Tag Archives: gangster movies

Capone

Be careful what you wish for. Over on our Youtube channel (won’t you kindly hit our subscribe button?), Sean and I have very diligently reported on all the movies as one by one they were cancelled by corona, and have continued to update folks on new release dates, some delayed as much as a year, and others headed straight for VOD. Such as the case for Capone: it was to be available for rent as of May 12; we searched but we did not find…until now. And to be honest, I would have had more fun had I taken my 5 dollar bill, torn it up into chunks, surreptitiously inserted them into hamburger patties, and bet on Sean never noticing (cheese covers all manner of sin).

We knew going in that this wasn’t your typical gangster movie. Al Capone (Tom Hardy, hiding his good looks behind distracting prosthetics) spent a hard 10 years in prison…for tax evasion. Syphillitic singe the age of 13, the disease had begun to rot his brain, and though only 47, he had full-blown dementia. Don’t go thinking this was some sort of compassionate release: the Feds watched his every move, hoping to recover the rumoured $10M that he’d buried. But if that buried treasure does exist, its location has long since evaporated from Capone’s head. He rambles about his lavish Florida estate while “doctors” try to unlock the secret and family members try to make sense of his thoughts. If the movie is to be believed, his memories are as scrambled as his slurred speech (seriously? ANOTHER mumbly Tom Hardy role?). He may be haunted by his past but his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) is haunted by his present, which is marred by incontinence. If your vision of a mob movie includes an addled-brained patient, his trademark cigar replaced with a carrot (for his “health”), a droopy diaper instead of pants, the only pin-stripes the one on his pajamas, carrying around a gold-plated tommy gun with half a mind (literally) to shoot someone or something, then you’re one lucky weirdo. Capone is the movie for you.

Hardy’s giving it his all but the movie’s just too aimless and disjointed to give anything back. The truth is, writer-director Josh Trank might also giving it his all, and his all just isn’t any good. He’s tanked a few movies with potential now. Maybe it’s time to start believing him. He isn’t ready.

Neither is this movie. I think there’s an interesting story in there somewhere, but Trank does his damnedest to obscure it. The result is an uncomfortable watch, and ultimately an unrewarding one.

Once Upon A Time In London

Do you like the idea of a gangster movie, but find them too exciting, too violent, too sensational? Have I got the movie for you.

It’s based on real-life rival mobsters in London and my #1 takeaway from the film is: organized crime in London is boring as shit.

Jack “Spot” Comer (Terry Stone) and Billy Hill (Leo Gregory) are whiny little school yard boys. Comer elbowed out whoever was there before him and he can’t fucking believe that his own little protegee Billy Hill would do the same to him. So they piss and moan and act like bookmaking and racketeering are a god-given rights.

Old-timey Brit gangsters never had the benefit of seeing a Quentin Tarantino film. Or a Guy Ritchie one. So they basically have 2 moves: punching, and stabbing. Neither ever kills, so there’s just a lot of walking wounded, with dirty bandages on display (the NHS must not have been set up yet). They just keep beating each other up like they’re little kids, and they always live to bore me another day. It’s cruel.

Meanwhile, the newspapers treat the mob bosses like they’re celebrities. Everyone knows the deal and I guess there weren’t any police officers or laws to get in their way. No one seemed to really enjoy the lives they made; there wasn’t a lot of extravagance on display or good times to be had. Everyone was too busy getting blood stains out of white undershirts I guess.

The montages are brutal, the violence is half-baked, the power struggle is muted and uninteresting, and perhaps worst of all: the pauses. When gangsters aren’t punching their way down the street, they’re thinking deep thoughts. We aren’t privy to them but gosh the camera loves to dwell on quiet introspection. One such scene, taking place in a courtroom, feels like it goes on forever. Will it ever end? Not soon enough.

Real life isn’t all mink coats and gold chains and horse heads in bed. Sometimes it’s downright boring, just two blokes applying for the same job, even if that job is extortion. But the thing is, we can choose not to make movies out of uninteresting situations. Assuming you have stamps, please send director Simon Rumley a postcard saying just that.

The Gentlemen

This gangster movie is both splashy and posh. No low-life thugs here, rather the cardigan-wearing upper crust of the criminal underworld. The gentlemen, indeed. With Guy Ritchie in the director’s chair, this translates to bloodshed over very expensive glasses of scotch and some ruined Louboutin heels.

The story is a bit of a tangle, especially since it’s told to us by blackmailer extraordinaire, Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who’s written a screenplay based on the dirty deeds he’s witnessed. He recounts it to Ray (Charlie Hunnam) with a certain amount of glee, Ray being Mickey’s right hand man, and Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) being the undisputed weed king of London. His drug empire is vast and highly profitable but he’s looking to sell and take early retirement, which means several of London’s rival gangs have been sniffing around his business. This includes Matthew (Jeremy Strong), a multi-millionaire looking to diversify, and Dry Eye (Henry Golding),a young mobster trying to make a name for himself.

