Tag Archives: Crime

The Elite Squad (2007)


Elite Squad DVDCapitao Nascimento (Wagner Moura)–a veteran of the BPOE (Special Police Operation Battalion) narrates the violently, explosive Brazilian film The Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). When the film begins, the Captain is under a lot of pressure, and he’s beginning to lose his nerve for the everyday violent confrontations with criminals, drug dealers and crooked police officers. Against the backdrop story of the Pope’s impending visit, Nascimento must find a replacement due to his imminent reassignment to the training of new recruits. There are two candidates for the post: the impulsive Neto (Caio Junqueira) and the studious, serious Matias (Andre Ramiro).

Many Brazilian crime films focus on the seamy criminal life in this poverty-stricken country. The Elite Squad focuses on police corruption, and since the film is based on the memoirs of a former BPOE officer, there’s some amazing information here. Just watch the endless scenes of police corruption, and you will find yourself wondering how this country will ever pull itself out of the mire of poverty and crime. In some scenes, police fight over bribery turf, with several groups of officers strong-arming the same business owners, and in other scenes, police squad cars are stripped by officers who make a lucrative living selling the stolen car parts on the side.

The Elite Squad is a non-linear narrative, and the film begins with new police recruits Neto and Matias in the middle of a horrendous firefight. Then the film goes back to 6 months earlier to explain how these two men found themselves cornered under fire in the middle of a ghetto. This part of the story comprises the first half of the film. The second half of the film depicts Neto and Matias attending BPOE training and Nascimento’s selection of his replacement.

I found the first half of the film with its exploration of social issues riveting. One sub-theme, for example, is how the rich do-gooder kids pride themselves on their open mindedness and superior civic responsibilities etc and yet actively contribute to the drug trade. The second half of the film seems to be fairly standard fare and a glorification of the fascistic BPOE. The BOPE training camp makes GI Jane look like a holiday camp for sissies in comparison. Still if you are interested in Brazilian film and want to see Brazilian police corruption in its glory, then The Elite Squad  is well worth catching. The scenes detailing police corruption, the scams and how they work the system–including the fiddling of the murder statistics were phenomenal. From director Jose Padilla.

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Filed under Brazil, Crime

El Lute I and II (1987 & 1988)

 Brutality, crime & poverty

The Spanish films El Lute I and II from director Vicente Aranda examine the life and times of Eleuterio Sanchez (Imanol Arias). Sanchez–a Spanish gypsy grows up in Franco’s Spain, and he’s already a young man traveling with his family when the film opens. The family live in the close quarters of a tatty caravan, and they are used to being constantly harassed by the police. The first scene establishes the dour tone of the film. Sanchez and his family are huddled around a campfire on the outskirts of town eating a meal. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s mother is inside the caravan dying. A couple of Spanish policemen arrive and demand that the gypsies leave–it doesn’t matter if they want to finish their meal, or if there’s a woman dying. The gypsies are treated with deliberate cruelty until they shuffle off.

el-luteSanchez meets a young woman, Chelo (Victoria Abril) at a gypsy encampment. Soon she is pregnant, and they try to scrape a living together. They end up in a squalid gypsy camp/ghetto with their small child. Again, they are beaten and harassed by police, and Sanchez finds himself with a jail sentence.

When Sanchez or ‘El Lute’ is released, he joins Chelo and their child in a squatter city that is composed of huts, but even putting a hut on some dump requires a bribe, and when Chelo and El Lute don’t pay it, they’re forced off the land. And this is where El Lute’s life takes a turn; he befriends a couple of men who persuade him to move near them, and El Lute embarks on a life of crime.

El Lute was a real person, and while the film is ostensibly about him, it’s impossible to avoid the greater social criticism of the impossible situation that surrounds him. Life is depicted as extremely harsh for the poor. This is Franco’s Spain of the 1960s, and yet at many points–thanks to the poverty and conditions endured by these people, it could be the nineteenth century. Both El Lute and Chelo are illiterate and incapable under the social structure from doing any more than just scraping a living and maintaining fringe-dweller status, at best. Somehow the film doesn’t milk the viewer for sympathy–perhaps this is due to the fact that in spite of raising our sympathies, El Lute remains not particularly likeable.

El Lute: Camina O Rievienta is the first film. Other titles are: Run For Your Life, Forge and or Die. The second film is Lute II: Manana Sere Libre. The early criminal career of El Lute is explored in the first film, and the second film continues El Lute’s story and his growing folkhero status for his legendary escapes and as an example of  a man who refused to bow to Franco. The films are in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Political/social films, Spain, Victoria Abril

Noise (2007)

 “If you were a fuckknuckle all your life, that would be hell.”

