Boston Movie Festival: Boondock Saints (1999)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Boondock Saints
Release Date: November 19, 1999
Director: Troy Duffy
Production Company: Franchise Pictures | Brood Syndicate | Fried Films | Lloyd Segan Company | Chris Brinker Productions

The McManus twins, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), are Irish immigrants working as butchers by day and spending the nights drinking in their South Boston local.  After a run in with Russian mobsters, they feel called by God to carry out vigilante justice, killing numerous criminals throughout Boston.  The wildly eccentric FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) tries to track the brothers down while secretly admiring their ethos.  David ‘The Funny Man’ Della Rocco (David Della Rocco) is an errand boy for the Italian mafia who joins Connor and Murphy’s vigilante crew.

Boondock Saints is clearly one of the many 90s action films that took all the wrong lessons from the success of Quentin Tarantino by reveling in stylized violence and ironic detachment. I honestly can’t tell if this movie is supposed to be a comedy or is unintentionally comedic, but either way it made me laugh.  There’s a scene where Dafoe appears to be parodying his character’s death in Platoon and he’s ridiculously over-the-top throughout.  The accents – Boston, Irish, Russian, and Italian – are all so comically bad that I feel that someone consciously made the decision to play it cartoonish. That being said there are some charming performances and interesting ideas in this movie, just not enough to make a coherent whole.

As for Boston content, apart from Irish American Southie stereotypes and some wide-angle footage of scenery from the city, it doesn’t feel all too much like a Boston movie.  This is something that could happen anywhere just arbitrarily set in Boston rather than a Boston story.  It was mildly entertaining to watch once, but I won’t be watching the sequel.

Rating: **

90 Movies in 90 Days: El Mariachi (1992)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: El Mariachi
Release Date:September 15, 1992
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Los Hooligans Productions

Robert Rodriguez’s debut movie is a crime/action/thriller set in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Acuña. An aspiring mariachi musician (Carlos Gallardo) arrives hoping to find work playing for tips at one of the city’s bars.  At the same time, a gangster Azul (Reinol Martíne) comes to town with a plan to extract a very violent revenge on the drug kingpin Moco (Peter Marquardt). Both wear all black and a guitar case, and like an Alfred Hitchcock film, there are mistaken identities.

I didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did with it’s reputation for graphic violence.  Rodriguez famously made this movie on a shoestring budget of $7000 and seemingly spent most of that money on squibs.  But the mariachi is a resourceful and likable character and gets support (and a  love interest) from the bartender Domino (Consuelo Gómez). Their chemistry is strong and their relationship feels real which lends credence to all the unreality around them.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Confess, Fletch (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Confess, Fletch
Release Date: September 16, 2022
Director: Greg Mottola
Production Company: Miramax

In college I visited a group of friends who shared a house for a movie night.  They chose their favorite movie, the 1985 Chevy Chase vehicle Fletch. While they laughed and repeated back their favorite lines all night, I sat there stone-faced because there was nothing about Fletch that was funny.  So you may be surprised that I watched the most recent installment in the series, but it got good reviews, and I like John Hamm (who is much better than the notorious asshole Chevy Chase).  But the clincher is that it is filmed in Boston, so I had to see my hometown onscreen.

Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher (Hamm) is a former investigative reporter turned freelance writer who is sent to Boston by his Italian girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) to retrieve her family’s stolen artwork that can be used to ransom her kidnapped father.  Upon arriving in the South End town house where he’s arranged to stay, Fletch discovers a murdered women.  Despite reporting the crime, Fletch is considered a suspect by Boston Police Sergeant Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his assistant Junior Detective Griz (Ayden Mayeri).  Fletch investigates the murder and the stolen art while trying to avoid the police.

The plot of the mystery is a bit convoluted and honestly doesn’t matter, because this movie is just goofy fun.  Hamm is charming and quipy and the supporting cast get a lot of laughs out of the situation.  It’s amazing that there are so few comedies like this being made these days, although it would fit in a triple feature with fellow 2022 comedy mysteries See How They Run and Glass Onion. Boston looks good in the movie with most of the location shots in the South End and Back Bay with the characters representing the kind of vapid rich people who might live in those neighborhoods.  Someone who knows Boston must’ve worked on the script as Fletch’s lucky Lakers cap is frequently derided and there’s a funny-to-me gag about where to find fireworks.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: How to Rob (2023)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: How to Rob
Release Date: January 20, 2023
Director: Peter Horgan
Production Company: ???

