Tag Archives: Gangster Squad

Scorecard: January-February 2013

Most of January was spent trying to watch whatever documentaries we could get our hands on, mostly on Netflix Instant, so we could nominate films in that category for the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards (we had to have seen at least five per category to nominate in it). Neither Jonathan nor I are big documentary fans, so we had a lot to catch up on. As I expected, they all ended up falling into my “yeah, it was good but not really my thing” category. Ah, well. Did manage to see a few films I genuinely loved, so it was still a good month. We only made it out to theatres twice (January releases – you know), but enjoyed both critically-panned movies we saw quite a bit for what they were. Running late as per usual, I decided to throw February in as well, especially because I only managed to watch ONE new-to-me movie in all of February. Feeling very pregnant apparently necessitated a lot of comfort-food rewatches.

And now, of course, most of March is gone, taken up by a newborn. :)

What I Loved

Blancanieves

I won’t actually write very much about this one, since I saw it at a press screening and I’ll be posting a full review on Row Three soon, time willing. For now I’ll just say that The Artist (a film I quite enjoyed) wishes it were as excellent an homage to silent cinema as this version of Snow White (set in 1920s Spain with Snow White as a bullfighter) is. I loved every second of its completely unironic take on European cinema of the ’20s.

2012 Spain. Director: Pablo Berger. Starring: Maribel Verdú, Ángela Molina, Macarena García, Inma Cuesta, Pere Ponce.
Seen January 8 at a press screening.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Yes, this is a 15-hour documentary originally shown in British TV, but I’m treating it as a single long film, because that’s frankly how it plays if you’re able to marathon it (like you can now on Netflix Instant, so….go do that), and that’s how Mark Cousins prefers to think of it. But whatever format you think it falls into, it’s an incredible accomplishment. Cousins illuminates the history of film from a much more global perspective than we’re used to seeing in the United States anyway – he doesn’t shortchange Hollywood, but he’s quick to point out innovation in other countries all along the way, and show how new techniques spread and echoed around the world. Some have complained about Cousins’ idiosyncratic narration style; his Scottish accent and diction tends to make most of his statements sound like questions and it definitely takes some getting used to, but I think it works, because it also emphasizes how personal an approach to film history this is – it’s comprehensive and informative, but it’s always filtered through Cousins’ own critical perspective, which is a good thing, I think. It keeps 15 hours of film history from ever getting dry or caught up in attempts at objectivity. He also does a great job of connecting films across the globe and across time; even though he goes largely in chronological order, he often takes detours to show how certain elements, whether technical or thematic, developed over time. Part history, part criticism, and all fascinating.

2011 UK. Director: Mark Cousins. Starring: Mark Cousins.
Seen December 26-January 14 on Netflix Instant.

The Muppet Movie

I’ve come at the Muppets almost solely as an adult – I watched Sesame Street some as a kid, but not a lot, and I never saw the original Muppets show. I didn’t see any of the Muppet movies until I was in my twenties, with A Muppet Christmas Carol (which is now one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time). But that hasn’t lessened any of my enjoyment as I start introducing myself to more Muppet stuff – I’m pretty convinced it works just as well for adults as for kids, if not better. The first Muppet Movie is silly as all get-out, but in a very absurdist, wonderful way that’s like the G-rated version of Monty Python. In other words, exactly up my alley. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this, from the “holy crap” cameos to Miss Piggy’s outrageous crush on Kermit to the fourth-wall breaking to the somewhat saccharine but irresistible songs. Can’t wait to see the rest of it. Dear Netflix: Please to put the show on Instant.

1979 USA. Director: James Frawley. Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning.
Seen January 17 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches

Fargo (1996; rewatched February 6) – This is the top film in mine and Jonathan’s mutual Flickchart list (the site can calculate weighted favorites based on multiple users individual rankings), and it was about time we revisited it. Still awesome.
The Court Jester (1956; rewatched February 19) – A friend alerted me to the fact that this is available on Amazon Prime Instant, and I jumped at the chance to rewatch it – one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, and the rewatch didn’t change that opinion.
Clue (1985; rewatched February 19) – This was total comfort food; sometimes you just need a little Clue.
The Untouchables (1987; rewatched January 12) – Watching Gangster Squad put me in mind of The Untouchables, and Jon had never seen it, so we pulled it out. Yeah, Gangster Squad stole whole swaths of stuff from this movie, which remains much much better overall. Still my go-to when people start bagging on Brian DePalma. At least he made this.

