionary filmmaker could be) you have to pick the right one at the right moment to enjoy it at its absolute fullest. For "The Killing" the time was yesterday afternoon, and I tried my best to judge it for the heist/noir/crime drama it is (released around the time this artistic style was either peaking or about to decline) and not an early compromised-by-studio-limitations work from the future auteur of "Dr. Strangelove" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." A group of amateur and professional criminals (plus a few wannabe-gangster civilians way over their heads) led by ring leader Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) plan to steal $2 million from a horse racetrack. It's a good and elaborate plan, but the loose lips of mousy George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) to his femme fatale wife (Marie Windsor's Sherry) already clues us in that this heist is going down hard. Thus "The Killing" isn't about watching whether/how the heist goes down, but how these lowlifes and thieves (some with redeeming qualities) get spit in the face by destiny (bad traffic jams delaying Clay's arrival) and a bad film noir marriage.Jesus Christ, "The Killing" is terrific despite doing things (Kola Kwariani's goofy wrestling match-style distraction, Gerald Fried's histrionic music ratcheting up the tension, repeating the same horses-getting-ready footage at least five times) that would upset me in any other feature. Lucien Ballard's B&W cinematography is gorgeous (shame he and Kubrick didn't get along and never worked together again), the cast is terrific from the top to the lowest ringer (Vince Edwards' Val Cannon seems to have stepped from a TV soap opera set) and the stakes life-or-death important for all involved. Much better than I expected from Kubrick, especially his ability to tell a gripping story in chronologically disjointed form (mirroring Lionel White's original novel "Clean Break") in under 90 minutes. 4.5 TIMOTHY CAREY SWING MOODS FROM THANKFUL VETERAN TO RACIST 'N' WORD UTTERER (out of 5).
THE EARLY 2010's RECREATING THE 1970'S: Jonathan Hensleigh's KILL THE IRISHMAN (2011, Netflix) "for the first time." Also streaming with ads on PLUTO.A better name for this biopic about a real Cleveland-born Irish gangster that worked for the mob throughout the 60's and 70's would have been "Car Bomb: The Movie." Seriously (and not a spoiler because the story opens with one), every car in this movie explodes, some (practical explosives) better than others (stock footage from other movies, badly-rendered CG 'splosions, etc.). Anyway, this is an entertaining rags-to-riches crime drama that milks Ray Stevenson (HBO's "Rome," "Book of Eli") grabbing the role of Danny Green by the throat and running with it. Even when writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh (2004's "The Punisher") pairs Ray with strong actors (Christopher Walken, Bob Gunton, Tony Lo Bianco, Paul Sorvino, etc.), you just can't take your eyes away from the feral attitude Danny brings to every meeting, "dance" (aka beating the snot out of each other with fists), shootout, etc. Even stuff that doesn't work (Vincent D'Onofrio completely miscast as John Nardi, Steve Schirripa stuck in "Sopranos" mode as a garbage truck company owner, Val Kilmer's dull, infrequent voice-over narration) seems better than it is because Hensleigh keeps the plot interesting and the narrative moving."Kill The Irishman" brings nothing but its surface-level good looks to the genre, and sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered to have a good time. 3.5 BADLY-RENDERED, CG DYNAMITED, TWO-STORY COLLAPSING HOUSES (out of 5)
THE SO-CLOSE-TO-2020-I'M-CHEATING-A-LITTLE 2020's GOING BACK TO THE 50's: MOB TOWN (2019, Showtime) for the first time.Getting a small theatrical release on December 13 of 2019 (a Friday... the 13th! :-P) before premiering in 2020 on VOD and streaming, "Mob Town" is too good a film to disappear without a trace like this one did. We just saw Robert Davi playing a hitman in "Kill The Irishman," but now he plays U.S. Mafia boss-of-bosses Vito Genovese at the height of his attempts to consolidate his power in the late 1950's. So what's a Don-in-the-making boss to do to prove he has clout than ask the heads of all the families around the country