Monday, July 6, 2009

Leelee Sobieski should only dress in 1930's clothes from now on

I'm a Michael Mann fan, and while I've enjoyed all of his movies (except The Keep), I prefer when he keeps things on the street with flicks like Thief, Heat, and Collateral. So it's cool that he's got another crime story out with his new film Public Enemies, starring the oh-so-dreamy Johnny Depp. Holy shit, if you never got the idea how much chicks love this motherfucker, you would've gotten that shit way too clear at the showing I went to.

You can hear the ladies in the audience swoon at every close-up, giggle at any remotely amusing line of dialogue that came out of his mouth, and quietly chatter amongst themselves in excitement when he got to putting the moves on a chick. But it's all good, because I've always liked the dude. He's a good actor and he seems like a pretty cool guy based on what I've heard. I guess things change over the years and people mature, but I remember back in the day when this dude seemed kinda like a douche for trashing hotel rooms and getting "Winona Forever" tattooed on his arm (I agree with the sentiment, not the inking). Now he's tipping waiters $4,000 for steak dinners and donating $2 million to a children's hospital.

My favorite story has to be about some dude who suffered from one of those horrible body-debilitating diseases that only a genius/sadist like God could come up with. This guy could only move his left thumb and his face. They did a bit on him on This American Life, and since the guy couldn't talk anymore, they asked him who he thought his ideal voice should be and he told them Edward Norton or Johnny Depp. They figured Why not? and tried to get Norton, who then told them to go fuck themselves or something else similarly Norton-esque. But somehow they were able to get the word out to Depp, who not only said yes but did the shit for free. You know what, ladies? I think I'll swoon with you. I guess it depends on the person, though. Because no amount of philanthropy or humanitarianism or general acts of Good Guy-ness will turn Ashton Kutcher into anything else above the status of Fucking Cunt, you know what I mean?

Anyway, yeah, Public Enemies. Depp plays bank robber John Dillinger and according to this movie, he was a hero of sorts with the people because while everyone else was struggling to get by during the Great Depression, he was out there just fuckin' taking what he wanted. Never mind that a few cops got killed in the process. It makes me wonder when that kind of shit stopped. I guess you can flash forward to the '97 North Hollywood shootout, when everyone's sympathy went to the poor cops getting blasted on. But this is a Hollywood movie, and you can't have Johnny Depp look like too much of a bad guy, so they designate the "murderous scumbag" role to characters like Baby Face Nelson and a couple of other dudes whose names I can't remember at the moment.

It's a lot like Heat, actually, in that Dillinger is portrayed as an intense, methodical, professional-as-a-motherfucker thief. Which I guess makes it a lot like Thief as well. The big difference between Dillinger and Neil McCauley from Heat is that Dillinger allows himself the luxury of turning that serious mode off when he's not working. Homeboy likes to go to clubs for some booze and broads, whereas McCauley couldn't even allow himself the pleasure to respond to a cute bookstore employee sitting next to him at a restaurant without worrying what her angle was. What the fuck, McCauley? I'd kill to have that kind of shit happen to me, and you're just throwing it away.

All of these successful bank robberies by Public Enemy Number One is making J. Edgar Hoover look bad to his superiors, so he wants to take this motherfucker down ASAP. But since he's just a chubby crossdressing coward who never even wore a badge and has only worked in law enforcement in an administrative position, he puts all the pressure on FBI agent Melvin Purvis. Purvis is played by Christian Bale, who needs to learn to calm the fuck down. We get it, you'll trash his fucking lights. I like Bale, and I think he's a real talent, but holy shit does he seem like someone a wrong word away from stabbing a motherfucker in the eye with a fork. There was a recent interview where he talked about how he was a vegetarian for a long time until he saw the movie Life is Beautiful. Somehow, that movie about a father trying to shield the horrors of the Holocaust from his son made him crave a bloody rare steak like never before. Is it because it made him value the good things in life like steaks? Or is it because he's a fucking psycho? Maybe a little of both.

Purvis is on the job, but he knows his team could use some help in the toughening-up department, so he gets a badass Texas Ranger to fly over to Chicago to join the squad and teach these guys about catching criminals Texas style. The Texas Ranger is played by Stephen Lang, and the last time he was in a Michael Mann movie it was as a gossip journalist getting owned by the Tooth Fairy in Manhunter. Not only is he the one owning motherfuckers this time, but it's his first big screen Hollywood movie since 2003, when he played Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals, a big-budget Civil War movie that was apparently only watched by me and 17 senior citizens.

