Category: Crime


The Kitchen

August 7th, 2019 — 8:58pm

*****

The Kitchen-sp

Three wives of gangsters take over their husbands’ racketeering business after the men go off to prison for a couple of years. The women show that they can kick ass and clearly establish a new genre of women tough gals. There is nothing comedic about these characters but two of them are played by established comediennes, Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish. The other character is inhabited by veteran actress Elisabeth Moss.

The setting of this film is Hell’s Kitchen in New York City in the late 1970s. The story is written by Ollie Masters and is based on a comic book series by her and illustrated by Becky Cloonan and Ming Doyle. First time director Andrea Berloff who has credentials as a writer and actress definitely establishes herself as a big league director. Not only does she capture the vibes of New York City in the 70s with wonderful photography but   she infuses this movie with great action scenes of numerous murders and other violence as well as various confrontations intermixed with tension, humor and great timing with many surprises.

We believe that this movie stands a chance to become a classic gangster film with its own distinctive flavor. It certainly would be the definitive woman gangster film even surpassing Bonnie and Clyde and may very well be in the top tier of this genre. (2019)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Crime, Drama

Leaving Neverland

March 16th, 2019 — 8:54pm

****

Leaving Neverland-nf

Four-hour two-part documentary film directed by Dan Reed

Ten years ago, Michael Jackson, “King of pop”, one of the greatest entertainers of all time died at the age of 50 of a combination drug reaction and a fatal heart attack. He had been married twice, once to the daughter of Elvis Presley and had four children. He himself as a child was the youngest member of a musical group known as, The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson endured two criminal trials with allegations that he had committed child abuse and was found not guilty.

This four-hour documentary (divided into two 2-hour segments) focuses on two men probably now in their 30s who described in great detail their relationship with Michael Jackson. As young children, they had won dance contests in the style of their idol. Michael Jackson then befriended them both and their families, at different times. He brought them to his palacial home in Los Angeles known as Neverland. The boys were ages 7 and 10, when they met Jackson.

This documentary film focuses mainly on these men with camera close-ups during most of their speaking. They recounted their childhood and their relationship with Jackson and how he befriended them despite their wide age disparity, along with their families. There were also interviews with family members including the boy’s mothers, siblings and the film also had various film clips. There was a haunting musical score in the background throughout the film.

Both men clearly and unequivocally described how Jackson became their close friend and their buddy, but also frequently would sleep in his bed with them in his Neverland estate. Jackson made them feel he loved them and they loved him. This continued with various intervals between the ages of seven until they were in their mid-teenagers and even then, they kept up a relationship. The young men also described how Jackson sexually molested them from their earliest relationship which included touching, kissing, masturbation, as well as oral and anal sex. These encounters occurred while the boy’s mothers and other family members who believe Jackson was a great family friend were often in a nearby room. These relationships continued for years and included talking on the phone and traveling to various cities staying in great hotels and frequent dinner together with their families. The story is amazing. It is also heart wrenching as we see as adults both men now married with their own young children now struggling with their awareness of what they have gone through. You can imagine how devastating it became not only for them and for their mothers who realized that they had unwittingly allowed their sons to be subject to the most severe deception and molestation.

Although the film was quite convincing, it should be mentioned that there are still Jackson supporters who dispute the veracity of the accounts of these two men. The story was quite riveting and conveyed so well the joys followed by the pain of the young men and the families of those involved.

The film was well done.Perhaps at times it dragged a little, or was too repetitious. However, the viewer cannot help, but be amazed how these two boys and obviously many others were deceived, seduced, and deprived of their childhood innocence by the actions of a man who himself must have been a very damaged person.(2019)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary

Saint Judy

February 20th, 2019 — 4:03pm

*****

Saint Judy-sp

This is a great story. We meet Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), a young idealistic attorney who wants to specialize in immigration law. She is overwhelmed being assigned numerous cases by her new boss (Alfred Molina) but she still makes an all-out effort with each of her cases. At the same time, she is a single mom, recently divorced, trying to participate as much as possible in the raising of her young son (Gabriel Bateman). We see her getting fired for not bringing in the big bucks for her law firm. We follow her as she opens a storefront law office as the only attorney with a young intern as her assistant. The story then focuses on one young Afghan woman client, Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany) who is seeking asylum in the United States. She had rebelled against the poor treatment of young girls and women in her country by defiantly setting up a school for girls who were not allowed to have an education. She was arrested and received the most horrendous treatment imaginable in jail. She was able to escape to the United States where her plea for asylum is now being considered. If she is denied this request, she will be returned to her native country where she almost certainly will be murdered by her family for her defiant actions.

The realistic courtroom scenes, some of which are held in a small trailer in the prison where she is being detained are absolutely chilling and riveting. The logic of the U.S. law is very clear but heartbreaking.

Tremendous credit must be given to the screenwriter, Dmitry Portnoy, and director and producer, Sean Hanish, who worked hand in hand to get this film made. In fact, it was just about an impossible task to get the financial support for the film until President Trump was elected and this country became aware of the real meaning of the immigration crisis.