If you can keep it all straight, the action’s actually quite a lot of fun, particularly with the addition of Coach (Colin Farrell). I was never 100% clear on who he is in the world, but he’s trained up a bunch of young men who choreograph elaborate fight-dances and them put them on Youtube. Except one time they go behind his back and hold up the wrong marijuana farm. Coach is furious, but he’s smart. He goes to Mickey directly to make amends, offering his services, and you bet they’ll be used.

And I haven’t even mentioned the bestiality, the insanely gorgeous wardrobe, the beautiful chrome-shifting car, the steak of questionable provenance, or the scene that makes “projectile vomiting” an extreme understatement.

While this may not be a Great Film, it is an extremely fun one. McConaughey is self-assured, Hunnam is commanding, and Grant all but steals the show. He does a flawless accent and doesn’t at all sound like himself. He’s a skeevy little rat trying to get a bigger piece of the cheese and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch him stroke his whiskers in greedy anticipation.

Despite some flaws, The Gentlemen is flashy and stylish, with director Ritchie flexing some real zeal.

Blue Iguana

If you’re going to make a movie about seedy undergrounds, small-time criminals, and scary mob bosses, you need to pick the right tone. Make it funny like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Make it clever like Pulp Fiction. Make it suspenseful like The Town. But don’t you dare try to make your movie all of those things, because odds are you’ll end up with a mess like Blue Iguana.

Two ex-cons, Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and Paul (Ben Schwartz), are working in a diner trying to turn their lives around when Katherine (Phoebe Fox) offers them a job too tempting to turn down. Of course, it’s not a legal task, and of course, it goes sideways immediately as the target of their snatch and grab operation falls off a balcony face-first. Do they try to disappear after mucking things up? Of course not. They double down and go after the Blue Iguana, a giant diamond that they’re going to steal from mob boss Arkady (Peter Polycarpou), after he steals it first.

0818-stills-bi-day16-010816There’s just no one to root for in this film, which is surprising considering Sam Rockwell has made a nice career for himself playing various charming idiots (winning an Oscar as an amazingly bad cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).  And when someone like Rockwell can’t make us care about his loutish dirtbag, no one else has a chance. These characters just have nothing to offer.

No matter how many quick cuts were taken, no matter how many slow motion shootouts were paired with carefully selected songs, no matter how many montages contained colourful disguises, Blue Iguana never felt comfortable in its own skin. In trying to be lots of other things that writer/director Hadi Hajaig clearly admires and aspires to match, it just tries way, way too hard, to a painful degree.

At no point does Blue Iguana ever get close to being great, and worst of all, in trying so damn hard to emulate greatness, the result ends up being less than mediocre.

TIFF18: Widows

The world didn’t need any further proof of Viola Davis’ talent or range, but director Steve McQueen is serious about his star, and he painted her the perfect sky in which to shine.

Ronnie (Davis) is devastated by the death of her husband in a robbery gone wrong. But she barely gets him buried before the guys he robbed come calling, and she’s the one on the hook for the 2 million dollars that’s missing. So she rounds up all the widows whose husbands died on that job (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) and takes over the family business, such as it is.

But this is not your typical heist movie. Like Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s about more than just the criminal element. While Scorcese looked at dirty cops, McQueen takes on crooked politicians, and he ably blurs the line between felon and city councilman. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) is the departing alderman of District 18, but after a recent heart attack, he’s vacating the spot that his family has held for generations, and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is planning on stepping into his shoes at the next election. But strangely (to him), he’s not running unopposed. Turns out, he’s not the only willing to be corrupted for cash and kickbacks. The two worlds collide rather impressively when it’s Mulligan’s house the widows break into.

There are a thousand little details that make Widows into a truly great movie, but here are just two:

The opening scene. Liam Neeson and his gang of merry men are pulling a heist, but shit goes down. It’s frantic and violent and spectacular. But it’s intercut with almost its polar opposite: scenes of domesticity. Each man in the gang is shown at home, with his wife, widows-2018-viola-davis-liam-neesonhis kids, his little dog Olivia. Sure they’re criminals but they’re also doting dads, bill payers, lawn mowers, trash taker-outers. So you’ve got this brilliant back and forth of the two, somewhat disparate, halves of their lives. The hard and soft, the why and the how of tough jobs with lots of risk. We don’t spend much time with them, but we already know they are much than just their crimes, and when they meet their end, it’s not without sadness, a loss that is earned. And it’s also a highly effective way of introducing both theme and character. Brilliant, nimble work.

The second scene that really struck me was of Jack Mulligan (Farrell) in the back of a car. We already know his dad (Duvall) is an unapologetic racist. He rants gross inaccuracies about immigrants (even as he seems to employ them as servants in his home) and says the n-word while basically looking us in the eye. He’s not shy about it. He’s old school racist. His son is a little more savvy, but perhaps no less racist. Sure he trots out black woman business owners at his rallies, “success stories” he calls them, dismissively taking credit for their achievements. But as soon as he’s back inside the tinted-window safety of his car, he’s laying down some pretty shitty things to his poor assistant. Interestingly, the car, and thus the man inside, remain impenetrable during the scene. McQueen frames it with the car filling just a small portion of the bottom right-hand side of the screen as it drives the alderman-to-be away from the unsavouriness of his district, to the furthest border where his own palatial home is built and gated. Why would McQueen show Duvall so plainly while uttering his slurs but have Farrell hidden away? What makes Jack different? And what does it mean that the only person we make any contact with the entire time is an occasional glimpse of Jack’s black chauffeur, who Just. Keeps. Driving.

