Showing posts with label Gangster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gangster. Show all posts

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Stand Up Guys

Stand Up Guys is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Stuck somewhere between a geriatric sub Apatow production and 70s crime drama, it’s lost perilously at sea with a precious cargo of acting royalty desperately trying to steer around an iceberg. Despite pulling in the same direction, they go down with the ship. The S.S. Good Riddance. Directed by Fisher Stevens and penned by Noah Haidle, the film has at its centre an interesting premise but tonally it’s all off beam. Twenty-eight years after a job that went badly wrong, Valentine or “Val” to his friends (Al Pacino) is released from prison and into the welcoming arms of his former partner in crime Doc (Christopher Walken). Having served half a lifetime after a stray bullet accidentally ended the life of their bosses only son, Val is keen to make up for lost time, lost steak and lost sex. He’s acutely aware however that his time is limited and is expecting a hit on behalf of his still grieving boss. The bullet he’s expecting is due to be expelled by the gun hidden in his old friend Doc’s pocket, something Val also suspects.

With Alan Arkin joining an already illustrious cast and a premise that sets up so much, the film still somehow disappoints. The comedy is absolutely dire and produced just one laugh (admittedly a large one) in the entire 95 minute runtime. Time that could have been spent creating dramatic tension or allowing the great actors to spit thick, gloopy dialogue is instead devoted to nob gags and wave after wave of “Oh aren’t we old” jokes. I don’t know who is supposed to be enjoying it. If you’re young and have no love for the actors then it doesn’t work. If you’re young and have a great affinity for the actors then it’s simply sad and embarrassing and if you’re older then you just aren’t going to be interested in the Viagra stealing, Russian prostitute visiting humour. This is a movie aimed at fifteen year old fans of forty year old movies. A lot of movies have been produced recently which try to put a twist on the frat boy comedy by introducing an older cast but it’s just uncomfortable. Seeing Michael Corleone, Sonny Wortzik, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, Frank Serpico, Tony Montana, bloody Al ‘8 Oscar nominations and 1 win’ Pacino pretending to go to hospital because he can’t get rid of an erection? No. Just stop it. Enough.

Friday, 11 April 2014


Based on a 1929 novel and inspired by real events, 1932’s Scarface was one of a series of pre-code gangster pictures which shocked and enthralled its viewers. Opening with a written disclaimer, damming the government for their lack of action regarding the threat that modern gangsters pose, the film nonetheless glamorises the life of crime while shaking a stick in its vague direction. It follows the ascent of young arrogant Italian immigrant Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) as he rises through the Chicago underworld by bumping off bosses and rivals who stand in his way and intimidating speakeasy proprietors into taking his booze. Aided by his right hand man, the quiet coin flicking Guino Rinaldo (George Raft), Tony reaches the heights of underworld overlord but finds that being at the top is even more dangerous than the climb to the summit.

Arriving two years before the Hays Office began imposing much stricter censorship on Hollywood; Scarface was able to get away with a lot more than many films which followed it. Inside its ninety minutes you’ll find brutal murders, gunplay and revealing costumes worn by the female characters, things which just wouldn’t be permissible from 1934 onwards. Even still, the film troubled the censors and the ending was changed to suit their tastes. Overall the movie contains a ‘crime doesn’t pay’ theme, something which you expect from the opening credits disclaimer but it’s slow in coming. For the most part, the theme appears to be ‘crime gets you everything you want’ and it’s this which the censors must have taken issue with. The glorification of the central character is also something which the Hays Office was unhappy with. This is something which film makers and censors would lock horns over for the next forty years.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties is a mid period James Cagney gangster picture which co-stars Humphrey Bogart in the third and final film in which the two screen legends shared billing. The film takes on the epic task of depicting the rise and fall of a big shot gangster from his humble beginnings in the trenches of The First World War, through the heights of the prohibition era, the crippling Stock Market Crash and the subsequent repealing of the Volstead Act. This is a film which never feels epic in scale and instead closely follows its protagonists within their ever changing world. It’s also a film which has few standout moments and although considered a classic of the genre, dragged and felt much longer than it truly is.

