Showing posts with the label Crime

Fargo: Season 3 (2017)

The following is a review. The season being reviewed originally aired on FX between April and June of 2017. At the request of those who haven't seen the show, this review will keep spoilers to an absolute minimum. Out of respect for the series's creator and stars, the descriptions and discussions that are included will be presented as accurately as possible.

Only this isn't just a review: it's a murder scene.

The victim is in their late seventies, and the manner of death was asphyxiation. They may have gone by several names throughout their life, but around here they were known as the "Christmas episode." In life, they were a concept of an episodic holiday installment of a television series. They stood out from their peers in only one respect: they were set at or about Christmas.

Anything else could change. Maybe they were a self-contained narrative, or maybe they were an episodic installment of a longer series playing out in real time. Hell, the…

Cash on Demand (1961)

It's a few days before Christmas and bank manager Harry Fordyce (played by Peter Cushing) is making his employees' lives hell. It's not difficult to see the connections between Scrooge and Harry - hell, it's impossible to miss them as he quibbles over every trivial discrepancy and outright ignores their planned holiday party.

Instead of a ghost, he gets visited by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. The thief reveals his true identity to Harry and also tells the manager why he should cooperate: his conspirators have abducted Harry's wife and son and are threatening to torture them. If Harry wants them released safely, he'll have to ensure the robbery goes off without a hitch.

The movie is set almost entirely inside the bank, as Harry is forced to help the criminal outmaneuver his own security protocols. But in the process, Harry also realizes the same lessons Scrooge did a century earlier: that people matter more than money.

It turns out the th…

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

If either Bad Santa or its sequel were 1% lower on Rotten Tomatoes, their sum total would be exactly 100%. It's a shame this isn't the case, as there'd be a certain poetry to having this occupy the space its predecessor does not; a symbolic representation of how it is the empty husk of what it tries to copy.

Ultimately, the one positive thing I can say about this pointless exercise is that it serves to emphasize how surprising it remains that the original was any different.

The plot of Bad Santa 2 follows a fairly routine heist formula. The same could almost be said about part one, except there the heist mainly served as a backdrop for a story of a nearly irredeemable man discovering the importance of a found family. Here, the focus is inverted - there's some lip service paid to the same theme, but the movie's attention is planted firmly on the crime. When the movie does drift off-topic, it's to exploit moments of depravity and gross-out jokes in an attempt to…

We're No Angels (1955)

We're No Angels opens on Christmas Eve, 1895. in a small coastal town where three fugitives are hiding out, having just escaped from Devil's Island prison. As a brief aside, I kind of love that this movie was set exactly 60 years before it was made, and we're watching it exactly 60 years later.

The fugitives find their way to a shop with a leaking roof, which they offer to fix as a ruse to rob the place. From the roof, they hear the shopkeeper talking with his wife and daughter, and piece together that the family is trouble. The store isn't doing well, and the owner, who is the shopkeeper's cousin, is coming to inspect the books. The criminals gradually change their plans, using their talents to help out the family instead of themselves.

From the premise, it shouldn't be surprising to hear this was based on a play. Aside from a brief intro and epilogue, the entire movie took place in the shop and attached home, and the cast list is a short one. Pull out a coup…

In Bruges (2008)

Nothing says Christmas like violence and bleak depression. This was a fantastic movie.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are professional hitmen. After a job, they’re sent to the Belgium city of Bruges to lay low and await instructions at Christmastime. Ken enjoys the city, the younger Ray chafes at being in the middle of nowhere. But something deeper is eating at Ray, and…

You know what?

We usually do a bit of a synopsis in our reviews here, but I really enjoyed watching this twisty plot unfold, so I’m not going to give too many more specifics. One of the final twists, I saw coming (and Erin didn’t! Call the papers, that might be a first), but watching it was still incredibly compelling. Suffice to say that this movie contains quiet, atmospheric scenes, emotional breakdowns, public brawling, graphic violence and lots of historic buildings.

The cast does a fantastic job portraying the complexities of the characters. The subtlety of the performances was just lovely. Mos…

Leverage: The Ho, Ho, Ho Job (2010) and The Toy Job (2012)

Throw The A-Team and Ocean's Eleven into a blender and hit puree, and you get Leverage, a series about four semi-reformed thieves teaming up with a semi-unreformed insurance investigator in order to take on corrupt politicians, heartless corporations, and rich crime bosses to steal back what they've taken from "the little guy." If the concept sounds a touch sappy, rest assured the series itself is a lot of fun. A sentence or two of cheesy moralizing every episode is a small price to pay for great characters (any one of the show's five leads could hold down a series of their own), tightly-plotted stories, and hilarious situations.

In other words, the series is definitely worth your time. The Christmas episodes are, as well, though they're not the best jumping-on points.

"The Ho, Ho, Ho Job" starts like most episodes, with a guest star showing up with a sob story. This time, the wronged individual is a mall Santa Claus who's been framed for a drin…

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes has a list up of the top 25 Christmas movies. I was embarrassed to count six we hadn't seen. However, only one was in the top ten: Tokyo Godfathers. Well, Christmas miracles being what they are, that was actually available on Netflix streaming (and subtitled, no less). Naturally, we decided to give it a shot.

