L.A. Confidential (1997)

Another re-posted review from Years Gone By, but my feelings about the film has not changed at all.  Still amazingly excellent.

Directed by Curtis Hanson and adapted from James Ellroy’s novel, L.A. Confidential is a star-studded film noir based in 1950s Los Angeles. If you’re not familiar with the film, stop for a second and go over the tagged actors. Kevin Spacey nearing his prime (actually, I prefer his performance in this movie to his Oscar-winning performance in American Beauty), Russell Crowe before he became overrated, Guy Pearce before anyone forgot who he was, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Stathairn, Ron Rifkin.

The story revolves around Ed Exley’s (Pearce) attempts to rise up in the ranks of the L.A. police force by being as honest a cop as he could possibly be. Problem is, when the Captain of your police force (Cromwell) has a degree of moral flexibility when it comes to the law, the rest of the men tend to follow that lead. Even the flashiest of L.A.’s cops have a dark underbelly to them, what with Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Spacey) taking pay offs from a tabloid newspaper publisher (DeVito) for basically entrapping D-list celebrities. It all comes to a head during Bloody Christmas, when a newspaper runs a story of prisoner abuse on Christmas Eve in the county jailhouse and certain officers end up taking the fall, thanks to Exley’s incriminating report. No one is more pissed off about this than Officer Bud White (Crowe) whose partner ends up being kicked off the force and eventually murdered in a grisly bloodbath at the Nite Owl Diner.

There are many more plotlines to come and all of them end up dovetailing into the same one at the conclusion of the movie. Credit for this should of course go primarily to Ellroy for his wonderful novel, but also to Brian Hegleland for his adaptation of the novel to the screen. It’s a masterful piece of work that still gives you chills no matter how many times you watch the movie. It might also be the sunniest film noir ever made, probably right up there with Out of Sight which came out the following year. It’s a crime that this film didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar in 1998, and I may just watch Titanic at some point soon just to see how ripped off L.A. Confidential was (note: I still haven’t watched Titanic, probably never will).

The cast are top notch professionals and in hindsight it’s amazing that so many great actors worked on this one project together and no one’s ego seemed to get in the way. Even though Spacey receives top billing on the film, he doesn’t have to carry it on his shoulders. The movie lives and dies on Guy Pearce’s performance, but he’s still just one of the cogs in the machinery. Everyone has a part to play (over 80 speaking roles) and they all knock it out of the park, thanks to Curtis Hanson’s excellent direction.

If I were to sit down now and make myself another Top Five Movies list, I’d be hard-pressed to not include this movie in that list. I think the only reason it’s not on that list now is because of my inclusion of Out of Sight since they’re of a similar genre and both employ a wonderfully talented cast to perfection. I gave The Usual Suspects a perfect mark, but this film is better than that. It’s a shame that I can’t have higher degrees of perfection on a rating scale, because this movie holds itself on a higher level than almost every other movie I’ve given a perfect score to. Anyone that hasn’t watched, nay immersed themselves in this movie should run out and buy themselves a copy right now. You will not be sorry.

5 / 5

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The Negotiator (1998)

In the interest of full disclosure, the first time I reviewed this movie, I gave it a full 5 stars.  I’m posting that review here now, and I still love the movie, but I don’t think it’s a 5 star movie anymore.  There are some beats in the film that just detract from the overall package, but I still think it’s a fine thriller, one where the director, F. Gary Gray, plays with the audiences sympathies and makes you question exactly who is good and bad.

F. Gary Gray took time out from making music videos and movies specifically targetting the black audience to direct this action / suspense / thriller. Sadly after directing this movie, he went on to underwhelm me with the Marky Mark Italian Job and the disappointing Be Cool, as well as some crappy Vin Diesel movie that I never had any desire to see. Now I’m not saying Gray is a middling director or anything like that, just that The Negotiator will probably end up being the best movie he ever made (Note: the only new feature he’s released since Be Cool was the alright Law Abiding Citizen).

Gray is certainly responsible for crafting a masterfully suspenseful police movie, but I probably never would have come across this movie if it weren’t for the two stars of it. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator for the Chicago police force, ironicly forced to take hostages in an attempt to prove his innocence after being accused of corruption and murder. Kevin Spacey is Chris Sabian, a negotiator from a different district that Roman requests be brought in to help prove his innocence. Problem is, Sabian’s so damned good at his job that he doesn’t care about the accusations leveled at Roman, he just wants to get the hostages out, alive and well.

The supporting cast is absolutely fantastic, featuring late greats J.T. Walsh and John Spencer, as well as familiar character actor faces like Ron Rifkin, the underrated David Morse, and good ol’ Paul Giamatti, back when he seemingly couldn’t get roles that didn’t require him to be fucking annoying. Some of them are good cops, some are hostages, all do an excellent job with their performances, hitting all the right notes. These are veteran actors and they know exactly what they’re doing, and Gray looks even better as a director thanks to them.

It says a lot for the writing team of James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox, when you’re actually wondering how everything’s going to turn out in the end. The entire premise of the movie has to be given away in the trailers, there’s no big surprises there, and that’s the nature of the beast. Throughout the rest of the movie there are plot twists and revelations that consistently keep you on the edge of your seat, leaving you wondering if there’s going to be a happy ending for Danny Roman after all.

