Saturday, June 29, 2013

Movie Reviews-Compulsion, Snitch

directed by Egidio Coccimiglio
This weird sad little indie film is a remake of the South Korean film 301, 302. It stars Heather Graham, Carrie Anne Moss, Joe Mantegna and Kevin Dillon. It's something of a mix between a thriller, horror film and parody, although I'm not quite sure what it's parodying. As you might surmise from the cover Graham is seen in really tight form fitting cleavage bearing clothing complete with heels and stockings throughout the entire film. 

Amy (Graham) is an evidently independently wealthy dilettante whose primary indulgence is food. I don't mean just eating it. I mean creating it. She's right up there with Hannibal Lector in her obsession with choosing the exact right amount and type of food for her exquisite palate. She never eats out. She strongly prefers to do all of the cooking for herself and her businessman fiancee Fred (Kevin Dillon). Amy intends to be a television chef someday and may be working towards that goal. Or she may just be delusional. In any event Amy loves to cook. Unfortunately she also loves appreciation for her cooking. I mean a LOT of appreciation. She is one of those annoying people who will do something nice for you and then ask you over and over and over and over again if you appreciated it, how much did you appreciate it, did you appreciate it more than the last time she did it and so on. Food and sex are very connected for Amy. She can almost go to the Promised Land so to speak just from inhaling the aroma of the food she creates. The flip side of this is that even when she's engaged in intimate activities with Fred, anything that is even a little bit off about her food or the appreciation she craves can quickly ruin her mood and shut things down. Amy's constant hectoring of Fred for compliments and feedback gets on Fred's nerves. He starts looking for outside nookie and almost as unforgivably from Amy's POV, outside (fast) food.

Amy discovers that her next door neighbor is Saffron (Carrie-Anne Moss) a former child actress and next big thing, who now ekes out a living as a women's magazine sex/advice columnist while trying and so far failing to hang on to an acting career where she must compete against younger and more attractive women. Amy was a huge Saffron fan. Amy is a complete extrovert and is totally and at first hilariously oblivious to the fact that the decidedly INTROVERTED Saffron wants to be left alone and is rather obviously not finished processing some serious pain and sorrow in her life. This original source of this pain is shown in flashbacks from Saffron's pov. Saffron's eating disorders are one way of dealing with her pain. It also becomes apparent that Amy's interest in Saffron is well, romantic and physical. This is nowhere near as erotic or as exploitative as one might think, despite the images. Or at least I didn't think it was. YMMV. If you're expecting a version of Bound you shouldn't be. It's not that kind of party. Saffron and Amy are very damaged women indeed. This movie is much more about nihilism, cynicism and how things from our past hold us back than it is about Graham and Moss making out. There is no nudity.

Visually this film really pulls you in with bold bright primary colors and incredible outfits. It looks like something from the early sixties with Technicolor. I really liked the look. Imagine a live action comic-book. Well maybe not to that level but the lighting and colors really do heighten the sense of unreality. Graham's increasingly unhinged Amy is a pretty interesting character study. With the exception of one early warning the viewer may not know how loony this woman is until much later. Or maybe by her standards she's not loony. This was an okay movie but the thrills and horror are VERY understated, so much so you may miss them if you're not careful. Do not expect tons of action, violence or sex (with the exception of one unerotic scene and Amy's revealing clothing, sexy banter and general va-va-voom style). There is an understated shock ending which may come out of left field if you weren't paying attention. If you were taking notice then the ending makes sense. Joe Mantegna is a detective who is snooping around for reasons that become obvious as the movie moves forward. This movie was ok if you're looking for something off the beaten path.

directed by Ric Roman Waugh
I missed this film in theaters unfortunately, perhaps in part because I thought it would be another shoot-em up and surprisingly at the time I wasn't in the mood for that. Go figure. Well that's what I get for ASSuming. The most surprising thing about this film is that Dwayne Johnson isn't playing a tough talking bada$$ who's secretly a former Navy SEAL or Special Forces or Green Beret or Mob hitman or Covert Ops specialist who's gonna rip off his regular guy persona and show the bad guys that they messed with the wrong man this time! No. Not at all. Instead John Matthews (Johnson) is a law abiding hard working construction/trucking company owner who's living the dream.  He may be 6-4 and full of muscles but he's no criminal or tough guy and has no taste for violence. He's got a huge mansion, a young pretty wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) and a cute daughter. He's confident, cocky and verbally assertive (I mean this IS The Rock after all) and still reminds me of one of my cousins but it's not as if he's going to layeth the smacketh down on anyone who can't smell what he's cooking.