Continue reading

Watch This, Then That: Gangster Squad/The Untouchables

In this series, I will take a look at a film releasing in theatres this week and recommend an older/classic film either as a double feature companion (if the new release looks to be worth watching) or a substitute (if it looks like the new release is of the skippable variety).

New Release: Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad

A misfit squad of cops going after gangster Mickey Cohen’s empire in 1940s Los Angeles? Yeah, sign me up for that. I’ve been interested in this since I heard about it, especially due to the presence of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the cast, but I’m ultimately glad it got delayed from September to January. Once the trailers started coming out, it was fairly clear this wasn’t going to be a good movie in the sense of a The Departed or a Godfather, but an over-the-top fun genre flick, and that fits the post-Oscar-hopeful January moviegoing season perfectly.

I went to see it yesterday, and enjoyed it quite well for what it is – there are some plot holes that I didn’t feel like bothering either rationalizing or criticizing, because it’s a fun, rollicking ride. It manages that handily, with Sean Penn hamming it up as Cohen and the other cast hitting their admittedly single-faceted character notes with game aplomb. Its glossy look never quite approaches anything that actually feels like a lived-in Los Angeles, but it looks stylish and the fight scenes are well-choreographed – it’s a good look for the film, which never pretends to be realistic, but maxes out on the glamor of nostalgia. Don’t expect too much out of this, and you’ll likely have a fun time. Then come home and watch one of the major influences on Gangster Squad, 1987’s The Untouchables.

Double Feature: Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables

Funnily enough, I chose The Untouchables to double-feature with Gangster Squad early in the week, before I’d seen or even read reviews of Gangster Squad. I mean, it’s a fairly obvious pairing even with only superficial knowledge – they’re both about a somewhat unlikely squad of men going after a crime boss (Al Capone in this case) in the early-to-mid 20th century. Watching Gangster Squad put me even more in mind of The Untouchables with a climax centered on a set of hotel steps that reminded me of The Untouchables’ famous sequence in Union Station (itself an homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkim), but it had been long enough since I watched The Untouchables that I didn’t even realize how very many things Gangster Squad stole from DePalma’s film.

Rewatching it last night after seeing Gangster Squad reminded me pretty quickly, though. There are a TON of similarities in plotting, character setup, settings, etc. So if you’ve already seen The Untouchables and you’re a stickler for originality, you’ll likely be irritated at how much Gangster Squad cribs from the earlier film. I still think both are worth watching, but The Untouchables remains the vastly superior film. The stories are pretty similar, and Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen is actually more menacing than Robert De Niro’s Al Capone, but The Untouchables showcases the best of Brian DePalma’s showy style, with some extremely well-done and effective camera movement, and a refreshing tendency to follow people with the camera to create solid in-depth compositions rather than just cutting back and forth, as Gangster Squad tends to do.

The emotional beats hit home more strongly, too, with Sean Connery impressing both comedically and tragically (he won a deserved Best Supporting Oscar for the film), and the various losses on the squad feeling much more meaningful than the similar losses do in Gangster Squad. DePalma also knows how to take his time, as in the long waiting period for the action to start in the train station sequence – a segment which ratchets up tension beautifully; Gangster Squad takes little time to build sequences like this, though it definitely has its own moments that remain effective.

In short, Gangster Squad can’t come near the quality of The Untouchables, but it is a fun genre ride in the midst of a fairly uninteresting January release schedule. So go watch it and enjoy it for what it is, then remind yourself of what films like this CAN be with a first watch or rewatch of The Untouchables.

The Untouchables is available from Netflix via both Instant Watch and DVD, or as a $2.99 rental from Amazon Instant.