But the most amazing thing about this story is that it isn’t a story at all. Judy Wood is actually a real-life person whom the movie so realistically portrays. In fact, we met her at a preview screening along with the director and screenwriter.

This movie has drama, tension, emotion, surprise, great acting that may bring a tear to your eye, and perhaps inspire a young man or woman to decide to become a lawyer. The highest compliment that we can give to it, is to say that it reminded us a little bit of the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (2019)

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome in the comment section below.

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Can You Ever Forgive Me

February 17th, 2019 — 9:42pm

*****

Can You Ever Forgive Me?-sp

When Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a talented writer who profiled famous writers of her time was no longer able to sell her books, she turned to forgery, creating and selling letters in the style of Dorothy Parker, Fanny Brice, Noel Coward and others. She befriended an equally lonely gay man (Richard E. Grant) who for a while helped her with her con artist scheme.

This is a true story based on the memoirs of Ms. Israel with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film was directed by Marielle Heller. Ms. McCarthy dominates the screen portraying the very sad life of Ms. Israel. Both her performance and that of Mr. Grant deserved the Oscar nominations which they received for their performances.

As the title implies, you will come away from this cinematic performance with a melancholy feeling, but you also will know you have seen an excellent movie. (2019)

 

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Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Crime, Drama

Icarus

February 6th, 2019 — 1:58am

**** 

Icarus-nf

 The title of this documentary film comes from Greek mythology where Icarus was the son of a man who created a huge maze under the court of King Minos of Crete where a half man half bull creature lived. While the connection to this film may be somewhat convoluted there are at least two characters in the movie who can be viewed as larger than life evil people. One being Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who is in charge of the anti-doping lab for Russian athletes and the other I would identify as Russian premier Vladimir Putin who supported and promoted this immoral and illegal activity.

We may have missed the exact details how and why the producer first became connected with Dr. Rodchenkov. It appears that the movie maker Bryan Fogel was an amateur competitive cyclist. He somehow learned that Dr. Rodchenkov located in Russia not only ran the Russian testing labs for Russian athletes but also knew how to have athletes inject themselves with performance enhancing drugs and not be caught when there was subsequent urine testing. We are not sure how and why the good doctor, after several Skype conversations with Bryan Fogel, agreed to teach him how to inject himself and significantly improve his competitive cycling performance.

However this amazing film then goes on to show in vivid documentary form how the Russian competitive athletes who are competing in a variety of international sports including the Olympics regularly, illegally injected themselves with performance enhancing drugs. In addition, Dr. Rodchenkov was the person who designed an elaborate testing procedure for all athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The procedure as it appeared to the outside world was foolproof with several techniques to guard against illegal cheating and manipulation of urine samples. However, in fact, the set-up allowed the Russians to cheat and have their athletes test clear while they were doped up with these illegal drugs. The movie ends with Dr. Rodchenkov going into the witness protection program in the United States and Bryan Fogel producing this award winning, fascinating and very revealing documentary movie. (2017)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, Sport

Everybody Knows

February 6th, 2019 — 1:56am

 

***

Everybody Know-sp

Veteran Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi brings together Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz (who happen to be married to each other) to this Spanish film made in Spain.

Laura (Cruz) and her husband (Ricardo Darín) come to Spain from Argentina with their two children to celebrate a family wedding. Things get complicated when their thirteen-year-old daughter is abducted and held for ransom. Why is Paco (Bardem) a close friend, wiling to sell his share of the vineyard to pay the ransom? Who are the kidnappers? The scenery, the acting and the characters are quite attractive and intriguing. In the end however, the storyline was not quite believable but it was an interesting ride. (2019

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Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Drama, Foreign, Romance

Trial By Fire

November 6th, 2018 — 9:12pm

****

Trial by Fire -sp

We see the theme of this movie played out on television all the time on shows such as Dateline or 20/20 and others. A person is accused or convicted of a murder but in many cases he or she did not do it. We recall at least two outstanding books which dealt with this subject, Just Mercy and The Ghost of the Innocent Man. We also recall an excellent film we saw several years ago on this subject titled Conviction. We know about the innocence project and the work of Barry Scheck in many states throughout the country and how scientific advances such as DNA testing have made an important impact on criminal prosecution. So, when director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Jeffrey Fletcher decided to take a prize-winning article in New Yorker Magazine by David Grann to the screen, they were not the first to put a searchlight on this important defect in our criminal justice system. Despite the fact also that we usually find any film over two hours a tad too long, they did an outstanding job which riveted us to our seats and allowed us to explore the characters involved and the message of the movie.

Jack O’Connell deserves Oscar consideration for his depiction of the nasty husband who frequently abused his wife and was home alone with his three children when a fire broke out and the kids were all killed. He claims he did not start the fire but the police, neighbors, fire inspector, a snitch who was briefly his cellmate, the district attorney, eventually his wife and the jury all say that he did it.