There’s a lot to love about The Negotiator, but the chemistry between Spacey and Jackson is easily number one on my list. Their line deliveries, how they seem to be savouring every syllable, and still making their characters seem real and believable, is truly awe-inspiring and surprising in a movie that many might dismiss beforehand as a cookie cutter police procedural. Truly an excellent movie, and it makes me miss watching Kevin Spacey movies, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy him as Lex Luthor in the new Superman flick (Note: he was believable enough, but the movie absolutely sucked).

4.5 / 5

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Look at that title.  The Men Who Stare at Goats.  What the hell do you expect when a movie is titled that?  There better be goddamned men staring at goats and some reason for it.  Thankfully, those men are there and there are plenty of reasons for it.  Much like most of George Clooney’s filmography, it’s a deeply quirky movie with great performances that tell an unconventional tale.  Clooney may be part of a small group of A-list actors that can continuously act in near-unmarketable movies and still maintain his star status.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a reporter based in Ann Arbor, who goes on a journey of self-discovery after his wife (Rebecca Mader) divorces him.  Through an interview with a local “crazy person” (Stephen Root), he is exposed to a side of the military that involves psychic warfare, which in turn leads to Bob meeting Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a retired soldier from that very same military branch.  Through the adventures the two end up enduring, Bob ends up questioning all that he ever believes in.

This is not a very accessible movie for everyone, and I’m totally cool with that.  I’m also fine with sneering at those that don’t think it’s a good movie, as the performances are brilliant, most notably the very Dude-like Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey stealing scenes as only Spacey can do.  Nick Offerman is also in it!  I liked the movie, and Clooney’s complete acceptance of being able to act in a part that comes across as a dignified buffoon is a big plus.  I can’t think of anything else to say about the movie, mildly recommended for those that are open minded.

3.5 / 5

Margin Call (2011)

More than anything else, the year of 2011 has taught me how fragile job security can be in the economic state our world is in today.  I lost my job, the company I formerly worked for went into receivership, I spent five months unemployed, and my mother lost her job too.  I watched movies like The Company Men, Everything Must Go, Too Big to Fail and was emotionally devastated by almost all of them in new, different, painful ways.  What better way to end the year, than with a movie that takes place during a 36-hour period where a Wall Street company realises how fucked they potentially are, and its efforts to stave off financial death.

I’m not going into too much detail about the movie, as most of the jargon might as well have been Star Trek techno-babble to me.  Basically, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is let go / down-sized / fired in the midst of learning about the disastrous financial ruin that is about to happen to the company.  He passes the info on to one of his former underlings, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), who then immerses himself in the problem only to come to the conclusion that everyone is fucked.

Much like Too Big to Fail, it is a movie fairly heavy on the details, but it backs those details up with actors that can make you care about something that you have no idea about.  Kevin Spacey plays the tired, experienced leader role perfectly, and there are numerous tropes that present themselves throughout the film, all expertly acted by great actors.  There are no bad performances in this movie, and if you’re reminded a bit of Up in the Air as well, well that’s never a bad thing.  Unlike 2B2F, the movie is fairly accessible to everyone, and since it’s just semi based on actual events, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.  Definitely recommended.

4 / 5

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Going over the history of the pre-production and casting of this movie, there are numerous missteps that could have been made at multiple points that would have actually affected the badass awesomeness of this flick.  When you’re dealing with an ensemble cast, chemistry is of the utmost importance otherwise you just get something that resembles shiny shit like Valentine’s Day.  Jason Bateman – in my books – is a marketable guy for legitimizing a comedic film.  If he’s in it, I’m gonna give it a shot.  Hell I’d pay money to see Bateman co-star with Paul Rudd in a movie where they work in a diner and shoot the shit with the regulars, like Clerks 2 but funny (also, I think I just trademarked or copyrighted that idea).

Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Owen Wilson and numerous other actors were at one point attached to star in the movie.  Brett Ratner was supposed to direct it.  Thankfully, none of those things happened and instead we get a near perfect black comedy directed by King of Kong‘s Seth Gordon, with an awesome ensemble cast that knew their roles and were more concerned with the project actually being fucking funny.  Why else would Colin Farrell suggest that his character have a horrible comb-over, a pot belly and a fondness for Chinese dragons?  No ego on this film, and if there was, I saw no evidence of it.  Hell, Jamie Foxx was likable in it, as a character named Dean “Motherfucker” Jones and the origin story behind his nickname is just worth the price of admission on its own.

I actually started writing this up with the rating of 4 in my mind for the film, because y’know that’s very good for the genre of movie it is, but the more I’ve written about it and thought about it, well I loved it.  It’s a fucking great movie, one that I will look forward to watching again in the future.

5 / 5

And that’s my rating, but I’m also reading up on the movie and how some reviewers feel there’s homophobia and misogynistic tendencies throughout the movie and it blows my fucking mind.  Really?  I saw none of that, which clearly must mean I’m homophobic and misogynistic as well.  Fuck that noise.  These are reviewers that can’t seem to admit when they’re having a good time, like enjoying a Jackass movie is a crime against film.  I used to be a film snob like that, and I hate old pretentious me.  Fucking uptight twats!