Saturday, June 27, 2009

Double Jeopardy

Day 178 - 6/27/09 - Movie #177

BEFORE: OK, just one more legal thriller, then I'm back on the police beat. The mention of the "double jeopardy" clause in the last movie leads me to this film starring Ashley Judd, last seen in "Kiss the Girls", Tommy Lee Jones, last seen in "No Country for Old Men", and Bruce Greenwood, last seen in..."Star Trek"? Boy, I'm going to be really good at the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game when I'm all caught up on my movies. Ashley Judd was in "Kiss the Girls" with Morgan Freeman, who was in "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson, who was in "A Few Good Men" with Kevin Bacon. Tommy Lee Jones was in "A Prairie Home Companion" with Meryl Streep, who was in "The River Wild" with Kevin Bacon. And Bruce Greenwood was in "Thirteen Days" with Kevin Costner, who was in "JFK" with Kevin Bacon. Yep, still got it...

THE PLOT: A woman framed for her husband's murder suspects he is still alive; as she has already been tried for the crime, she can't be re-prosecuted if she finds and kills him.

AFTER: So let me get this straight - instead of contacting the authorities, or attorneys, or private investigators to prove that her husband is still alive (she gives up after just one phone call...), a suggestion from a fellow inmate (and former lawyer) causes her to serve out her whole prison term, just so she can track him down and kill him, and NOT be tried a second time for his murder? So she gets to see her son in what, 10 years instead of a possible 1? How is that better?

This could be the worst legal advice ever given out on film - no, she can't be tried again for her husband's murder - but assuming she finds him and shoots him, she could be tried for attempted murder, manslaughter, wrongful death, wreckless endangerment, etc. Plus gun possession, car theft, breaking and entering, and any other crimes that she commits in the course of tracking him down. The double jeopardy statute is specific, it's not some magic shield that's protecting her from all future prosecution!

At one point in the film, Judd's character manages to drive a car, which she is handcuffed to, off of a ferry in the middle of the lake - the car starts to sink, with her in it. What the heck did she THINK was going to happen? It's a perfect metaphor for her situation, as she keeps getting into more and more trouble, and only a series of increasingly unlikely circumstances keeps saving her neck.

You know, if this had been made as another sequel to "The Fugitive", with Tommy Lee Jones reprising his role as U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, instead of a washed-up parole officer, I might have enjoyed this more - but it's not, and Ashley Judd is no Harrison Ford, or even Wesley Snipes. There's a line near the end where Jones' character jokingly threatens to "arrest her for stupidity". Oh, if only that were possible...

RATING: 4 out of 10 Kandinskys

Friday, June 26, 2009


Day 177 - 6/26/09 - Movie #176

BEFORE: Another legal thriller, with Ryan Gosling (who played one of the teens in "Murder By Numbers") as a prosecutor - not exactly a "cop" film, but I think it features Anthony Hopkins trying to out-think the legal system.

THE PLOT: An attorney intent on climbing the career ladder toward success, finds an unlikely opponent in a manipulative criminal he's trying to prosecute.

AFTER: What was that about committing the perfect murder? Hopkins' character shoots his unfaithful wife, and somehow no one can find the gun. He then takes advantage of every legal loophole he can find, and gets inside the prosecutor's head, much like Hannibal Lecter did to Clarice in "The Silence of the Lambs". Then he defends himself in court, and like a pool-hall hustler, he pretends not to know the game well at first, but fires off some brilliant shots when the game is on the line. Once the "double jeopardy" statute applies, it means that the dollar values of the questions are greater, and there are two Daily Doubles on the board - no wait, that can't be right...

There is an answer to how he hid the gun, and it's so brilliantly simple that I couldn't have predicted it. I found it hard to believe that someone could be so calm and calculating when faced with a spouse's affair. If revenge is a dish best served cold, then this guy is Mr. Freeze. My other gripe is that Hopkins' character points out to the prosecutor that every plan, every strategy has a flaw in it - so why didn't he realize that his own plan had one?

I would have liked to see more of those intricate machines with little rolling balls in the killer's house, that apparently were only there to show how much of a "genius" he was...but what the heck did they DO? My working theory was that he somehow had a gun made of little golden parts, which he disassembled and hid among the parts of these machines (he didn't - but wouldn't that have been cool?).

RATING: 7 out of 10 motions to dismiss

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Murder By Numbers

Day 176 - 6/25/09 - Movie #175

BEFORE: A few more "cop" films to go, and I'll be at the halfway point for the whole year. I don't know many details about this one, except that Sandra Bullock plays a cop (!!) facing off against murder suspects.

THE PLOT: Two gifted high school students execute a "perfect" murder - then become engaged in an intellectual contest with a seasoned homicide detective.

AFTER: Eventually the "gather all the suspects in one room" conventions gave way to "interview each suspect in a windowless room with a two-way mirror" conventions. And while I credit shows like "CSI" for showcasing the fine scientific techniques used by today's crimefighters, there's also the possibility that they give criminals tips on how to not leave evidence behind.

I found this plot to be almost completely unbelievable - especially Sandra Bullock as a cop. Being withdrawn and "unapproachable" is not a good character trait - in a film it's usually a substitute for HAVING a character. Then we have a couple of teens that are so obsessed with forensics that they commit murder JUST to prove they can get away with it? Don't moody teens just usually just bring a gun to class or something? Oh, these are supposed to be "smart" kids - then why aren't they busy studying? I'm not buying it. One of the teens is seen failing an English quiz - but then a girl wants him to tutor her in physics because he's a "genius" - well, which is it?

