Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Suspect / Gik do chung faan (Hong Kong, 1998)

A mid-career action thriller from Hong Kong action thriller specialist Ringo Lam (8 Dec 1955 – 29 Dec 2018), The Suspect pretty much is an illustrative example of how even a competent genre specialist can have a bad film day. 
Trailer to
The Suspect:
The film tells the tale of a handsome young man named Don (Louis Koo of Troublesome Night 5 [1999], Zu Warriors [2001], the Chinese Ghost Story [2011 / trailer] remake and Always Be with You [2017 / trailer]), who gets out of jail after sitting 12 years, though whether he actually committed the crime or took the fall is never 100% clear. His best friend Max (Julian Cheung of The First 7th Night [2009 / trailer] & The House That Never Dies II [2017 / trailer]) sets him up for a night in a posh hotel with a hot hooker, but the next morning Don learns that as repayment he has to assassinate the politician across the way and kill the hooker, neither of which he is willing to do because he is committed to a fresh start. So, instead, Max does the politician and frames Don, who is now "The Suspect". And let the car chases and shootouts begin! 
Louis Koo sings
Mr Cool:
Don't be fooled by the imitation The Usual Suspect (1995 / trailer) style poster, as The Suspect is in no way a mystery or very involving. The bad guys and good guys are more or less always clear from the beginning, even if the narrative itself is pretty much a mess. Set in a Hong Kong and Philippines where the law (at least in the movie) is pretty much a second thought and relatively incompetent, and no one bats an eye when men start running around with submachine guns and where, it seems, you can get in trouble for killing a politician but not for mowing down innocent bystanders, the narrative itself is inconsequential and uninteresting, almost by the numbers, and exists primarily as an excuse to string together car chase scenes and shootouts. And there are a lot of both, though definitely more of the latter, with the men shooting all over the place with such abandon that one gets the sense that every shot bullet gives them an orgasm.
Neither Ringo Lam nor co-scribe Wing-Kin Lau (co-scribe of The Untold Story [1993 / trailer]) really put too much thought into their story, the paper-thin plot of which comes across as if strung together by spit and created just to string together the shootouts and chase scenes. Yam, however, has filmed better shootouts and better car chases in better movies; while the action scenes are undoubtedly satisfactorily shot, they all lack the thrill and élan required to make them exciting, and thus they really come across as simply time-padding or as fulfilling basic expectations. Even the singular female character of note, as in the only one who is onscreen for longer than five minutes in total, the reporter cum lawyer Annie (Ada Choi of Bloody Friday [1996]), is less an essential or even involving element than she is, well, sort of pointless to the story, which is why she also disappears for huge swathes of the tale and basically completely gone by the film's resolution. It must be said, however, the scene in which it is suddenly revealed that she is also a lawyer and then proceeds to give Don legal advice on how to react to the denials and repudiations of the bad-guy Dante (Simon Yam of Bloody Friday [1996] and so much more) is so hilariously idiotic that it almost comes across as satiric.
That scene gets a good laugh, as does the intentionally funny scene in which Don is confronted with his first mobile phone, and there are also a few other bright spots in The Suspect, but nothing that truly makes the film memorable or noteworthy — although Don does have a short but eye-catching scene in which he gets out of bed shirtless and wearing tighty-whities. True, he soon puts on a shirt, but still, even as non-fans of tighty-whities we have to say he looks good in them. Both Max and Don are rather good-looking men, but with the exception of that one short scene, they both (as to be expected) remain fully clothed throughout the film. 
Max is perhaps the most complex character found in The Suspect, though complexities and psychological exploration are not exactly a focus of the movie. Nevertheless, more so than Dan, he is a man torn by the situation: he is forever waffling and unsure to whom he truly owes his loyalty and love. He is truly unable to decide between his "father" Dante and his "brother" Don, indiscriminately betraying and then saving the one and then the other, changing his mind way more often than most men change their tighty-whities. But then, were he more resolute, were he able to simply shoot Dan or betray Dante, The Suspect would be a very short movie. 
The Suspect is pretty much a generic Hong Kong action movie in every sense of the word and is greatly hampered by its non-involving and occasionally confused storyline, which often leaves the viewer three steps behind. (It took a while before we could figure out the what and why of King Tso [Ray Lui of Devil Hunters (1989) & Zai shi zhui hun (1993)] and his men, for example.) Never truly terrible and never truly any good, above all The Suspect simply feels pointless and unnecessary. It is definitely a lesser Ringo Lam movie, and as such anything but essential viewing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Message from Our Sponsors

"When the park siren sounds, it's time to run for your lives!"