to pay him a visit at a retreat in the small Upstate NY town of Apalachin. Once he's told his farm and home will be the site of the historic meeting, hungry-for-a-bump Joe Barbara (writer/producer Danny A. Abeckaser) and his wife Josephine ("The Sopranos'" Jamie-Lynn Sigler) agonize over all the details about how to feed, house and entertain dozens of wiseguys. Their spending spree in preparation for the Nov. 14, 1957 meeting doesn't go unnoticed by Sgt. Ed Croswell (David Arquette), whose attempts to keep tabs on Barbara are ridiculed by his superior officers and co-workers. Only Natalie (Jennifer Esposito), the single mother/widow of Croswell's deceased cop friend, notices the heart and kindness underneath Ed's bumbling exterior.You'd think a lighthearted comedy about wiseguys catering a party for other wiseguys wouldn't add up to much, but "Mob Town" kept me engaged through its brief running time (thank you!). The mythical 'did it or did it not happen' tone surrounding this alleged meeting makes the desperation the Barbaras suffer to get the event properly catered all the more amusing. Casting David Arquette as Ed Croswell is a stroke of genius because not only is he an audience surrogate (the lowest-in-the-totem-pole working stiff doing the right thing against indifferent superiors), but it literally feels like we're watching a relative of "Scream's" Officer Dewey coming up the police ranks. And I'll take any chance to see old coots like Bo Dietl ("Goodfellas") and Garry Pastore ("A Bronx Tale") play their wiseguy shtick one more time. An amusing, lighthearted romp. 3 FROZEN SWORDFISH ORDERS (out of 5).
The Untouchables (1987, dir. Brian De Palma)Sean Connery saying “trash basket” made my day. Trowsch bashket.In all seriousness, this movie rocks.
THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939, dir. Raoul Walsh)A slick Warner Brothers production that sometimes feels like it is just going through the motions of the genre. The grittiness of the studio’s earlier gangster films is largely absent, which detracts a little from my enjoyment of it. With James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as the leads, however, this is still a more than worthwhile watch. James Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, a World War I vet who falls into the bootlegging racket during Prohibition and rises to the top with his ambition. Bogart is an Army buddy of his who also gets into bootlegging and joins forces with Eddie to build a large syndicate of illicit liquor distribution. Allies do not always remain allies, though. Besides telling a story about gangsters, The Roaring Twenties attempts to be a chronicle of 1920s New York City and the early Depression years. The result is a diluted film that can seem like it is moving in multiple directions at once. As with any Hollywood studio production of this time, the production values are top-notch.
Bloody Friday (1972 - Rolf Olsen)Now, this is a gem for everyone who is interested in German cinema. Set in Bavaria, this movie follows the footsteps of Heinz Klett (Raimund Harmstorf, second time for me this month), a brute man who wants to rob a bank with his more or less amateurish gang to have a good live somewhere in the global south. What begins as a fun little crime movie turns fast into a social commentary about capitalism and the death penalty, mixed with all the political undertones that were dominating in that time period (for example, failed denazification in Germany, RAF et cetera).Adding to this, there is everything you need for an exploitation movie. Funky music, literally guts spilled on the floor, a shoot out and a rape scene, that cuts back and force between the scene itself, unrelated close-ups of vaginas (his perspective) and a butchery (her perspective). I really want to stress out that the casual rape scenes I've had to witness this month really start to weigh down on me. Not that most of them would be actually shown on the screen, but it seems like such a casual thing for screenwriters that it bothers me. At least it serves somewhat of a purpose in this film, and it is shown in a way I haven't seen before and with a purpose.I can't stress out enough, how interesting this movie was to me.
Where/how did you watch this? YouTube? Raygun?
It's on Amazon Prime in Germany.