Bullock's character denies all the evidence and follows her "gut feelings" - or is that woman's intuition? And what's all this "the profile doesn't fit the profile!" nonsense mean? The profile IS the profile, isn't it? I like a cat + mouse thriller as much as the next guy, but it's got to be believable. Profilers succeed at what they do precisely because people DO fit into profiles, 99% of the time. There just isn't a "Hey, let's kill someone just to fool the cops" profile.

This movie glorifies both murder and suicide, and I can't condone that. It seems like the director also set out to fool the audience - the commentary track on the DVD is probably just "Neener neener neener!" over and over. Plus, why not use the Police song "Murder By Numbers" during the closing credits? It's one of the few Police songs I like that isn't completely overplayed - "Murder by Numbers, 1, 2, 3 - it's as easy to learn as your A, B, C's..."

RATING: 3 out of 10 carpet fibers

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Evil Under the Sun

Day 175 - 6/24/09 - Movie #174

BEFORE: As previously mentioned, I'm framing a Belgian-themed beer dinner with 2 films featuring Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. Not only is he a rotund character who clearly loves food, the films are set in these upper-crust high society places, like a Nile River cruise, or a fancy train traveling across Europe, complete with fancy dining rooms, and classy actors like David Niven, Sean Connery, Bette Davis and Sir John Gielgud. Tonight's equally upscale menu features steak tartare with Palm ale, beer-braised mussels with Steenbrugge, seared squab with a ham + gruyere covered endive, pommes frites and Rodenbach sour ale. For dessert we have a chocolate pot au creme with summer cherries, and the Rodenbach Grand Cru. All food that could definitely have powered the "little gray cells" of Poirot's brain.

THE PLOT: Trying to find how a millionaire wound up with a phony diamond brings Hercule Poirot to an exclusive island resort frequented by the rich and famous. When a murder is committed, everyone has an alibi.

AFTER: For the dinner, I have to say that the standout was the sour ale. It really went well with the squab (OK, you can call it pigeon if you want), and it also elevated the endive and the pommes frites (OK, you can call them fries if you want). The sour ale might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it, and I pestered the waiter for a second glass. The steak tartare was a bit salty when paired with potato chips, but just shy of offending. It reminded me of when my mom would make her "special" hamburgers (with a meatball-like recipe) and I'd scrape some of the raw meat and bread-crumb mixture from the side of the bowl after. The mussels were just OK...

What else...oh yeah, the movie! Viewed through a post-beer dinner haze (maybe a mystery wasn't such a hot idea after a few glasses of beer - I dozed off a few times...) Once again, Poirot finds himself amid the upper class's dirty laundry, solving the murder of a person who everyone in the vicinity had a motive to kill. And once again, he calls all the suspects together into one room for the big reveal. Unfortunately, as in "Orient Express", the solution referes to an earlier incident that is barely glimpsed in the film - now how are we at home supposed to know about that?

Stars/suspects include Roddy McDowall, James Mason, Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith (again?)

RATING: 4 out of 10 "halibis".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Death on the Nile

Day 174 - 6/23/09 -Movie #173

BEFORE: Having watched "Murder on the Orient Express" earlier this year (Movie #120), it's time for the other 2 films featuring Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's famous Belgian (not French) detective. I'm sort of conducting an experiment, since I'll be attending a Belgian beer dinner Tues. night, in between the 2 Poirot films - not that consuming Belgian food + beer will lead to a better understanding of the character, but you never know. Peter Ustinov takes over the role of Poirot, replacing Albert Finney.

THE PLOT: Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot has a set of murder suspects on a boat in the Nile after a rich heiress is killed. Can he find the culprit before they reach port ?

AFTER: Before the age of "CSI", with DNA swabs and UV light, crimes had to be solved the old-fashioned way, through interviewing suspects, observation, logic and the process of elimination. And then apparently you had to gather all the subjects together in one room to reveal the identity of the murderer...those are the conventions of classic mysteries, anyway. Poirot suspects nearly everyone on the Nile River cruise of murder, except of course for the obviously-framed main suspect, played by Mia Farrow. Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, George Kennedy and Maggie Smith round out the all-star cast.

Unlike "Orient Express", I didn't know anything in advance about the plot or the identity of the murderer. Funny how mysteries seem to work a little better that way...

RATING: 7 out of 10 pyramids

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Live and Die in L.A.

Day 173 - 6/22/09 - Movie #172

BEFORE: Cop Week rolls on with a film featuring William Petersen, before he played Grissom on C.S.I., as an L.A. cop. No wait, my bad, he's a Secret Service agent - but that's a type of cop, right? The great Willem Dafoe plays the counterfeiter that he's trying to bust.

THE PLOT: A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.

AFTER: Petersen (in only his 2nd film role) plays a pretty slick customer - busting perps isn't enough of a thrill for him, he's also a BASE jumper on the side - but Dafoe's counterfeiter is even slicker. There's no shortage of cliches here - the veteran 3 days from retirement (gee, I hope he makes it...), the desperate agent who'll bend the rules to take down his nemesis, and the jittery mule (John Turturro) who takes the rap and won't flip on his boss. There's a high-speed chase through L.A.'s warehouse district that (together with "Scarface" and "Miami Vice") probably inspired a major part of the "Grand Theft Auto" video-game...and there's a lot of Wang Chung music as a bonus (I guess...).

RATING: 7 out of 10 printing presses (for being unconventional when it counted)

I could watch "Manhunter" next, since that also features Petersen, but since that movie also was the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter, I'm saving that for Halloween.