“Not catching too many crims, are you?”

Noise is this month’s selection from the Film Movement DVD-of-the-month club. As I noted in an earlier post, foreign or independent films never arrive at my local cinema, and since I really enjoy the titles selected by Film Movement, I decided to sign on with their DVD club. Monthly membership works out to be less than the cost of two cinema tickets.

noiseNoise from Australian writer/director Matthew Saville is nothing short of brilliant. That said, I will add that after watching this stunning film, I toodled across the Internet to see what reviewers were saying. I was surprised to read some lukewarm reviews of this wonderful film, but after chewing this over, I’ve decided that it’s due in part to the film’s theme, which is likely to attract a wide audience–some of whom may expect something a bit less elusive.

On one level, Noise follows the investigations of two crimes that occur around Christmas time in a working class suburb of Melbourne. Lavinia Smart (Maia Thomas) a young woman whose headphones blunt her sensory perceptions, enters a late night train only to discover a scene of carnage. The grisly bloody discovery of seven victims inside the train is followed the next day by the discovery of the body of a missing woman. While the community reels from these two tragedies, residents of Sunshine begin to wonder if the crimes are connected.

Meanwhile police Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is experiencing persistent ringing in his ears. His unsympathetic grumpy supervisor assigns McGahan the nightshift in a community police caravan parked near where the missing woman was last seen. McGahan is the first person to admit he isn’t much of a police officer. This is a career he’s drifted into, and perhaps that explains why he doesn’t fit the mold. Stuck with a humorless coworker and an unsympathetic boss who thinks McGahan is a slacker, this lackluster less-than-gung ho policeman sits out his shifts in the caravan. He’s supposed to mesh with the community, gather tips, and talk to possible witnesses, so he hands out flyers and condoms and interacts with various locals, “Lucky” Phil (Simon Laherty), the grief stricken fiancé of the murder victim, and an aggressive weirdo.

While the film ostensibly revolves around the solution to the murders, Noise is not a police procedural. Instead it’s a character study, and while the film seems to begin with the dilemma of Lavinia Smart, the plot very soon shifts to its protagonist McGahan. Terrified that he may have cancer, and waiting anxiously for a Dr’s report, McGahan hides his fears under a veneer of detachment, but he also fights feelings of alienation and self-pity. His hearing problem is literally and figuratively isolating McGahan from his girlfriend, but forced to sit out his shifts in the community caravan, various characters pierce through McGahan’s isolation.

Ultimately the film makes some strong yet elusively subtle comments about Australian society. This is a society in which seven people are randomly and rapidly slaughtered and a young woman simply disappears. Noise may connect us to other human beings–but it’s just that–noise–a substitute for human interaction and emotion. The film presents a world of isolation: a world in which the stronger pick on the weak, and the psychotic slaughter at will. McGahan’s physical problem may isolate him from his girlfriend, but it’s the emotional isolation in society that is far more dangerous.

The film emphasizes sound elements–and sometimes the lack of them–throughout the story. There are some terrific scenes in the film: at one point, for example, McGahan driven almost mad by the ringing in his ears turns on every machine in the house in order to generate enough sound to drown out the constant buzzing.

Those of us who prefer neat, clear and definitive endings may feel a certain amount of frustration at the film’s ambiguous conclusion. Personally, I loved the conclusion and I think the film addressed the meaning of the ending through textual references that occurred earlier in the plot.

If you enjoyed Lantana or Jindabyne, then there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy Noise. It’s truly a superb film. Anyway, for more info on FILM MOVEMENT go to www.filmmovement.com

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Poor White Trash (2000)

 “You’re hotter than doughnut grease.”

The premise of the very funny comedy film Poor White Trash is that poor people have to resort to crime in order to maintain that American dream of sending their children to college. It’s a “Robin Hood kind of thing” with the have-nots taking from a corrupt society that includes the embezzling manager of a retirement home and a nasty fast food restaurant.

poor-white-trashCollege bound Michael Bronco (Tony Denman) and his nefarious chum Lenny Lake (Jacob Tierney) are caught stealing a six-pack of Near Beer from the local mini-mart, and as a result, Michael’s college plans seem destined for the toilet. An inept Public Defender bungles the case, and the lads realize they need a lawyer to get them out of the mess they’ve created. Lenny’s brilliant plan is to get his Uncle Ron (William Devane)–who owns the Land O’Law to represent them ‘pro-bono’ (Lenny says this is Spanish for ‘half-price’). Uncle Ron, “the best lawyer in town since he got out of jail” isn’t cheap, and so Michael and Lenny burglarize a neighbour’s trailer as a quick way to get cash. Soon the lads embark on a crime spree, and Michael’s mum, Linda (a deliciously cast Sean Young) forms an inept gang with Michael, Lenny, and Brian Ross (Jason London)–the son of the local sheriff (and Linda’s one-night stand).