What follows is his nine years in jail and an insight into life in prison with much of it being in solitary confinement and then his time on death row. We also get an insight into this man’s character and how his understanding of life evolved. Another very important character is a woman played magnificently by Laura Dern who was recruited to write a letter to a prisoner in jail but ultimately meets him and becomes an advocate for him. We also get an eye-opening view of the criminal justice system in this particular state. In fact, we see that the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place are quite questionable all the way up to the office of the Governor. Did we mention that this took place in Texas? However, the injustices here are found throughout the country

When we saw this film and met the director, Edward Zwick, the film makers were having some difficulty in setting up distribution and a release date. You may have to catch this movie on TV. However, it should be seen and the message and the illumination it provides are incredibly important. (2018)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Uncategorized

The Godfather

September 30th, 2018 — 6:02pm

*****

The Godfather

Recently my son, grandson and I got together for an evening of pizza and watching the original Godfather movie, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1973. It also won the Oscar for Marlon Brando as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Coppola (who was a high school classmate of mine) was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director as were James Caan, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino for Best Supporting Actor. Also in the film were Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Ali MacGraw, Robert De Niro, Jill Clayburgh, the singer Al Martino and many other excellent actors and actresses. The movie also won the “75 years of Golden Globes Best Picture”.

The storyline, if you don’t know, is about an organized crime family in the 1950s led by Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) referred to as the “Godfather” and how they confronted the appearance of narcotics on the New York City crime scene. It is also about how the Godfather is transferring his power to his youngest son, Michael Corleone, a decorated United States Marine just returning from the war (Al Pacino). The movie depicts the lifestyle of this crime family with grandiose lovely wedding celebrations, as well as brutal murder scenes.

The fact that our viewing team of three did not notice nor mind the about three hours of running time of the film attest to the well-deserved success of the movie. In fact, it was my impression that the classic depiction of the Godfather by Marlon Brando appeared to be a much shorter role than I remembered it (although no one questioned his well-deserved acclaim). It was also interesting that his mumbled speech and the Italian accent of some of the characters led to the youngest member of our viewing team to turn on the English subtitle feature, which I didn’t even know was possible. Another feature of this movie was the recurring, haunting and memorable music theme, which was voted Best Grammy Score of a Motion Picture for that year.

If you are interested in re-experiencing a “blast from the past,” taking another pass at this great movie is highly recommended. Keep in mind  that there are two sequels also available. (1972)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Crime, Drama

Tre Maison Dasan

April 13th, 2018 — 7:36am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Unknown opening date for USA

***

Tre Maison Dasan

Tre, Maison, and Dasan are three boys each of whom has a parent who is in prison. First time documentary filmmaker Denali Tiller has taken on this project to follow these three youngsters and show the often tender visitations that they have with their parent while in a Rhode Island prison. These take place in a large child friendly area where many children are having visits with a parent. She also follows these three youngsters at home with their families. Some of the footage is quite an accomplishment as she follows her subjects for almost three years and captures tender personal interactions between child and parent.

In a post film discussion, we become aware that one important goal of the filmmaker was to advocate for such visitation programs in a suitable environment in prisons throughout the country as well as education for parents on the importance of such interaction for children who have a parent in prison. Unfortunately, this message was not made clear in the film and we believe this was a lost opportunity (2018).

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Documentary

Legend

September 30th, 2015 — 10:41pm

**Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.38.14 AM

Legend – sp

Most Americans have probably never heard of the Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ron. They were legendary gangsters active in the 1940s who were well known in England as were gangsters, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bonnie and Clyde in the U.S. and immortalized by books and movies. After studying the Kray twin brothers and their criminal exploits, American writer/director, Brian Helgeland decided to undertake this film project. He brought to the table considerable experience among which included L.A. Confidential for which he won the Oscar for the best-adapted screen play and 42, The Story of Jackie Robinson on which he was also the writer/director.

Helgeland connected with British actor Tom Hardy and they decided that Hardy would play both identical twin brothers although their appearance, demeanor and personalities were quite different. Hardy had previously received a great deal of acclaim for his work on both sides of the pond. However this role had to be a challenge for the director and the actor, which would require the use of body doubles, skillful editing and all sorts of special techniques. The result was quite realistic. Both guys were tough as nails and each with a distinct personality. Ron was openly “homosexual” and it was clearly stated that he takes the active role not only at sex but in violence. He also is depicted as somewhat mentally unbalanced. Reggie, perhaps the better looking brother, but just as tough, also falls in love with Francis (Emily Browning). She is a slightly built but very attractive, sweet, not at all like a gangster moll but hopelessly wanting Reggie to go straight. It is her voice that narrates the film a la Sunset Boulevard. While we could develop empathy for her, the tragic heroine, we felt very little feelings for the gangster brothers.

So not caring about the main characters and not very good enough reasons to sit through a lot of violence, we had one more additional problem with the film. This British movie was made for the Brits and we could not understand at least third of the heavily accented British or Cockney speech. We knew what was going on but it was almost like we had to use our weak high school training in a foreign language to get the gist of much of the dialogue. So the only possible reason for us to recommend that you see this film if you don’t speak this language, would be to see the amazing accomplishment of Tom Hardy taking on these two infamous British criminals. However, our conclusion is that you should pass on it. (2015)

Comment » | 2 Stars, Crime, Drama, Foreign

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