We were brought to this funny but horrific "advertisement" by way of the ever-entertaining website boingboing, a source of interesting things that we followed way back when it was a printed magazine.* Boingboing, which is always full of interesting leads and even an occasional decently priced deal from their sponsors, wrote: "Love it or hate it, there's one thing computer now do extremely well — generating AI nightmare fuel.** AI seems to excel at the terrifying and the grotesque, and this AI-generated 1950s-style TV commercial is pretty much peak AI horror. [...]"
* How we wish Murder Can Be Fun, that great 'zine by Johnny Marr, would likewise recreate itself for the web.
** Does another thing even better: destroy jobs.
Posted at the Meme Dream Machine on YouTube, a relatively new channel, low on content at the moment, though that is sure to change. With Pookky Park (made with: "Script: ChatGPT. Photos: Midjourney. Video: PikaLabs, Runway."), apparently their first attempt at creating a meme, they hit a homer — one that might be difficult to top.
The B&W version above is the original, but as perhaps to be expected, someone used AI to create a colorized version.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

3 A.M. (USA, 2001)

Not to be confused with any of the Thai series of portmanteau horror movies, 3 A.M. [2012 / trailer], 3 A.M. Part 2 [2014 / trailer], or 3 A.M. Part 3 [2018 / trailer].
(Spoilers) This 3 A.M. here is less supernatural than psychological. The debut feature film of director Lee Davis, who also wrote it, this largely forgotten and seldom seen NY-set drama explores the lives of diverse people while focusing mostly on a trio of cab drivers working for Love Cabs: former baseball flash-in-the-pan Hershey (Danny Glover of Silverado [1985 / trailer], Predator 2 [1990 / trailer], The Royal Tannenbaums [2001 / trailer], Saw [2004 / trailer] and more); Bosnian refugee Rasha Andrić (Sergej Trifunović of A Serbian Film [2010 / trailer] & The Last Serb in Croatia [2019 / trailer]), who has one car accident after another and is in love with a disinterested Bosnian hooker (Marika Dominczyk); and Salgado (Michelle Rodriguez of Resident Evil [2002 / trailer], BloodRayne [2005/ trailer], Machete [2010/ trailer] & Machete Kills [2013 / trailer], She Dies Tomorrow [2020 / trailer] and more) an emotionally unstable young cabbie battling demons real and imagined. 
Rounding out the three main characters are George (national treasure Pam Grier), Hershey's diner-waitress girlfriend, who worries that he might be the next cabbie to get killed and to whom he is unable to fully commit; Box (Sarita Choudhury of Innocence [2013 / trailer] and Fresh Kill [1994 / trailer]), the overworked owner of Love Cabs facing financial ruin; and diverse tertiary (or further removed) characters and cab passengers — including, briefly, the inordinately likeable new-father cab driver Singh (Aasif Mandvi of Movie 43 [2013 / trailer]), who exists and dies primarily to make the concept of a cab-driver killer a realistic, palpable threat to the viewer.
Trailer to
3 a.m.:
3 A.M. is set in that special New York City of films in which diverse people, despite the fact they are agitating within a city of roughly 8.5 million, constantly cross paths, and where time flows immaterially, taking a rhythm that is just perfect to make a multitude of events occur within an impossible timeframe. But accepting the fact that time is of no importance, the narrative of the film does well in keeping the viewer interested and intrigued, even managing to make us care and feel for the at times sketchily drawn characters as their narratives appear to spiral towards tragedy.
Unluckily, but for the open-ended but definitely not promising fate of Michelle Rodriguez's well-acted Salgado, director/scriptwriter Lee Davis displays an inability to let his characters suffer the dismaying fate that their personal storylines demand. In the case of Bosnian Rasha Andrić, Davis even allows a grown-inducing "miracle recovery" that renders that characters main moral quandary (and thus his entire storyline) a joke, regardless of the fact that the film ends with him on an airplane back to war-torn Bosnia, a return trip of open and unknown consequences to a family that could well all be dead.
And therein lies some of the problems of 3 a.m. While involving and well-shot and well-acted, the movie often feels less like a "real" feature film meant for the theatres than a well-made TV movie. Too often, that which happens — whether it be how quickly an unread contract is signed or a discovery of a suitcase of money or a silent guest continually observing in a diner — culminates in an unrealistic or overly magical reveal that slips towards sappy. As a result, 3 A.M. loses much of its bite and edge, making the overall effect of the movie far less exceptional or noteworthy or truly moving than, well, toothless. In the end, it feels like a movie that should be excellent but barely manages to achieve being good (and does that only if you are of the forgiving kind).
Flawed or not, 3 A.M. arguably does not deserve to be obscure as it is, if only for the fact that Michelle Rodriguez delivers an excellent performance, Glover & Grier make such a fetching couple, and Sarita Choudhury manages to give her one-note character surprising depth considering how little screen time she has. 
But obscure the film is, if probably less due to its overall underdevelopment than the fact that it was marketed so poorly. Sold as an action flick, it is anything but. Sure it has its scenes of gunshots and death, but above all it is a character-driven drama with a structure somewhat similar to a Robert Altman ensemble film — Nashville (1975 / trailer), Short Cuts (1993 / trailer), The Player (1992 / trailer), Kansas City (1996 / trailer), Ready to Wear (1994 / trailer), etc. — just with less white people and a lot fewer characters. 
Lee Davis is obviously far less interested in any of the actual gunshots shot or fights fought than the ramifications such events have, emotionally and psychologically, on the characters involved, or the resulting domino effect. Unluckily, he does his exploration from the viewpoint of an armchair, which makes 3 A.M. a rather shallow experience on the whole, despite the fascination that it casts while one watches it. Worth a watch, in any event.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Cry of the City (USA, 1948)