This is a Japanese animated movie about three homeless people who come across an abandoned infant on Christmas Eve and set out on a quest to find its parents. On the way, we uncover what brought them to the streets. One is a drunken gambler, the second a drag queen, and the third is a young runaway.

There's no shortage of social commentary stemming from the fact the world dismisses them as trash, but I didn't find it preachy. The drag queen is used as comic relief at times, and there's more than a little stereotyping here. Nonetheless, the character is cast in a very favorable light. Be aware there a few moments that might make you cringe, but the…

The Ref (1994)

It's strange that it took me so long to see The Ref. It's relatively well known, but somehow it always slipped below my radar. But it finally came up on my Netflix queue.

The plot revolves around a thief who takes a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve to hide out from the cops. By and large, comedies about families with issues are just about the worst genre holiday entertainment has to offer, but miraculously, The Ref is actually pretty good.

While there's a long list of things this movie did wrong, the filmmakers made several extremely smart decisions that elevate this to something worth watching. First of all, they cut the slapstick down to a minimum. Second - and maybe more important - they wrote some depth into the main characters. If the husband and wife had been two-dimensional, this thing would probably have been as bad as Surviving Christmas. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

Fortunately, the husband and wife were well cast (Judy Davis and…

The Ice Harvest (2005)

For a sub-genre that's not widely discussed, there is a hell of a lot of Christmas noir out there. The Ice Harvest is a long way from the best of the bunch, but it's an interesting flick.

The movie stars John Cusack as a lawyer who makes lawyers look good. I haven't seen a lot of movies which make Cusack seem unlikable, but this manages. Fortunately, the movie doesn't hinge on his likability: he's a desperate and pitiful man in a desperate and pitiful world.

The whole thing is set on Christmas Eve, right after Cusack's character (along with his partner, played by Billy Bob Thornton) steals two million dollars from his boss, a mobster who owns several strip clubs. He's played by Randy Quaid, who - along with Thornton - are fairly iconic Christmas movie actors at this point.

The movie does several things right and a few wrong. I liked the visuals - the world depicted here is a pale blue; you almost get cold just watching the movie. The actors do a decent job…

Reindeer Games (2000)

For the record, we didn't go out of our way to watch this because of the Affleck connection: this has been sitting in our NetFlix queue for months, slowly climbing its way to the top. And now that it's there, we finally got to watch the damn thing.

It. Is. Bad.

It's almost impressively bad. With the right crowd - and the right drinks - this thing could easily cross the fabled line into "so bad it's good." But it doesn't earn that honor, not on its own merits; it would take a huge amount of work from the audience to meet it halfway. And, frankly, we just didn't have the energy.

The plot is borderline comical. For a solid twenty minutes, I almost gave this the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was intended as a comedy, albeit one lacking in humor. But, as the movie dragged on, it became crystal clear I was being far too kind: this was supposed to be suspenseful. We were supposed to care about the characters.

Let me see if I can summarize the plot. Be…

Dragnet Holiday Episodes (1952, 1953, 1954)

Oh man, I like this show. I haven’t actually seen too many of these original black-and-white episodes, but I really enjoyed these. I like the writing, the little flashes of wit, and the straightforward style with a minimum of fuss or drama. Once you are used to the deadpan style, I think it makes the subtle moments of action or drama really resonate. Dragnet’s not to everyone’s taste, but they’re solid, well-produced, cleverly scripted stories.

Dragnet: The Big Little Jesus (1953)
The first one we watched was also the most religious. And yet, except for maybe a split second here or there, it didn’t bother me. Sergeant Friday and his partner Smith investigate the theft of a Baby Jesus statue from a church. This is a sweet episode, clearly playing on the holiday themes. Everything turns out fine in the end, while it has enough of Friday’s dry-as-can-be wit to keep me interested and amused.

Dragnet: The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas (1952)
This is a well known episode, because they got lett…

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

What an odd film. I think I enjoyed it, although it certainly had its share of boring, slow, and inexplicable bits.
The Lemon Drop Kid is a holiday film starring Bob Hope based loosely on a Damon Runyon story. It's mostly notable for being the source of the song “Silver Bells”.
I've read some Runyon stories, and find them fascinating. His work is the inspiration for Guys and Dolls, and The Lemon Drop Kid plays off similar tropes: gangsters both fierce and puppyish, money owed, bets, strong-minded dames, and tangled schemes. The Lemon Drop Kid is closer to the tone of the original stories than Guys and Dolls; it's more bloody-minded, though not by too much.
The central plot follows con-man Kid (Hope) as he tries to raise ten thousand dollars he owes to a murderous mobster named Moose Moran. The scheme he finally hits on involves establishing a charity for elderly women so he can get a license to collect on the street, then conning a bunch of soft-hearted grifters into rais…