It's funny how this film, mostly based on real people and real events (while completely fictionalizing the fuck out of it) ends up playing like Heat '33. The structure of the movie plays out by going back and forth between Dillinger and his crew with Purvis and his posse. Dillinger's crew even includes a couple of Waingro-types who don't know how to pull off a heist without killing a bunch of motherfuckers for no reason. Unlike Heat, the loose cannons work on the other side as well; I guess for the same reason that we can't see Depp murdering people without losing sympathy for him, we can't see Purvis beating or torturing suspects, so that shit is left to other FBI agents like the one played by Shawn Hatosy, who I remember back in '98 and '99 being set up as the next Big Young Thing, along with other up-and-comers like Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. Well, those magazines were right about him getting big, only not in the way they thought -- the motherfucker's quite husky now. Or maybe he gained it and/or wore padding for the movie, like the guy who plays J. Edgar Hoover, Billy Crudup. Crudup looked like a fuckin' Adonis when he played Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, but as Hoover he looks like he sucked up more than his fair share of donuts and meat salads.

The chick from La Vie En Rose is in this, playing an American with a French accent. That's how awesome Michael Mann is, he doesn't give a fuck if an actress can hardly speak-a the English, if she feels right for the part, she's in. Seriously though, her accent isn't that bad, she's certainly a lot better with it than Gong Li in Miami Vice (aka Mojitos Like A Muthafucka). And she's certainly a hell of a lot more attractive here as Dillinger's special lady friend Billie Frechette than as Edith Piaf. She looks really good here in her 30's getups. There was another really hot chick in this movie, she appears near the end of the movie, and looked a little familiar, but goddamn was I smitten. Turns out it was Leelee Sobieski, and I guess I'm into her now. How about that?

Going back to the Heat comparisons, I was reminded of a line in that flick where Tom Sizemore says "for me the action is the juice", because it seems like that's how Dillinger rolled. There never seemed to be an endgame for this guy, no plans for retirement or an island to escape to after stealing all that money. He was just going to continue robbing banks until he got caught or killed. But I don't think he expected shit to end the way it ultimately did, (SPOILERS IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR CRIME HISTORY) because while he may have always thought about the possibility of being killed on the job, he never considered that he would be (at least as far as this movie's version of the truth goes) the last of his crew left. You can see that there's no fun in it for him anymore now that his friends are dead. Loneliness can be a motherfucker, and Dillinger finds that shit out the hard way. So he figures, Shit, at least I got my girl -- but then that leads to heartbreak as well.

Mann has been on a whole HD kick for quite a while now, and he doesn't even try to make it look like film. That's his thing, and I'm sure that's the look he wants for his movies now, stuck in a limbo that's not quite film and not quite video. Like his last couple of movies, the picture quality of Public Enemies varies depending on the lighting situation. Scenes look pretty good in daylight, but then get a lot more grainy and strobe-y in nighttime or low-light scenes. Quite a few critics have been bitching about this, saying that it distracts from the 1930's setting, but I have to disagree. Sure, things don't look so cinematic anymore, but goddamn if this wasn't the most realistic a film of this period ever felt. It's like someone took a time machine to 1933 Chicago and took a video camera to document it. To be fair, I watched this HD movie in digital projection, so it probably looks a lot better that way than if you saw it on a film print, where the transfer might not come off so well. This might sound weird, but I think I prefer the HD being used here than in the modern-day settings of Miami Vice or Collateral.

There's some cool bank robbery sequences and shootouts here. With Mann, you know you're gonna get real live gunshot sounds that make the audience jump because they're so fucking loud. One minor complaint about the sound is that Mann sometimes dials down the dialogue a bit too much, leaving you cupping your hand around your ear like some old fogey going "Wha? Speak louder, boy!" and then suddenly the music comes BLARING into the soundtrack. I thought it was the theater's fault until I looked it up and other people have made the same complaint at other screenings. What the fuck, Mann? Are you so burned out from working with Al Pacino that you're determined to make your other actors speak in a volume way below inside-voice?

This was a solid flick. But some people might have a problem with it, because while it may be a Hollywood movie about gangsters, it ain't no Hollywood gangster movie. Public Enemies is more of a character study than a cops-and-robbers flick but it's still intriguing in a nuts-and-bolts docudrama sort-of-way. Has Mann done better? Sure. But good times is good times, so while it may not be Heat, it's still entertaining. If he keeps making good-but-not-great movies like Public Enemies, I'll continue to be a happy Michael Mann fan. I guess you can say I'M A FAN OF MANN!

By the way, if it's just gangster tommy gun shootouts you're looking for, try checking out another movie also called Public Enemies. Not only does it have the same title as this one, it also features Melvin Purvis as well, only in that one he's played by Dan "MTV Sports" Cortese. Sure, you don't see Johnny Depp or Christian Bale, but you do get to see Frank Stallone break Alyssa Milano's neck and then toss her into a swamp, and that's got to count for something, right?