Dude, read the review below yours. ;-)
THE BAVARIAN 70's: BLOODY FRIDAY (1972, RAYGUN) for the first time.Since Derk recommended this one so strongly I dropped what I was doing and rush-watched this morning the beat-to-shit English print of "Bloody Friday" streaming on a new-to-me app called RAYGUN. Ironically Derk sold me on an idea of what this flick would be like that is completely different from how "BF" came across to me. It feels like a silly-dubbed Italian-by-way-of-Germany take on "Dog Day Afternoon," except Lumet made that flick three years after "BF" came out. To call Heinz Klett's associates 'gangsters' or even 'terrorists' would be an insult to those effed-up professions. This truly is the gang of anarchists (Amadeus August's deserter and his Bechdel Test-flunking sister Christine Böhm, Italian stereotype Gianni Macchia) that couldn't, wouldn't and definitely shouldn't have been given permission to shoot straight. No safety standards were followed (that poor guy that appears to fall under the car!), no jazzy needle-point music library was spared, and no English-dubbed insult toward women (particularly the 'C' word! :-O) was withheld. The rape scene that Derk mentioned is as weird and freaky as advertised, but the print I watched was so butchered I'm sure they cut out a lot of the more explicit stuff. You can tell the filmmakers thought Raimund Harmstorf was gonna break into international superstardom from this feature. Dude dresses look like if Kris Kristofferson was a German rock star, complete with rubber pants you could see your reflection on. "Bloody Friday" is goofy (the sound effects of the machineguns and building fire siren sound like toy guns and an alarm clock, respectively), pretend disturbing (will the little kid explode the grenade he's playing with on the street?), mysogynistic (every other word coming out of Heinz's lips) and such a time capsule of early 70's anxieties. It as a Junesploitation! powerhouse alright, even if that quote by Napoleon Bonaparte at the end about pests feels like a highfalutin coda to minimize blowback. 3.25 DAUGHTERS OF RICH SUPERMARKET MAGNATES TAKEN HOSTAGE (out of 5).
I'm happy and sorry at the same time. Sorry for giving you the wrong impression of this movie, happy that you seemed to like it. Your depiction of Harmstorf is spot on. He would have some international roles (mostly Italian productions), but his star really fall in the 80s, and he had a few accidents and illnesses that costed him probably years of his life.
Dude, you saw a 4K remastered new version of the film. l saw a butchered English dub. There was no way my cut of "Bloody Friday" could have lived up to your comfty experience. That said, l enjoyed the flick. Thanks for your suggestions all month long. 😉👍
Same! Thank you for all of your reviews and efforts!
BLANK CHECK (1994) A little kid gets the titular blank check from gangster involved in a bank scam. The kid fills out the check for a million bucks, buys a mansion (!) and then the movie turns into not-as-funny Home Alone. The script bends way over backward to make the implausible bank crime/financial plot appear plausible, when all we’re here for is wacky kid shopping sprees. Might as well have a genie grant the kid a wish rather than have us sit through all this financial jargon. Maybe this would be forgivable if the slapstick were any good, but there’s just no fun to be had here. 30 days of Chinese fantasy movies, day 29 IMMORTAL DEMON SLAYER: THE LEGEND OF WU KONG (2017) I wasn’t going to watch any of the many myriad Monkey King movies this month, but the trailer for this one was so cool I had to check it out. This is a prequel, where the Monkey King is a wandering vigilante of sorts. He runs afoul of magical immortals, only to turn the tables on them and fight back. It’s a real mankind-rises-up-and-defies-the-gods type of fantasy myth. This is another big-budget mega-epic overflowing with production value. The plot lost me after a while, but there’s tons of thrilling wire-fu action, with everyone using magic weapons and causing lots of destruction. Maybe a little too long, but lots of cool stuff here.
You should create a list of recommendations from you Chinese film watches, Mac. You certainly covered a good variety this year.
Walking the Edge (1985, dir. Norbert Meisel)Robert Forster plays a debt collector/cab driver who picks up Nancy Kwan on her way to unleash revenge on a gang led by the inimitable Joe Spinell. It’s not really a gangster flick, but Joe’s crew is comprised of four vicious bastards working their way up in the L.A. underworld.This movie must have been shelved for a couple years because a Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan billboard shows up at one point. It feels a lot more like a 70s revenge picture than a mid-80s flick. Forster’s completely earnest, magnetic performance is the real reason to check this out.All Forster is above average Forster.
