Neo-Noir Christmas Movies

12 Days of Alt Christmas Viewing — #5: Neonoirs at Christmas

Crime and Christmas, thesis and antithesis. Movies that pair crime and Christmas either use those two opposing themes to poignantly contrast outsiders with “normal” people (as in the films I covered earlier), or to create a humorous counterpoint by having baddies running amok on this goody-goody-est of days. The very best of these do both….

In Bruges (2008)

(Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh) This film has a cult following, and I’m a happy member of that cult. Gloriously shot (by Eigil Bryld) with sensational performances and a fantastic script that manages irreverent dark humor, humanitarian compassion, and hilarious plot twists — it’s a marvel of a little movie.

After a big job, two hit men are laying low in Bruges, awaiting further orders from their boss. Meanwhile they do some sight-seeing, encounter a film shoot, and drink a lot.

I admit, Christmas is only vaguely in the background, but it is there. And there are dwarves. I don’t even like Collin Farrell, usually (too cocky for me), but he’s perfect here. And if you think Ralph Fiennes is scary as Lord Voldemort, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Plus for film geeks there are plenty of references. Despite all of Farrell’s quips in the trailer, it also makes one want to visit Bruges immediately. [streaming on Netflix]

The Ice Harvest (2005)

(Harold Ramis, Focus Features) If you like strippers for Christmas, this one’s a gift for you. John Cussack is shady mob lawyer Charlie Arglist who partners with Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) to steal some mob money on Christmas Eve. Their plan goes awry because the roads are too icy for them to get out of town (Wichita Falls). So they bounce around between strip clubs, diners, ex-wives’ houses, and other sad joints while the mob enforcer looks for them.

Randy Quaid is the mob boss they’re evading. Oliver Platt is the best thing in the movie (which is why he dominates the trailer) as Pete, Charlie’s drunk friend, who is currently married to Charlie’s ex-wife.

It’s not quite as hilarious as I’d have liked, with Ramis helming and scripted by Richard Russo and Robert Benton. The plot is rather gratuitously convoluted, but all told, it is fun, in a bleak, noisy kind of way. [streaming on Netflix]

Reindeer Games (2000)

How awesome is that throwback trailer?!? Alas the film doesn’t live up to it.

(John Frankenheimer, Dimension Films) From the director of The Manchurian Candidate, The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Train… and also the disastrous Island of Dr. Moreau (as depicted in Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s….). So, you’re in for a mixed bag here.

The premise is promising, in noir terms. Imprisoned auto thief, Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck) shares a cell with Nick (James Frain) who has a beautiful prison pen pal, Ashley (Charlize Theron). They are both due to be released when Nick is killed, so Rudy goes to Nick’s rendez-vous with Ashley posing as Nick (another liars-in-love movie). All is sexy and great, until Ashley’s brother Garbiel turns up and forces “Nick” to help him and his buddies rob the casino where he — Nick — used to work.

Affleck is only about half up to this task. His aw-shucks demeanor works for the fool-in-over-his-head aspect, but he lacks the cynical snakiness one expects from a noir antihero. His voice over is wince-inducing, which is probably why there’s very little of it. (Gone Girl, manages his strengths and weaknesses much more effectively).

Both Theron and Sinese are on fire… at first. Then they are just tiresome, about half-way through the movie. This all might have something to do with the fact that the screenwriter’s claim to fame is Transformers: Dark of the Moon. These characters are about as deep as mechanical toys… and there is a plot twist that still pisses me off, just recalling…

What the film does have going for it is Frankenheimer’s stunning visual sensibility — love those spooky off-balace-extremem-close-ups. Plus there’s a score by Alan Silvestri, probably because this is also from the time period in which Dimension Films was under Disney/Miramax.

So, I can’t say this is a good movie. Really. I cannot. But if you’ve been watching A Christmas Story for days on end, it offers a bit of a respite… a bit. On second thought, maybe you should watch The Gingerbread Man (Robert Altman, 1998) instead. It has nothing to do with Christmas, excepting the title, but it is a much better movie. [on DVD]

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

(Shane Black, Warner Brothers) Doh! I didn’t get to watch this one yet. Finals grading and Christmas duties are over-taking me! Well, it’s another cult favorite — Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr. — It can’t fail, right? [on DVD]

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