"Oh Marty, why did you have to shoot? Why did you have to kill?"
Teena Riconti (Debra Paget)
Two years after his acknowledged classic of film noir, The Killers (1946), which we here at a wasted life find enjoyable but way overrated, and a year after the completely superfluous and dull flop that is the forgotten Time Out of Mind (1947 / Russian website), the talented but underrated Richard Siodmak (8 Aug 1900 – 10 Mar 1973) returned to the crime-ridden, corrupt world of the Big City to make another great crime film, Cry of the City
Based on the novel The Chair for Martin Rome, by Henry Edward Helseth (10 Jan 1911 – 25 Sept 1983), a now forgotten second-string author who also supplied the bones to two other lesser crime films, Outside the Wall (1950 / full film) and State Penitentiary (1950), Cry of the City was shot partially in Los Angeles (interiors) and on the streets of New York City. Even if the film doesn't enjoy the popularity and respect of some of his other B&W crime films, Cry of the City is generally considered an important film of the genre and Siodmak's career — and we here at a wasted life would not be liable to disagree. An immeasurably watchable and well-made film, Cry of the City proved to us to be far more enjoyable, better made, and better structured and scripted than The Killers.
Trailer to
Cry of the City:  
The plot of the movie is perhaps not the most original in the world: cop hunts bad guy. In this case, the bad guy is the Italian-American cop killer Martin Rome (Richard Conte [24 Mar 1910 – 15 Apr 1975]*), while the [main] good-guy cop, who grew up in the same poverty-ridden NYC neighborhood as Marty, is Lt. Vittorio Candella (Victor Mature [19 Jan 1913 – 4 Aug 1999] of One Million B.C. [1940 / colorized trailer], I Wake Up Screaming [1941 / full film] and Head [1968 / trailer]).
* Of The Spider (1945 / full movie), Whirlpool (1950 / trailer), Extraña invasión a.k.a. Stay Tuned for Terror (1965 / full film in Spanish), Death Sentence (1968 / Italo trailer), The Return of the Exorcist (1975 / Italo trailer) and more).
Cry of the City opens with Marty apparently on his deathbed, surrounded by his extended family and full of bullets taken during the shootout in which he killed a cop, for which a walk to the electric chair is guaranteed should he survive the hospital. But just before he's wheeled into the OP room, he's visited by the lawyer W. A. Niles (the visually sleazy Berry Kroeger [16 Oct 1912 – 4 Jan 1991];* Niles, whose real client is currently facing execution for the robbery-murder of a rich old lady, attempts but fails to coerce the virtually comatose Marty into confessing to the crime.
* Of Gun Crazy (1949 / trailer), Chamber of Horrors (1966 / trailer), Nightmare in Wax (1969), The Wild Scene (1970 / trailer), The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971 / trailer), The Seven Minutes (1971 / trailer, with Edy Williams) and more.

It is this robbery-murder of the old lady that proves to be the catalyst of the rest of the film. Marty may not have participated in that crime, but a ring that belonged to the woman is found in his possession, which thus suddenly makes him a viable suspect. And since the robbery-murder was committed by a man and a woman, suddenly the unknown woman who visited him on his not-quite deathbed, his underage gal Teena Riconti (Debra Paget*), becomes a sought woman: the police want to question her, and the corrupt lawyer wants her so as to force Rome to take the fall for his client.
* Of From the Earth to the Moon (1958 / trailer), Why Must I Die? (1960 / full film), Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961 / "movie misogyny"), Tales of Terror (1963 / trailer) and The Haunted Palace (1963 / trailer).