A Slight Case of Murder (1938)I believe I owe Edward G. Robinson an apology. Having grown up on nothing but Little Caesar and the Looney Tunes parodies of him I always figured he was one-note, just a “youse mugs” gangster without much else to offer. Then a few years ago I finally saw Double Indemnity and Key Largo and he quickly became one of my favorite screen presences, now I’ll watch anything he’s in.That turned out to be a damn good policy on my part because this was really fun, a snappy comedy about a gangster trying to go straight after the repeal of prohibition but circumstances just won’t let him. It’s based on a Broadway farce but doesn’t feel stagy like so many similar movies tend to, and there’s a lightness to even the tough-guy patter that’s really enjoyable. Definitely going to keep seeking out more of Robinson’s work.
Scarlet Street is a film to seek out, one of Robinson's best roles. Fritz Lang directed that one, too. I would also recommend Five Star Final, which is an early film in Robinson's career. He plays an unscrupulous newspaper editor. Boris Karloff has a small role as an alcoholic reporter, as well.
I haven’t seen either of those but I’ll definitely add them to my list. Thanks!
The Narrow Margin (1952, dir. Richard Fleischer)This movie was a really fun watch and a great premise. A cop has to protect a witness from mobsters on a cross-country train journey. Hijinx ensue. Also it was a beautiful 71 minutes.It was remade in 1990 by the great Peter Hyams starring Gene Hackman and Anne Archer. That version is also really fun and features some jaw-dropping stunt work. I recommend both!
The Stone Killer (1973, dir. Michael Winner)A year before Michael Winner and Charles Bronson made Death Wish together, they teamed up for The Stone Killer.An Italian New York mob boss (Martin Balsam) plans to take revenge on all the other bosses because of a massacre that happened 42 years earlier. Bronson plays the tough, no-nonsense cop (who would've guessed?) who stumbles on the plot by happenstance and starts connecting the dots.The first hour and change is a lot of shoe leather, the last 15 minutes a massive gunfight. The movie's highlights include a hippie commune dancing around an unflappable Bronson, a fun car/motorbike chase, and two dummies falling from a height. Winner has constant fun with blocking, which keeps the movie at a weird energy level.I'll be honest, I watched this in several parts between football games and maybe didn't give it the attention it deserves. Will have to watch it again soon.
By "football" games you mean the Euro 2020 soccer tournament, right? ⚽️😉 Man, some excellent games the last couple of days: France-Switzerland, Spain-Croatia, etc. 🤠😵
Yeah, I watched half of The Stone Killer before the ENG-GER match and the other half after it. Not as entertaining as yesterday's games, but a nailbiter.
I am watching this right now as I type. Just got to the scene where dude is explaining "Night of Sicilian Vespers" and now I'm going down a Wikipedia hole.
Mobsters (1991) Michael KarbelnikoffIt’s got 99 problems and the script is one.
The Man from Nowhere (2010, Korean, Hoopla) It is gangster’s day, and I am scrolling through best streaming gangster flicks and getting lots of great ideas. Then I see this Korean film streaming on Hoopla, and I jump at it. (Hoopla is a streaming service free through most library cards). The Man from Nowhere is a plot that we have seen a hundred times. Gangsters come for an exotic dancer and take her small daughter also. However, the next door neighbor is a man with a particular set of skills, and he loves the girl. Righteous mayhem ensues. The film is done with great style and attention to detail.(A painted fingernail in the first act…). It hits on all of the action and emotional levels. The score is great, and everything builds to the finale it deserves. The Man from Nowhere is easily my find of Junesploitation. Thanks for the reason of this season.
The Long Good Friday (1980, dir. John Mackenzie) Bob Hoskins plays this with a light touch through most of the runtime that it makes it that much more fun to watch when he blows his top. A gem that will now be a regular re-watch for me.
What about that final shot?! Astonishing stuff from Hoskins and what a way to end a movie!
Mobsters (1991, dir. Michael Karbelnikoff)One long set up for a pay off in the final scene. It's better than its reputation but doesn't ever achieve greatness. Dempsey is a problem, but I like Greico as Bugsy Siegel. He had a nice 1991 with If Looks Could Kill.