The romantic elements of the story felt forced and the film was on more solid ground during the rat-tat-tat-tat, fast talking, “What’s the big idea” back and forth of the scenes set in the underworld speakeasies or liquor distilleries. Pricilla Lane is excellent in her early scenes as a wide eyed, inexperienced girl next door but suddenly seems swamped when placed inside the illegal world of the bootlegger. Her voice is sweet sounding and she can certainly hold a tune but she’s at sea when unaccompanied by an orchestra.

Some Like It Hot

A Hollywood remake of the 1935 French movie Fanfare d'Amour, Some Like It Hot is widely regarded as amongst the funniest and most cherished films in the history of cinema. Written, Produced and Directed by one of cinema’s finest, Billy Wilder, it stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as destitute musicians, eking out a living in prohibition era Chicago. Having accidentally witnessed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the two men go on the lamb and hop on a train to Florida. In order to go unnoticed by the Mob they disguise themselves as women and join an all female band heading to Miami. Amongst the band members is Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) who both men (obviously) fall for.

I’ve wanted to see Some Like It Hot for a long time and having finally got around to it last night, I can report that I wasn’t disappointed. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script is rich, saucy and hilarious while full of the sort of bawdy double entendre that would have been impossible to get passed censors in the years before. In fact, along with the likes of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Wilder’s own The Apartment, it was just this sort of movie which saw to the decline and eventually dismemberment of the dreaded Hays/Breen Code that had constricted Hollywood since the early 1930s.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sexy Beast

Gary Dove (Ray Winstone) is an ex safe cracker now living in retirement in Spain. He and his best friend Aitch (Cavan Kendall) live idyllic lives in the Spanish sun but their relaxed lives are interrupted by the arrival of terrifying London gangster Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) who tries to forcefully persuade Gary to do another job back in the UK. Despite his protestations Don won’t take no for an answer and an uneasy standoff develops between the two men.

I’ve never been a fan of the Guy Ritchie style London based gangster films and get annoyed that British films are generally divided into costume drama or East End Gangster flicks. Sexy Beast feels very different from the Gut Ritchie style of film and reminded me more of a Nicholas Winding Refn film. The colour saturation, violence and electro, bass heavy soundtrack are all signatures of his work and had I been told this was one of his films I wouldn’t have doubted it. The film is actually the debut feature of Director Jonathan Glazer who is better known as a Director of adverts and music videos. He brings his easy on the eye style to the big screen and here creates a memorable film which also has one of the best Ben Kingsley performances I’ve seen.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

White Heat

James Cagney returns to the genre that gave him his break in White Heat in which he plays a ruthless and brutal gangster and leader of the Cody Jarrett criminal gang. Having robbed a train and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, Jarrett (Cagney) hands himself in to the law for a lesser charge in order to avoid the gas chamber. To catch him for the train robbery the cops send Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) undercover into the prison to attempt to befriend the fiend and gain vital information and perhaps a confession. When Jarrett breaks out though he takes Fallon with him and the cops begin their chase.

A few years ago White Heat was voted the forth best gangster film of all time by the AFI behind The Godfather I and II and Goodfellas. It was for this reason and my recent discovery of James Cagney that I sought the film out and wasn’t disappointed. The film has certainly aged and isn’t as violent or gruesome as its modern counterparts but a fantastic story and fine acting make it one of the best gangster flicks ever in my opinion.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Public Enemy

One of the earliest true gangster films, The Public Enemy charts the rise and fall of gangsters Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) through the first third of the twentieth century. From street hoodlums tripping up girls in 1909 to prohibition era bootleggers, Powers and Doyle become top dogs in a world of crime, money, women and violence before getting their studio orchestrated comeuppance.

