In The Loop
First up is this 2009 British film which I had very little idea it was even British at all because I saw Gandolfini on the cover. It's about a minister of international development having trouble falling in line with the UK government's agenda regarding the Middle Eastern conflict, a young man who's trying to help the minister and an assistant to the American secretary of state deals with the trouble of a paper of hers that was cited by her superior. It focuses on the buzz that causes a few fuck-ups to come tumbling down into a greater political conflict. The film has a waft of aggressive political satire that can only be mustered by religious House of Cards viewers who use 1984 as their own jizz rag. There's a handful of swearing and dickish attitudes, which while understandable, gets to be burdening. I'm not going to say that I have a very idealistic view on current politics but the overbearing mean-spirited nature just makes the cynicism of the film come off as trying to be provocative rather than actually being such. That being said, it is limited to Peter Capaldi's character, who pretty much is a bitter Scottish enforcer to the minister and this douchebag who keeps taunting the assistant about the popularity of the paper. The rest of the film sort of works off this quirky Office-like environment. Though maybe that's the cinematography talking.
There are cutesy little scenes though, like James Gandolfini, as a general, is using a children's play-toy computer to input numbers as he's discussing it with the American secretary of state, and the man who keeps the minister in check talking with the assistant at a bar where heavy metal is playing. And there is the wonderful "It'll be difficult difficult lemon difficult" line that the young man says. Somehow the momentum and the energy of the film can dip to be a lot less sardonic or spiteful and just carry the interactions well enough, but other times it cranks up the pompous level just for the sake of being caustic. It all seems like a bunch of filler for the commentary which can be boiled down to "politics is a shit-storm and a clusterfuck and independent thought there will get you nowhere", which I don't quite mind if it's done in an engaging enough way. While it's nice to see James do his schtick for brief periods of time and Steve Coogan in a cameo role, it's not enough to make this interested. It's drab chatter passing off as smart conversation.
Speaking of American portly actors starring in 2000s-era movies in Commonwealth countries, here we have John Goodman in a 2002 Australian mobster flick about American gangsters weaseling in the Aussie gambling scene. Again, I was surprised to find that there was a foreign angle to the story but it's even more odd to consider the concept itself. Australian mobsters. I would not imagine that being something that a person thought would be a suitable idea for a movie. Now, far be it from me to knock mobster movies that don't take place with Italian or American mobsters. In fact I'm more inclined to welcome those ideas. To it's credit, the actors as the mobsters aren't far-fetched. It still takes me a while to get though the accents but their mean attitudes and sharp suits sure as hell make them fit for the role. I especially like Bryan Brown, playing as the lead gangster, he perfectly captures the mannerisms of a gangster while making it his own. John Goodman himself isn't that bad either, but its more of his raspy voice and used car salesman look that sell it than his acting at times.
The movie itself manages to create it's own style with its cinematography, it messes around with color, it takes advantage of angles for the appropriate scene and it carries the flair of Scorsese with its content and certain editing choices, without going overboard. It's fast, it has some witty back and forths and a lot of the shots carry the energy of the scene. Though the movie also gives way to the somewhat amateurish production by feeling the need to fill the void with generic music and the basic Windows movie maker transitions, it also tries to experiment with the fancy way it goes about shooting flashbacks and the types of scenes it uses to develop the story. It teeters from creating its own mark with creative scenes and the Australian scenery to losing its mark with its less-than-polished writing. Oddly enough, it makes the creation of pizza be an important element in the story, that at least wins some points for me. While I don't think it'll break any new ground, it is fun to see what they'll come up with...though you might have to deal with a few Dutch angles here and there.
There seems to be a theme going on here. I mean now we have Zach Galifinakis in a 2008 dark comedy. At least this time it's in the ol' US of A. It's a dystopian future where people salute each other with middle fingers and everyone's stuck in the drudgery of bureaucracy. Zach plays as an office worker who finds himself concerned about the dreams he has due to recent explosions that are caused by unsatisfied people. Dreams are considered a dangerous element. It's clear to me that this suffers much in the same way that In The Loop did. Though the difference is that here it's coming off as too obvious rather than too aggressively. It's awfully dry with it's commentary and the concepts are very basic. Though, I do enjoy how perfectly they capture the banality of their themes. The scenery indicates a not-too-distant future world, with the office having plain and unappealing colors and most of the shots being less concerned with the details and feel very impulsive when they're close-up or background shots. Scenes often feel lifeless and cold but it ends up working.
It's bizarre, this movie's not at all subtle and this sort of obnoxious anti-consumerist work annoys the hell out of me, but this work fascinates me somehow. It reminds me of Tim and Eric at times, with a very awkward and off-beat feeling and the cheeky corporate mockery, but it's a lot more dark and a lot less concerned with being disgusting and ugly. It's really uncomfortable and the laughter comes off as a jerk-reaction to how broken and detached it is at one moment and then how silly and surreal it becomes. It's serious demeanor breaks down more as you see how everything slowly starts to collapse, both in Zach's descent into madness and the more absurd moments like how he dreams of being George Washington and the educational video, but then it builds up as the shards morph up. It'll make you roll your eyes for the first while, but little by little those eyes will stay in place and perhaps widen at the jaos that comes about (that's not a typo, that's how they say chaos in this movie).
Find Me Guilty
Sadly now, we gotta break the chain of fat funny-ish American actors and instead go with something more muscular. Find Me Guilty is a 2006 mafia film which stars Vin Diesel as a Lucchesi mafioso who decides to represent himself in one of the largest criminal court cases that the mafia has ever come across after recently being arrested and made a deal to rat out on the family (which he doesn't do because Jackie D don't rat). Yes, Vin Diesel plays a mafioso. Something which I had a hard time believing initially. But I really shouldn't have. Much in the same way that Dinklage pulled off being a lawyer in this film, the role was carved out for his sort of character and was able to allow him to branch off a bit further too. Dinklage is very good at being forthright and clinical, and the movie emphasizes that while also keeping him more reserved and dignified. Vin, on the other hand, is great at being a side-character. He's great support for comedic and serious moments. Having him more central to the plot allowed him to further push those boundaries and go for something larger. There was more dimensions to him as well as more moments to have him shine, be it humorously or dramatically.
It's also worth noting that this movie was directed by Sidney "Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men" Lumet. Quite frankly, that shocked me because while the film was great, I would have never thought it was a product of Lumet. The stylistic choices are far different, along with the soundtrack and general tone of the film. Most of the film is sort of this comedy of a wacky wise guy being both a benefit and a burden to the rest of his crime family's defense. It's got wonderful little moments of Diesel basically being completely tone-deaf in court and making really crass statements, and then the other half is the general turmoil of the case itself, with the relationship between Vin's character and the rest of the world. Perhaps one point that really convinced me that it was not only good but also the work of Lumet is when Vin Diesel's character has to confront a family member of his in court that basically is the reason why he's in court. The tension and the emotion that came through that scene was absolutely stunning and it completely convinced me that Vin Diesel has a lot more to offer than I previously thought. You know, aside from the video game and his love for D&D.
The Cat O' Nine Tails
Need I say more?