The Cynic, The Rat and the Fist In Italy, they call this movie Il cinico, l’infame, il violento, which means The Cynic, the Infamous, the Violent. This poliziotteschi is a sequel to another Umberto Lenzi film, 1976’s The Tough Ones, with Maurizio Merli playing the role of Inspector Leonardo Tanzi in both movies.Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milan, The Big Gundown, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!) escapes from prison and sends two of his men to kill the man who put him away — Tanzi. He’s left for dead and even the newspapers print that he’s dead, but he’s just biding his time, waiting to get revenge.Tanzi just wanted to stay retired — it looks like he’s become a giallo author — but now he’s a vigilante who comes up against Maietto and American syndicate boss Frank Di Maggio (John Saxon).This movie boasts three writers whose work pretty much hits every side of the Italian exploitation experience. There’s Lenzi himself, who made everything from Eurospy films (Super Seven Calling Cairo, The Spy Who Loved Flowers, 008: Operation Exterminate), Westerns (A Pistol for a Hundred Coffins), giallo (Orgasmo, A Quiet Place to KIll, Oasis of Fear, So Sweet…So Perverse, Seven Bloodstained Orchids, Spasmo, Eyeball), cannibal movies (Man from Deep River, Cannibal Ferox), peplum (Ironmaster, Samson and the Slave Queen), horror (Nightmare Beach, Ghosthouse, Demons 3, Hitcher in the Dark) and so much more. Then you have Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote so many films that I love, including The Whip and the Body, The Possessed, The Sweet Body of Deborah, Day of Anger, All the Colors of the Dark, Torso, My Name is Nobody and tons of other great films. And then there’s Dardano Sacchetti, who wrote just about any Italian genre film worth watching.Man, somehow Junesploitation has led me to many Italian crime films. For this I am very excited!
The Punisher (1989)This iteration of the Punisher gives us not only Mafia villains but the Yakuza also for double the amount of gangster points. The writing is pretty heavy handed at times, and Dolph's (presumably deliberate) emotionless and monotone performance might not be out of place for the character, but doesn't make for the most interesting protagonist to follow. Mark Goldblatt is an accomplished editor but the only other movie he directed was Dead Heat the previous year. Ultimately it's a movie so thoroughly average in most respects that even when I was paying full attention to it, it felt like it was something I just had on in the background.
The Punisher (2004)I didn't know until I finished watching this that writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh also wrote and directed The Ice Road. That's not exactly a selling point, I just didn't plan on watching two Hensleigh joints a couple days apart for Junesploitation. Certainly a step up from the 1989 film although it could probably stand to lose about 30 mins or so. Also, while I'm generally not a huge Punisher fan in general and don't mind changes to his backstory, I'm curious who had the notion that the traditional origin just didn't kill off enough of Castle's family.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)The Punisher's M.O. doesn't let itself to creating a memorable stable or recurring villains so it's maybe no surprise that the '89 and '04 cinematic iterations of The Punisher largely stuck to original characters as the antagonists (aside from some minor characters like The Russian in '04), especially since characters like Kingpin were likely tied to other licensing deals. War Zone on the other hand makes use Jigsaw as the baddie. That both seasons of the Netflix Punisher show also had to use this guy is really all the confirmation you need that the Punisher rogues gallery does not have a deep bench. Personally I'd have rather had Travolta back just playing another crime boss, but whatever.I could be wrong but I think more people tend to give the edge to War Zone over '04, but despite War Zone maybe having the better Frank Castle, I think the supporting cast of '04 puts it over the top for me.
Man, we see the world so differently you and I. I think '89 "Punisher" with Dolph is the best overall movie of the three, that Thomas Jayne is easily the best actor to play the role (but the movie he starred in left him down) and that "War Zone" is almost irredeemably bad all around. Fun fact: Thomas Jayne was offered "War Zone," but he demanded changes to the script or he wouldn't reprise the role. Studio refused, Jayne walked, and we all suffered the consequences. :-(
Jane is probably the best actor of the three, but feels less like the Punisher. A lot of the is the script, but his Frank Castle feels less permanently broken than the other two.I don't want to sit here and bag on '80 so I'll agree to disagree on that one. '04 has Ben Foster, John Pinette, and Rebecca Romijn as Frank's neighbors, Roy Scheider as his dad, Travolta and Will Patton as the villains, Mulholland Dr.'s Laura Harring as Travolta's wife... the cast is pretty stacked and helps carry the movie.