The Boston Crime Movie (a.k.a – Film No R) has become so ubiquitous that its  the subject of multiple parodies, could we possibly need one more?  Peter Horgan makes a good case with this low-budget indie movie set in the Boston suburb of Quincy, which returns the Boston Crime Movie to it’s non-glitzy, working class roots of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Sean Price (Chinaza Uche) and Jimmy Winters (Joshua Koopman) are lifelong friends who operate a landscaping company by day and in their free time are stick-up men who rob other criminals under instruction of bartender Ralph Judge (Kevin Nagle). It’s important to note that Sean is Black and Jimmy is white, which is unique for this type of movie.

Sean is the more responsible of the pair and wants to invest their ill-gotten gains into the landscaping company so that they can go completely legit.  Jimmy is more free and enjoys the criminal lifestyle.  Two incidents test the loyalty of their friendship. First, Sean’s girlfriend Tina (Caitlin Zoz) is moving to Chicago and wants Sean to join her, correctly observing that Jimmy is holding him back from achieving his dreams. Second, due to Jimmy’s rash behavior on one of their jobs, they are targeted by hitmen from the Italian mob.

There are some misteps in this movie, but for a low-budget film it does well on cinematography, editing, sound, and music.  Most impressive is the crisp dialogue of Horgan’s script.  I thought the acting was pretty good as well, especially Uche, who is one of those actors who can say a lot without speaking.  I hope to see him in more movies in the future.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: 3-Iron (2004)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: 3-Iron
Release Date: September 2004
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Production Company: Kim Ki-duk Film | Cineclick Asia

A young itinerant, Tae-suk (Jae Hee), breaks into houses when the owners are away and makes it his temporary home.  He steals nothing apart from food and spends his time repairing broken objects and taking selfies with the homeowners’ property.  At one house he discovers that one of the residents, a young former model named Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), is actually at home.  She is abused by her husband Min-gyu (Kwon Hyuk-ho) and stays quietly in her home to hide her bruises.

Tae-suk and Sun-hwa form a bond and run off together, continuing Tae-suk’s life of occupying other peoples’ houses.  Their’s is a silent relationship, as Norma Desmond says “”We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”  The movie takes on more and more of a fantasy element that by the end text on the screen asks whether it is a reality and a dream.  The movie is an interesting concept and the leads’ silent acting is well-done, although it stretches credulity at points.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Public Enemy (1931)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Public Enemy
Release Date: April 23, 1931
Director: William A. Wellman
Production Company: Edward Michael McDermott

Like Scarface (1932), on-screen text at the beginning and end of The Public Enemy warn of the dangers and evils of a life a crime, while in-between depicting how cool and fun it is to be a gangster. It’s actually impressive how much of the basic gangster movie structure later explored in Once Upon a Time in America and Goodfellas is already present here.

Jimmy Cagney stars as Tom Powers who from childhood is drawn to the quick money and flashy lifestyle of Chicago’s criminal underworld.  With his lifelong friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), Tom comes of age just as Prohibition makes bootlegging a profitable undertaking.  Tom and Matt become enforcers for the sale of beer brewed by bar owner Paddy Ryan (Robert Emmett O’Connor) with the backing of gangster Nails Nathan (Leslie Fenton).  Donald Cook plays Tom’s straight-laced brother Mike who tries to set Tom on the straight and narrow path.

Cagney’s charisma shines through in this film, making Tom likable despite his cruelty and arbitrary violence.  The rest of the cast doesn’t rise up to Cagney’s performance, with some of them acting as if they were in a stage play (perhaps they hadn’t figured out the whole “talkies” thing yet).  The movie has some iconic shots, such as a Cagney beneath the El in a rainstorm, that really work well in the language of film.  As a pre-code film it is also surprisingly frank about violence and sex (although actual acts of killing and sex are still off-screen).  And the twist ending is quite shocking! I’m not a big fan of gangster films in general, but for the time of it’s making this one stands out as pretty good.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Detour (1945)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Detour
Release Date: November 15, 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Production Company: Producers Releasing Company

Made by “the smallest and least prestigious of the Hollywood film studios of the 1940s” (according to Wikipedia), Detour is a lowest-of-budgets movie that distills the essence of film noir down to an efficient 68 minutes.  Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is a pianist who hitchhikes from New York to join his aspiring actress girlfriend in Hollywood.  When an accidental death leaves him in a compromising position, Al takes on the identity of another man (as well as his car, clothing, and wallet).

But when Al picks up a hitchhiker himself, a woman who calls herself “Vera” (Ann Savage), it turns out that she knows his whole story and manipulates him into bigger crimes.  Dripping with venom, Savage’s performance is one of the most feral of Classic Hollywood.  The movie ends on a brilliant twist that I didn’t anticipate at all.  Of course, Al is an unreliable narrator, and he’s shown telling this whole story to himself.  So perhaps what we’re seeing is just the version of events that Al can make himself live with?