Transferred to the prison's hospital ward, Rome does that which is so often oddly possible in movies: with the help of a sub-intelligent trustee named Orvy (the seldom credited character actor Walter Baldwin [2 Jan 1889 – 27 Jan 1977] of The Devil Commands [1941 / trailer] and much, much more), Rome escapes despite his injuries. It is, admittedly, a nerve-racking interlude that is probably shorter than it tensely seems, but let's just put the technical aspects behind the jailbreak to easier, lazier times, and old locks.
Now on the lam and himself searching for his girl, Rome, already a morally compromised figure, gets caught in a whirlpool of events that drag him deeper and deeper down towards damnation and tragedy, even as Lt. Candella and his partner Lt. Jim Collins (Fred Clark [19 Mar 1914 – 5 Dec 1968]*) remain dedicated to finding Teena (and Rome) first.
* Of The Unsuspected (1947 / trailer), Sunset Blvd (1950 / trailer), The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964 / trailer), Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965 / trailer) and more.
For a man that continually relies on the help of friends and family, including his ex-girlfriend Brenda Martingale (a young, slim and attractive Shelley Winters [8 Aug 1920 – 14 Jan 2006] of way too many fun films, including The Night of the Hunter [1955 / trailer], Bloody Mama [1970 / trailer], The Poseidon Adventure [1972 / trailer] and Cleopatra Jones [1973]), who sort suddenly drops into the film unannounced from nowhere, Rome himself only turns colder and harder as he desperately tries to find Teena and the financial means to escape the city. Unluckily for him, Lt. Candella is a tenacious, if not almost obsessive cop.

Most of the people Rome comes into contact with in Cry of the City are flawed characters, if not evil, and they, like the few good people of the movie, all get pulled down one way or another due to their interaction with him: the lawyer is corrupt and ends up dead; the lawyer's partner in crime, the masseuse Rose Given (an absolutely amazing Hope Emerson* [29 Oct 1897 – 24 Apr 1960], looking somewhat like Jeffrey Tambor from Transparent [2014-17 / trailer]), no better, but she at least survives the film; the cash-strapped doctor who sews Rome's wounds in the back seat of Brenda's car ends up facing jail time, as does Brenda; Marty's father loses his honored position in a local association; the lawyer's inquisitive secretary dies by a stray bullet** — and by the end of the movie, if Marty had his way he would drag down his younger brother Tony (Tommy Cook of Panic in the Streets [1950 / trailer], High School Hellcats [1958 / trailer / full movie] and Missile to the Moon [1958 / trailer / full movie]), his whole family, and even Teena.

* The last woman of crime of similar threatening presence that we remember from the "classic" films of yore is Madame Barabbas (Alison Skipworth [25 Jul 1863 – 5 Jul 1950]) in William Dieterle's loose and extremely substandard adaptation of the novel The Maltese Falcon, Satan Met a Lady (1936).
** Pretty funny, actually: while struggling with Marty, Niles the Lawyer shoots wildly into the ceiling — and his secretary Vera (Joan Miller [18 Feb 1910 – 31 Aug 1988]), who's been listening through the door from the next room, is shot dead. No bullet hole in the wall, no shattered door glass — the bullet just magically hits her. A rather glaring continuity mistake that is so obvious that you can't miss it if you wanted to. Another WTF moment comes during the movie's resolution: the magic gun is simply left lying on a tenement doorstep as characters drive away...
For much of the movie, Marty is the more interesting and charismatic character, and as an anti-hero is definitely has the audience on his side for a large portion of the time, only losing audience identification as his growing desperation makes him harder, more narcissistic, more indifferent to everyone around him. By the final scene of him with his beloved Teena in a church, she looking like an innocent Madonna, one comes to dread who he might take down next — a dread that is hardly lessened by the inanely pedophile casting of the film: Debra Paget, in her credited feature film debut, is much too young for the man, who actually also refers to her as "just a girl" at one point. In real life, and looking it onscreen, she was fourteen to Conte's late-thirties. It is hard to believe that the ick-factor that raises its head in her scenes wasn't there when the film came out, but then, times were different.
Beautifully filmed and tightly scripted, Cry of the City quickly grabs onto the viewer and doesn't let go until the final frames. The movie has no flab, and the twists are not always expected. The acting varies from excellent (Conte and most secondary characters) to uneven (Mature and Pagent), and but for the expedient (if tensely staged) breakout and magic bullet, the events on screen remain firmly grounded in reality. The city of the film is a cruel one, one in which looking out for number one is the main rule and all that which is decent — family, love, friendship — has barely a chance to survive or remain uncorrupted. For that, notwithstanding the overriding corruption of the city and the tragic ending, a ray of hope remains: Marty's younger brother, despite his desire to live up to his brother's expectations, proves to have a bit more moral fiber than his beloved brother. 
The novel The Chair for Martin Rome was also the basis of a later French movie, so in theory Cry of the City was eventually remade in 1971 as the somewhat obscure One Way Ticket a.k.a. Un aller simple.
German Trailer to
One Way Ticket a.k.a. Un aller simple:
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