Hoods(1998)Dir: Mark MaloneJoey Pants and Jennifer Tilly reunite for this remake of 1996's 'Bound'. Not all the cast is back though. Kevin Pollack has taken over for Christopher Meloni and sadly the producers could not get Gina Gershon to return. This has forced the producers to make a decision about what to do. How could they replac3e Gina? Not only did they answer that question, the producers took the film in a completely different and unexpected direction! Casting Joe Mantegna in the Gershon role and Joey in Jennifers original role the producers gendered flipped the whole story they have added a whole new dimension to the story that makes this one of the best films I have ever seen. The only fault one could find is Joey and Joes love scenes might be considered a little too graphic for some. That and I just really didn't buy Joes acting in the fingering scene. No really this was a "day in the life" movie about Joe as a mob bosses son ordered by his father to kill the 9 year old son of a rival. Kevin Pollack is Joes right hand man. Jennifer is Joes ex-girlfriend and Joeys current wife. Its a perfectly harmless movie but considering its a dramedy it might want to try and add some of those elements in if they remake it. I wouldn't go out of my way to see it but its on tubi.
Branded to Kill (1967) Directed by Seijun SuzukiWatched a super nice print on Criterion Channel.Just insanely stylish. Plot is about gangsters in Japan competing with one another, being betrayed by women, and wanting ones they can’t have. Camera work by Kazue Nagatsuka is continually inventive, creating unusual compositions, unique framing devices, and is very fresh for it’s time. There isn’t much I’ve seen that looks like this…it’s playful, dark, existential, funny, and weird. There’s some Tarantino roots here, and it also reminds me of Point Blank in how disorienting it is at times. Recommended.
Everly (2014)Everly (Salma Hayek) is a captive sex slave of the yakuza, but she'll do whatever it takes to protect her daughter. This one starts out violent and only goes up from there. Perfect junesploitation movie.
Scarface(1932)Dir: Howard HawkesA first time watch for me and I can see why its so revered among film fans. Some things that struck me is the slapstick comedy that seems to come out of nowhere. While seemingly out of place its done really well and somehow manages not to take you out of the movie. The other thing that struck me was how closely to the story and plot points Depalma/Stone's remake played. The stuff with Tony and his sister is not something I would have thought originated in the Hawkes version. Shocking is an poster appropriate description. This also may have gave me a little more appreciation of Al Pacino in Scarface 83. Now I see how broad Paul Muni played Tony, I can't help but think Pacinos performance going so big was an homage to the original and not just too much cocaine. For sure one of my highlights of the month.I found it on Archive.org
Four Brothers (2005)Not really a gangster movie, but the description said it had hitmen. This is a ridiculous movie, but so earnest, that it's easy to enough. I don't I think I've ever seen Wahlberg ever play a role so "Wahlbergian".
TWO-FOR-ONE SPECIAL!THE 90's: THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The Hughes Brothers' MENACE II SOCIETY (1993, HBO Max) for the first time.Despite being practically disowned by its brother filmmakers as too amateurish and low-budget (which occasionally shows but does not distract from the big picture), "Menace II Society" still works as disturbing social commentary and an entertaining rags-to-more-rags gangster tale. Set in then-present day California's Watts neighborhood (after a 1970's flashback prologue with special guest star Samuel L. Jackson), we follow the aimless lives of Caine (Tyrin Turner) and his trigger-happy bestie O-Dog (Larenz Tate in a star-making performance) as they get into and/or escape trouble. The pre-credits opening scene at a Korean store is like a mini-movie and expression of artistic intent, setting up Chekhov's snuff video subplot that hangs over the narrative (and gives Bill Duke an excuse to appear in a brief, excellent interrogation scene). Though he graduated high school, has loving grandparents (Arnold Johnson and Marilyn Coleman) and is in love with a single mother (Jada Pinkett-Smith's Ronnie) that he supports, Caine can't help but get into trouble when triggered. As a ticket out of the ghetto opens up Caine's conflicted about leaving behind the only life he's ever known, especially after hearing a teacher whose opinion he trusts (Charles S. Dutton) tell him to just "survive [because] the hunt is on, and you're the prey!"Despite the large parade of memorable characters (MC Eiht's A-Wax, Clifton Powell's Chauncey, Vonte Sweet's Sharif, etc.) and graphic violence/language on display (the 'f' word gets casually tossed so much it becomes numbing), "Menace II Society" wouldn't work if audience sympathy toward Caine was non-existent. Even after he casually dismisses a girl he impregnates, Caine meeting his mentor Pernell in prison (Glenn Plummer) and then getting kicked off his room by his given-up grandparents are almost back-to-back dramatic highlights that keep the story and characters grounded. The early 90's was a boom period for black films set in poor California minority neighborhoods ("Boyz in the Hood," "American Me," etc.), and "Menace II Society" ranks among the best from that era. 3.75 SEGA GENESIS CONTROLLERS (out of 5).