Linda Bronco just wants to be a “normal mother,” but that’s not in the cards for this latter-day Ma Barker. In fact, there’s nothing normal in the entire film. Everyone lives in a trailer–even Uncle Ron–the legal eagle–who has made a formidable beer can sculpture garden to enhance his trailer’s attractiveness. And Uncle Ron has a pool–not quite the traditional idea of a pool–but a pool, nonetheless.

It’s the perfectly drawn characters in this film that make it so hilarious. Michael’s desire to be a psychologist runs as a standing joke, and Lenny treats his friend’s ideals with respect while noting “psychology causes people to have mental problems.” Michael’s dad is a pro-wrestler hoping for the cash to get a false eye–this is the one roadblock in scheduling a grudge match with an opponent. William Devane as sleazy lawyer Ron Lake plays the role to perfection–the clothes, the swagger, the jewelry–and don’t forget his t-shirt slogans–all add up to the lawyer who practices law with the intent of getting away with what he can. Ron Lake’s nymphette wife–the manipulative and grasping Sandy (Jaime Pressly) is the perfect complement to Ron.

But my favourite character of all the great characters in this film has to be Lenny Lake. His one-liners, antics, and faulty logic–along with the looks he casts–simply make this film one of my all-time favourite comedies. Poor White Trash is crude at times, has no socially redeeming values, and no moral message, but the film doesn’t compromise on laughs. The script is deceptively clever and moves along rapidly from the first hilarious scene at the mini-mart right up to the finale. From director Michael Addis.

Favourite lines:
“It ain’t your job to execute shoplifters.”

“I am not robbing some place with my mother.”

“For your information, my life is in the toilet.”

“You’re grounded–with the exception of your trial.”

“If you use the word angst in prison, you’ll have a five car pile up on your Hershey highway.”

“Sometimes the best way to deal with depression is to drink.”

“Disrespect me, and I’ll break it off and beat you with it.”

“Anyone fucks with us, they’ll be eating hot rifle grease.”

“Mikie, I’m a bad mother. Go to college, get good grades and write to me in jail.”

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Filed under Comedy, Cult Classics

Johnny 100 Pesos (1993)

 “It will do you good to spend some time in prison.”

100Johnny 100 Pesos is a very dark, strange Chilean crime film. When I say the film is ‘strange’ I should add that there are moments of humor juxtaposed with moments of dark reality. And I’m not that sure we’re really meant to laugh at some of the funny moments at all. Perhaps they are just placed within the film to accentuate the horror that awaits some of these characters.

The film is set in Chile. The days of the military junta are over, but life is still tough for a great many Chileans. When the film begins, a 17-year-old student named Johnny (Armando Araiza), dressed in his school uniform, sits on the bus. He’s obviously nervous, and events indicate he’s an inept criminal. He enters a high-rise building and goes into an apartment that’s converted into a tiny video rental shop. There are just a few choices here, and the walls are covered with posters of various recognizable films–including Last Tango in Paris. But Johnny isn’t there to rent a videotape. He’s there, along with accomplices, to rob the shop which is a front for a money laundering business. The crime goes wrong, and the crooks and their hostages find themselves in a siege situation with Chilean police.

What ensues is a comedy/tragedy of errors. Holed up in the video shop, the criminals along with their various hostages are trapped. As the hapless thieves try to negotiate their way out, we get flashes of life in Chile. Blood-sucking paparazzi mercilessly hound Johnny’s mother for a hint of where he went ‘wrong’ in childhood, and government officials juggle the potentially disastrous situation with concerns that it won’t look ‘good’ for them if hostages are killed. Meanwhile post-Pinochet government officials who are ‘sensitive’ to public opinion and public pressure must deal with others whose belief systems are locked in the ‘good old’ days–the hanging judge, a dinosaur from the Pinochet era, who couldn’t care less what happens to the hostages.