The movie starts with some fantastic streets scenes set in the first few years of the twentieth century. Anyone who has read my reviews of Chaplin films or other early cinema will know what a huge fan I am of seeing these sorts of shots, especially if they’re real. Here they look like sets but are still great. Early on there is a sort of Oliver-Fagan dynamic featuring Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) as a gangster who employs children to do his thieving. It is soon obvious that he is ripping them off and the two boys strike out on their own. Although the film was produced in the pre-code era the violence is very tame by today’s standards and my DVD copy was rated as PG. The story is the driving force here though and the plot has been repeated numerous times in both versions of Scarface, the similarly titled Public Enemies and countless others.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Gangster Squad

It’s nearly Christmas. You’re really excited and have been waiting for ages. You think that your parents have got you an amazing LEGO Castle with some of your favourite minifigures. Every time you go to the cinema your parents show you a little sneak peek at a couple of the best looking bricks. You can’t contain your excitement. Then some idiot shoots a load of people in the LEGO factory and Santa puts Christmas back. The Castle you are told needs some tweaking. You wait and wait, still excited. The day finally arrives. You rush to the cinema to open your Christmas Present and… wait. It’s not the amazing LEGO Castle at all but some cheap imitation. Your Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone minifigures are there and there’s even one that looks a bit like Sean Penn, it looks great too but it isn’t what you were hoping for.

Originally slated for release in autumn 2012 Gangster Squad was put back following the tragic Aurora shooting in Colorado. After some reshoots to remove a pivotal cinema shoot up the film was released in the UK in January 2013. I’d been really looking forward to it since early 2012 but my anticipation was never going to be met. The film tells the real life story of The Gangster Squad, a small Police Unit given free reign to catch L.A. Gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Sergeant O’Mara (Josh Brolin) brings together a crack squad of rough, strong and smart Police to meet Cohen on his own terms and free L.A. from his grasp.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Angels with Dirty Faces

Angels with Dirty Faces is a Hays Code era gangster film which stars James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan, a notorious gangster with a good side. Rocky grew up what appears to be the Lower East Side with his friend Jerry (Pat O’Brien) getting up to all sorts of misdemeanours and petty crime. One day the boys are being chased through a train yard when Jerry slips and falls in front of a moving train. Rocky saves his friend but as the boys make their escape Rocky is caught and sent to reform school which leads to a life of crime. Years later Jerry is a Priest and having been released from a stint in jail Rocky returns to the old neighbourhood to claim his share of loot from his crooked lawyer Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) but Frazier ain’t taking too kindly to Rocky walking back up in here, you get me, you mutz.

The film features a great central performance from Cagney as well as some brilliant set design and cracking dialogue. It feels a little diluted when compared to earlier pre-Code films but you get the picture of the world in which the characters are living. What is obvious although sometimes too obvious is the message. Sometimes it’s not who you are but where you are that makes you and the film’s black and white telling of this idea is laid out very clearly.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Lawless is a prohibition era gangster biopic about three brothers from Virginia. Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest of the brothers and lacks the courage, strength or attitude to violence that his older brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clark) possess. Forrest especially is a sort of Clint Eastwood figure; strong, silent and deadly. All three are involved in the moonshine business but their trade comes under threat when a new Special Deputy (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago to put a halt to their operations.

The film shares traits with Director John Hillcoat’s previous film The Proposition. Both focus on brothers outside the law in semi-desolate locations who must battle across a thin line between right and wrong against corrupt officials. The visually stunning but run down locations and decaying beauty also help bring to mind Hillcoat’s The Road. This film though is more of a coming of age story as young Jack Bondurant fights for respect from his brothers and the gangster who inhabit his world. It is also a tale that blurs the lines between good and evil, right and wrong with the Bondurant boys becoming anti heroes who the audience will be routing for from start to finish.

Monday, 23 July 2012

King of New York

"You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it's my turn"

A New York drug lord Frank White (Christopher Walken) is being driven in his limousine back into the city following his release from prison. His crew are busy taking out a rival Columbian gang who have been encroaching on White’s business while he’s been away. Once he’s back White wastes no time in taking out more of New York’s crime lords and cements himself as the King of New York. Disgruntled that they are never able to get charges to stick, a few wild Police Officers decide that the only way to stop White and his gang is to take them out.

Featuring an impressive cast which alongside Walken includes gangsters Laurence Fishburne, Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito and Theresa Randle with Cops Wesley Snipes, Victor Argo and David Caruso the film is a tale of good vs evil, but as you’d expect the lines between the two are blurred. Although not in the same league as the likes of Scarface, Carlito’s Way or Serpico all of which share themes with this, it is a decent gangster picture.