DON'T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD (1996, YouTube) for the first time.The Wayans Brothers were no strangers to making fun of black film tropes (1988's "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka"), so it's natural they'd do another parody of then-popular black youth crime movies after their "In Living Color" Fox TV show ended. Directed by Paris Barclay in his only feature credit (lots of TV work), "Don't Be A Menace To South Central..." is to "Menace II Society" what Jim Abrahams' "Hot Shots!" is to "Top Gun." Other black flicks get name-dropped with visual gags ("Juice") or music cues ("House Party"), but structurally this is almost a shot-for-shot remake of "MIIS" except over-the-top. Since we're primarily dealing with Shawn and Marlon Wayans here ("Scary Movie 1 & 2," "White Chicks," etc.) we're talking broad and obvious humor that rarely hits (the 'burgers/I'll suck your dick' guy, Keenan Ivory's Mailman shouting 'Message!'), but when something connects (Helen Martin's as Loc Dog's granny, Lahmard J. Tate as Ashtray's two-years-older-than-me dad) it's hysterical. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time as when granny comes out of the garbage pile with the "Dead Presidents" make-up to save the day. :-D "Don't Be A Menace..." starts repeating the same gags (Malt Liquor bottles everywhere) and outstaying its welcome before the end, but this is still the Wayans when they were trying hard. The don't-give-an-F portion of their careers was still a few short years away. :-( 2.5 FAN FIC SEX FANTASIES AS BEDTIME READING FOR POPS (out of 5).
The Ice Harvest (2005) Harold Ramis I’m really glad I finally saw this one. A distinctly Ramis take on a neo-noir dark comedy. Cusack’s classic odd charm works very well here. I haven’t seen him in this mode since.
Smokin' Aces (2006) - I wasn't in the mood for a heavy mob epic and this looked like the perfect alternative. And oh god it was. Darkly funny and batshit crazy in the best possible way. The cast is loaded from top to bottom and Joe Carnahan keeps the film speeding along while juggling at least a dozen characters. Add this to my top discoveries this month.
TRIAD ELECTION (2007, dir. Johnnie To)This was a DVD blind buy for a few dollars. Not knowing anything about the film or the director, I am pleased that my hunch about Triad Election being an interesting film was correct. The story centers around the election of a new chairman for a Triad society. (I do not know much about Triad gangs.) Lok, the current chairman, does not want to step down even though it is tradition to only have one term. Jimmy Lee, his rival for the position, aims to get out of the Triad gang and become a regular businessman. Will either one get what they wish for? Bloodshed and violence will happen in a more subtle style than I was expecting. Overall, a solid gangster film. With this viewing, I have seen as many post-2000 films this Junesploitation as the past two years combined.
King of New York (1990)And another criminal blind spot is sleeping with the fishes at the bottom of the Hudson.Abel Ferrara's epic tale of cocky gangsters (some more noble than others) and frustrated cops in a corrupt city features great performances from Christopher Walken (before he turned into a full-on self-parody), Laurence Fishburne (back when he was plain Larry) and... David Caruso? Yep, he's good in it, too. The movie's shadowy, neo-noir vibe, the constant intertwining of glamor with violence, and the tragic, almost mournful tone all invite comparisons with The Godfather, and you know that's about the biggest praise you can give to a gangster film (it's like saying that a war film reminds you of Apocalypse Now). Good, gritty, atmospheric stuff - no wonder it's one of Tarantino's favorite movies.