While the thieves are hardened criminals, Johnny is not. He’s never been to jail, and he has no idea of what awaits him. Some of the most powerful scenes in the film occur when the other gang members fill Johnny in with the details of what to expect in prison. One of the hostages is a beautiful ex-prostitute who’s married to the owner of the shop. She relates to Johnny and the poverty that drives him to crime. This is a very dark crime film, and although I expected it to be fairly mediocre, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. In Spanish with subtitles, Johnny 100 Pesos is directed by Gustavo Graef-Marino.

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Filed under Chilean, Crime

Murderous Maids (2000)

“So this is what a maid is…”

Murderous Maids is the true story of the notorious Papin sisters who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. The film begins with sisters Emilia and Christine dragged off to a convent school where Emilia begins to take her vows as a nun. The Papin family is a troubled one. Emilia was raped by her father, and the rest of the film makes us wonder what happened to Christine (Sylvie Testud) to make her commit the horrible crime she was eventually tried for and found guilty.

Clemence (Isabelle Renauld), Christine’s mother, isn’t exactly a saint either. Christine expresses an interest in becoming a nun too, but that notion is squashed by her mother who stands to profit from her daughters’ employment. One senses that being a nun–while not exactly a burning desire for Christine–is at least preferable to a life of servitude as a maid. Christine becomes a servant in the homes of the wealthy, and the only joy in her life is her younger, not very bright sister, Lea (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Christine is extremely protective of Lea, and this protectiveness mutates into an incestuous lesbian relationship between the unhappy pair.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this film very much–but at the same time I do recognize the fact that it’s extremely well made and well acted. However, that said, the film is painful and depressing to watch. Christine’s life of servitude is full of misery. She is constantly under the watchful gaze of a series of petty-minded employers who monitor every move she makes. One employer even goes to the extremes of wearing white gloves and wiping the furniture to see that it’s perfectly clean. Christine and Lea eventually share a dismal bare attic room where they even have to resort to hiding the light bulb–another extravagance their demanding employer, Madame Lincelan (Dominque Labourier) considers wasteful.

Personally, I find the servant-master relationship distasteful, corrupting, and unnatural at best, but Christine’s lot is beyond reason. She becomes silent–completely dehumanized–and yet she’s held to the highest of standards and expected to intuit her employers’ every petty whim. To them she is less than human–and that’s what she becomes. And as Christine satisfies her employers’ demands, they fail to heed the warning signs. Nothing, however excuses the brutal murders and violence that occur in the household. The film evokes pity and then dismay as one realizes that Christine feels trapped, and there’s an inevitable, horrific event waiting to happen. Sylvie Testud delivers a chilling performance as the twitchy, deeply troubled Christine–a miserable girl who suppresses all her emotion until it tragically explodes.

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A Mind To Murder (1995)

“Your personal feelings are irrelevant.”

Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Roy Marsden) is ordered to investigate the murder of an employee which occurs at the prestigious Steen Clinic. The clinic caters to the wealthy and the privileged, and houses both those with chemical dependencies and those with serious mental problems. With a handful of brittle suspects, Dalgliesh tries to solve the crime. He’s hampered in his efforts by superiors who clearly want the case wrapped up as quietly and as quickly as possible.

A Mind to Murder is one of the least satisfying Dalgliesh mysteries, and this is mainly due to the plot. This made-for -elevision film begins with a tragic event, and then moves onto the seemingly unconnected murder at the Steen Clinic. The plot contains several holes, which are never explained to one’s satisfaction. Another problem with the plot is its setting–a clinic full of troubled patients very quickly boils down to one suspect, and while this character’s acting is good, the character’s problem itself seems a little too blatant and simplified for my tastes. A Mind to Murder–based on a P.D. James novel– at 101 minutes is also considerably shorter than most of the other Dalgliesh mysteries. The tangled truth at the bottom of all the disruption at the clinic is vastly interesting, and it certainly raises some questions for discussion, but A Mind to Murder does not possess the quality of other Dalgliesh mysteries. Ultimately, some aspects of the film seem somewhat hurried, and the over-the-top ending is a bit silly. If you’re a newcomer to Dalgliesh, I recommend starting with another, more enjoyable episode first.

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Brute Force (1947)

“Force does make leaders.”

Westgate Prison is a powder keg. It’s overcrowded, and the prisoners are treated inhumanely. Warden, A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohan) can’t seem to control the prison, and he’s being eased out by Captain Munsey (Hume Crohn). Munsey is the villain of the film. He has his own ideas about running the prison, and Munsey can’t wait to install some real discipline. His corrupt methods include maintaining stoolies in the system and beating prisoners to get information out of them. In contrast to Munsey, is the prisoner Collins (Burt Lancaster) who effectively leads a prison break. Collins possesses the sensitivity and humanity that the fascist Munsey lacks. The two men are the antithesis of one another.