This movie is so well-made it gives me the tingles. I know I started this review singing Viola Davis her praises, but I want to end it that way too. Girl deserves her applause. She is so powerful. She can show vulnerability without making it about a lack of strength. She is commanding and flexible and she brings to this role her own kind of super power – called Strong Black Woman.

 

 

The Vegas Chronicles: Casino

The Assholes are in sunny Las Vegas this week, probably bleeding money across several casino floors right this very moment, unless you’re reading in the dead of night, in which case we’re slapping strippers’ asses. We’re also taking the opportunity to talk about some of our favourite movies set in Las Vegas, so of course we’d end up talking about Casino.

The Bellagio welcomed the cast and crew of Ocean’s 11 with open arms. Caesars Palace was just as accommodating with The Hangover. The Riviera, however, gave no such love to casino1Marty Scorsese. Those ungrateful buggers forced the crew to film only between the witching hours of 1 and 4 am, so as not to disturb the gamblers. They allowed not disruption to the business side of things but weren’t self-conscious about advertising with a large banner declaring “Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone & Joe Pesci Filming the New Movie ‘Casino’ Inside!” I would call it shameless, except this is Vegas we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure you leave your shame at home.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, but it’s set inside a fictional casino called Tangiers. The nut’s not hard to crack, though. This is the history of the Stardust casino. It’s a story fairly well-documented, but Scorsese also drops some hints in the soundtrack. The exterior of the casino was filmed in front of the Landmark hotel, which was scheduled for implosion shortly thereafter, which further added to the mystique. Scorsese went out of his way to film exclusively in the Las Vegas valley, and even managed to shoot driving down historic Freemont Street, which is no longer open to automobile traffic.

The film was informed by tonnes of insiders, but also featured real Vegas characters in the cast. Vegas comedian Don Rickles played the Tangiers casino manager in a largely non-comedic role. The guy who played a jewelry store owner who just got robbed is a real Vegas jeweler. Oscar Goodman, the attorney, is a real-life lawyer who defended many Vegas mobsters. Goodman of course went on to be elected mayor of Las Vegas in 1999. And careful viewers will note that the blackjack dealer is the very same blackjack dealer from article-2611806-1D4E026400000578-395_634x794Rain Man, and can also be seen dealing cards to Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation.

Matt’s a decent blackjack player, and Sean’s pretty good at keeping Matt’s head out of a vise, but when I’ve got money to blow, I’m not at a craps table, I’m at Hermes. Check in with us on Twitter (@assholemovies) so you can see what we’re up to, and if I’ve yet to find a 45-pound gold and white beaded gown a la Sharon Stone.

And that’s that.

 

 

Black Mass

Jay here. I’ve been MIA for a while and most likely will be for a bit more. Back surgery and its sidekick  morphine have indisposed me for writing movie reviews.

Anyway, Black Mass has been kicking around for a while now, generally disappointing folks despite its all-star cast and generous dash of promise. It basically tells the incredible story of Johnny-Depp-in-Black-MassJames ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), and how he ran Boston from the underground for years, in part because of a brilliant “alliance” with the FBI. An old childhood friend (Joel Edgerton) has conveniently made a name for himself at the FBI and he convinces his boss (Kevin Bacon) that Bulger will be a useful informant. The information flows both ways though, with Bulger constantly evading investigation, and Bulger divulging details already known to the FBI by other means.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, Billy, a successful state politician. Suspicious? Well nobody at the FBI seems to think so, until there’s a new kid in town, Corey Stoll, who starts asking some incredulous questions, like how on earth has a notorious psychopath and criminal with ties to the IRA never ever been investigated? Why indeed.

So things fall apart for Bulger, although never as spectacularly as they do for everyone around 48091645.cachedhim (including Jesse Plemons, and can we just call him what he is: low-rent Matt Damon), and Rory Cochrane (bloated for this role, it’ll kill your Empire Records fantasies right quick), and Peter Sarsgaard (who once did an SNL skit where he was attending a pirate convention, and all the attendees really relished overpronouncing his name – PetARRRRGGGHHHH SAAAARRRRRRsgAAAAARRRRRRD, and now I am forever doomed to do it myself).

Maybe the biggest problem with this movie is that it crammed too many names under too small 62951a marquee. There just isn’t enough to keep everyone busy, and at the end of the day, this feels like a pretty standard mob movie, with Scorsese wannabe undertones. It fails to distinguish itself. The relief, though, is that Johnny Depp remembers how not to be a cartoon. It’s not any great relief though, since this is Depp’s fourth, FOURTH, time portraying a real-life gangster. Even my dogs have learned the trick by the fourth repetition.

You will not find a bad movie here, just a very tired one, but I guess it allowed a lot of Hollywood types to tick off MOB MOVIE on their SAG Bingo card, and if that’s not a good reason to make a movie, then I don’t know what is.