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Emily the Criminal (2022)

Title: Emily the Criminal
Release Date: August 12, 2022
Director: John Patton Ford
Production Company:Low Spark Films | Fear Knot Productions | Evil Hag Productions

Emily Benetto (Aubrey Plaza) lives in Los Angeles and struggles with making ends meet as an independent contractor for a catering firm. She’s burdened by student debt and unable to get a better-paying job because of a felony assault conviction on her record which also prevented her from completing college. A co-worker gives her a tip on how to “earn $200 in one hour,” which turns out to be acting as a dummy shopper to buy luxury goods with stolen credit card information.

As her personal situation becomes more desperate, Emily returns to credit card fraud with bigger and bigger jobs.  She also strikes up a romance with Youcef (Theo Rossi of Luke Cage fame), one of the leaders of the credit card fraud ring.  Without ever being preachy, Emily the Criminal exposes the ills of capitalism such as crushing student debt, the gig economy, unpaid internships, and other exploitative labor practices.  Plaza is a very recognizable celebrity but she expertly fades into her role as an Everywoman who seems vulnerable but has an inner toughness when needed. As a crime film, the tension around these arguably low-stakes crimes feels stronger than in a lot of mobster movies.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: See How They Run (2022)

Title: See How They Run
Release Date: 9 September 2022
Director: Tom George
Production Company: Searchlight Pictures | DJ Films | TSG Entertainment

I saw this movie described as “the Wes Anderson-ification of Knives Out” and I can’t shake it out of my head.  It’s definitely a stylish and quirky take on the ensemble cast whodunit mystery and while not exactly like Anderson’s work, it does give one a sense of what it’s like.  It’s also a meta-commentary on detective stories, particularly Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, with the West End theater where it is performed becoming the site of the murder mystery.  The Mousetrap, of course,  is the longest running play in the world having over 28,000 performances at the time I write this. I saw it myself about 25 years ago, and thus am solemnly sworn not to reveal the killer.

Meta-commentary can be a knife’s-edge of whether it will work or not, so fortunately See How They Run also has some enjoyable performances. Set in 1953 when the company of The Mousetrap is celebrating a mere 100 performances, the mystery begins with the murder of the loutish American film director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) who is working on a movie adaptation of The Mousetrap even though he’s never watched the play.  The investigation of the murder falls to the world weary and alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his chatty, wise-cracking assistant Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Suspects/potential victims include theater producer Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson), script writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), and real-life figures such as film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), David Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda), and Agatha Christie herself (Shirley Henderson).

The movie is not much of a mystery nor is it really a period piece as it’s full of deliberate anachronisms.  The humor is hit or miss, but it’s mostly an enjoyable 90 minutes.  To be honest, Ronan’s performance is delightful and she really carries the film.  Luckily, she’s on screen for most of it.

Rating: ***


Movie Review: Cairo Station (1958)

Title: Cairo Station
Release Date: July 1,  1958
Director: Youssef Chahine
Production Company: Al-Ahramm Studios

Cairo Station was produced just a few years after the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy and the birth of the Egyptian republic and captures the nation at a time of great social change and modernization. The film’s frank depiction of the lives of the working class and sexuality would not be possible even a few years later when government censorship became more restrictive. Director Youssef Chahine took inspiration from Italian neorealism and film noir, and I also see flashes of French New Wave and a Hitchcock thriller as well. Indeed, Chahine’s performance as Qinawi presages Anthony Perkins in Psycho two years later.

Set in Cairo’s main railway station, the film focuses on the everyday lives of the people who work their, including the vivacious soft drink vendor Hannuma (Hind Rostom), the union-organizing porter Abu Siri (Farid Shawqi), and the kindly newspaper seller Madbouli (Hassan el Baroud). When the shy and physically disabled Qinawi arrives from the countryside Madbouli gives him a job selling papers. Qinawi becomes obsesses with Hannuma and immediately proposes marriage. Hannuma casually rejects him since she plans to marry Abu Siri. Qinawi’s obsession then turns murderous.

I”ve seen a lot of reviews that refer to Qinawi by the modern term “incel,” which is an apt shortcut to describing the toxic masculinity and violence against women depicted in this film.  While the Hitchcockian final act is a tense thriller, one should not overlook that the early parts of this film are a sympathetic look at the quotidian lives of the working class.  There’s even space for joy as in a vibrant scene where Hannuma dances to the music of a band of buskers in a rail car, which is beautifully filmed. Cairo Station is definitely a film worth checking out.

Rating: ****