Several of the prisoners in cell R17 recall their relationships with women in flashback. Collins, for example, is shown tenderly ministering to his beloved–a sunny girl in a wheelchair. Another character has a dalliance with Yvonne de Carlo who hams up her role with an incredibly bad accent.

For film noir fans, however, Brute Force is worth catching for the sheer audacity of the prison break. While this, unfortunately takes place all too briefly at the end of the film, these scenes reveal the film’s power. The film’s message is clear–treat the prisoners like animals, and animals they will become. The sheer hate and violence that’s been simmering in these desperate men is suddenly unleashed at the prison system. This superb latter section of the film is gritty, realistic and savagely violent. Munsey reveals his true evil nature while many prisoners sacrifice their lives in an attempt to even the score. For this ultimate realism, Brute Force is an astonishing film. From director Jules Dassin.

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Filed under Film Noir

The Big Combo (1955)

“So you don’t hear the bullets.”

The Big Combo is a crime syndicate run by a Mr. Brown (Richard Conte in a chilling performance). Police Lt. Leonard Diamond is Brown’s determined adversary. Diamond’s obsession with Brown is almost out-of-control, and according to Diamond’s superior, he’s committing far too many police resources to the job. But Diamond is single-minded. He loathes Brown and everything Brown stands for. Plus Brown’s delicious girlfriend, society girl, Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) makes the perfect damsel-in-distress, and Diamond really can’t resist that notion.

The film’s plot is concerned with discovering a mystery woman named Alicia. It seems that she holds the key to Mr. Brown’s sudden rise to power over another crime boss who has–according to rumour–absconded to Italy. As Diamond tries to find Alicia, his search uncovers other people who may hold information. Diamond and Brown engage in a race to find the witnesses/stoolies first.

The Big Combo is marvelous film noir. There’s the classic struggle of good vs. evil (Brown vs. Diamond), and Diamond is–as his name suggests–clean, clear, and utterly transparent. Richard Conte as Brown delivers one of the best performances of a crime boss I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with Richard Widmark as Tommy Ugo in Kiss of Death. The women in the lives of Brown and Diamond are an interesting contrast. Susan Lowell, the ladylike improbable girlfriend of the hard, tough crime boss is in complete contrast to Diamond’s equally incompatible girlfriend, a stripper named Rita (Helene Stanton). Susan Lowell is obviously taking a walk on the wild side in her relationship with Brown, and one scene in particular underscores their erotic connection. Mr. Brown’s minions include the ambitious Joe McClure (Brian Donlevy) and muscle men Fante & Mingo (Lee Van Cleef & Earl Holliman). Just what is the relationship between Fante and Mingo anyway …? Film noir fans should relish this film, and fans of Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dogs will experience a sense of deja vu. The DVD quality was more than acceptable. Lighting was a small problem in a couple of the gloomier scenes. From director Joseph H. Lewis.

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Filed under Film Noir

Dillinger (1945)

The film Dillinger charts the rise and fall of notorious gangster John Dillinger. The story presented distills his elaborate career, but some of the salient details are included. Dillinger’s involvement with Baby Face Nelson, for example, is not mentioned once, but that is probably due to the fact that we are supposed to concentrate on the story of Dillinger and not suffer distraction with the crimes of another notorious gangster. In the film, John Dillinger (Lawrence Tierney) begins his criminal career as a petty crook, but a botched robbery sends him to prison. Here, Dillinger connects with career criminals, and he’s admitted to their gang. Dillinger is released and then plans a bold jailbreak for the rest of the gang. Now on the loose, the gang begins a series of bank robberies. Soon Dillinger is on the FBI’s most wanted list …

When the film begins, Tierney plays Dillinger as not very bright, but he soon shifts into the seasoned stone-cold killer whose methodical violence created headline after headline. Dillinger’s character–as defined by the film–does not permit any explosive scenes. So Tierney’s performance can’t match–let’s say–Paul Muni in Scarface or Richard Widmark as Tommy Ugo in Kiss of Death. A fascinating character here is Helen Rogers (Anne Jeffreys), Dillinger’s girlfriend–the gangster’s moll who loads up on expensive gee-gaws while conveniently ignoring the source. From director Max Nosseck.

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Filed under Gangster