Nope, John Matthews stays busy being the boss man, writing checks, hustling up business and stopping by to pitch in and help lower level employees to show them he's the kind of boss who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, successful though he might be. However he gets a call from his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) that sends his world to s*** and causes him to try to take a walk on the wild side. Evidently John and Sylvie's son Jason, (Rafi Gavron) who never quite got over his parents' divorce, has fallen in with a bad crowd. Jason's buddy sent him a package to hold for a few days. This package is a shipment of Ecstasy pills. But Jason did not know that his buddy had already been busted and agreed to set Jason up for a sentence reduction. So when Jason accepts the package he in turn is arrested by the DEA. Because this is a federal charge with mandatory minimum sentencing there really isn't much room for negotiation. As the politically ambitious and initially bored US Attorney Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) explains to John and Sylvie there's not much that anyone can do for Jason. If Jason makes her take the case to trial he might get as much as 30 years. Or he can save her team the work and plead out now to get 10 years. But she doesn't think her office will lose the case as they don't lose many, especially not with young punks like Jason on the other side. The only way she could see herself helping Jason, if she were interested, which she's really not, is if Jason could bring her another drug dealer.

However Jason doesn't know any other drug dealers as he was the lowest on the totem pole. And he won't set up any of his friends either. He's willing to take his chances at trial. This macho bravado sends both of his parents into tears and near hysterics, especially as it becomes evident thru their visits to see their son that Jason may not last much longer behind bars. He's getting daily beatings. He could end up permanently disabled,raped or even killed. So, in desperation John browbeats Keeghan into allowing that if John were to get her a conviction of an important drug kingpin she might be able to do something for Jason. And if her uncle had ovaries she'd be Keeghan's aunt. Keeghan doesn't think John can do anything. So she agrees thinking that this will just stop John from annoying her.

Unfortunately John doesn't know any drug dealers either. In a scene that reminds me of a similar set piece in Office Space, John starts searching on the internet for information about drug cartels and drugs. This, combined with a trip to a "bad part" of town, doesn't get John anywhere. So he starts searching his company's HR records for anyone who was convicted of narcotics crimes. This leads him to Daniel (Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead), a former top hoodlum in local Hispanic organized crime circles. John initially approaches Daniel looking for an introduction to other criminals. Daniel has pretty much the same response that you or I might have if our boss did that. It's even more intense in Daniel's case as he already has two strikes. A third felony conviction leads to life imprisonment. Daniel has a wife and young son that he wants to provide for and protect. This means staying away from criminal activity no matter how much John will pay. And as the wily Daniel points out, even talking about such things is conspiracy. 

Obviously Daniel changes his mind. Eventually John is introduced to Daniel's former associate Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams from The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) a local drug bigshot who has links to the Mexican cartel overseen by El Topo (Benjamin Bratt). Now John is cooking with gas on and actually has Keeghan's attention. But DEA agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) is worried that John is getting in too deep. And even though he was out of the life, Daniel still has his street smarts. He's wary of John and his motives. He does some checking and finds some things that don't add up. And things proceed apace.

What I liked about this movie was the detailing of the seeming arbitrary manner in which a life can be turned upside down with just one mistake. Jason is guilty of course so I didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for him but his plight did make me think of a few things. Imagine if you were accused (falsely or not) of a crime. Do you have tens of thousands of dollars available to put the best lawyers on retainer? Can you afford $700/hr and up legal bills? How would you handle one day sleeping in your own bed, coming and leaving when you please and the very next day having every single decision being made by someone who not only doesn't like you but whose job it is not to like you? To prevent further hassles would you be ready to respond with extreme ultraviolence to someone in prison who simply looked at you the wrong way? Are you ready to take a beating and still come up swinging to show you're no punk? Could you remain polite and/or deferential when you're talking to a judge, warden or prosecutor who's obviously irritated that you're even in their office? Can you imagine looking at your own flesh and blood being hurt on a daily basis and being unable to do anything about it?

Although there are multiple shootouts and some action, John Matthews is just trying to survive. He's scared. He's not snarking off one liners. Often he doesn't even have a gun. The tension doesn't just come from the violence but from the threat of violence and John's not unreasonable worry that someone will discover what he's up to and harm (legally or otherwise) his family. Even though most of John's worst case scenarios don't pan out he certainly believes they might and so do you. And occasionally they do. So it's an emotionally involving movie. John's motives are understandable but at the same time he's totally willing to use Daniel and throw him away. So is John really a hero?

This movie does have a message, one that is skillfully woven around an intriguing story. The drug war has become a way for politicians to get campaign contributions and higher office. The drug war is a tool for prison investors and and the law enforcement superstructure to get higher profits and higher budgets. The drug war is a process by which sentencing power has shifted away from the jury and judge and to the prosecutor, who may or may not be interested in doing justice. Perversely the drug war provides methods by which the true drug kingpins, since they are at the top, always have a way to avoid prison by ratting out their numerous drug dealing underlings, while the schmuck selling vials in nightclubs or the street has nothing with which to bargain and thus gets long sentences. Though this film mostly avoided mentioning it, the drug war is unevenly waged against blacks and hispanics, who get longer sentences and disproportionately lose voting rights. So there was a lot here to think about. Unfortunately I didn't care that much about Jason. John might have been better off if he had just left his son to his fate. Still, this was a fun movie although Williams and especially Bratt don't get enough to do. Johnson continues to grow as an actor. You see different aspects of his abilities. He carried this film easily. It takes more than a slight suspension of disbelief to imagine that a strait-laced trucking/construction businessman can so quickly get next to major narcotics players, but this is a movie.
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