Dry Steak or Juicy Burger? Movies reviewed: Killing Them Softly, Sushi Girl PLUS Exile

Posted in Breasts, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Thriller, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 7, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It used to be easy to tell a high-brow movie from a low-brow movie. B-movies followed certain genres, used B-grade stars, and had a specific look, a “cheaper” style to them. They mainly went for laughs and gore, titillation, exploitation, and easy thrills. But what happens when the border between the two starts to blur?

This week I’m looking at two similar American crime movies about hold-ups going wrong: a high-brow drama and an unapologetically low-brow thriller.

sushi girl poster 2Sushi Girl

Dir: Kern Saxton

Six years after a diamond heist, the hoods who pulled it off are meeting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant to welcome back their heist-mate Fish (Noah Hathaway). He took the fall for the group and is just out of prison. His co-conspirators at the dinner include a crazed, bearded maniac named Max (Andy Mckenzie), a dwarfish, acerbic blond called Crow (Mark Hammil – yes, that Mark Hammil!) Francis (James Duval), a cleancut, young family dude, and the tall, scheming, black gang leader, Duke (Tony Todd).

It turns out that the diamonds from the heist are all missing, and someone (in the room) must have them. Since the only one out of circulation for six years was Fish, the ex-con, they decide he’s to blame. They tie him to a chair (a la Reservoir Dogs), and Duke pulls out a wind-up egg timer. In a bizarre game, Crow and Max take turns horribly torturing Fish as they trade barbs with each other, as Duke keeps time. It doesn’t really matter if the poor guy knows anything, since both his torturers are sadists. Each time he loses consciousness, we get to see a bit more of what happened the day of the heist in his flashback dreams.

And the title? Oh yeah, I forgot about her. Right in the middle of the torture room, all through the evening, lies a beautiful woman (Cortney Palm) on her back, totally naked. Pieces of sushi are artistically (dare I say gingerly?) arrayed all over her breasts and body. She’s been warned not to move a muscle or react… no matter what she sees.

sushi-girlWill Fish tell them what they want before he dies? Who really holds the loot? Who will survive the violence? What’s the twist? The unexpected ending? I’m not telling…

OK, it’s a total B-grade movie, overflowing with Tarantino touches (especially Reservoir Dogs): retro sound track, extended torture, snappy, occasionally witty dialogue, cameo appearances by stars (like Sonny Chiba as the sushi chef, and the perpetually-macheted Danny Trejo as Schlomo the diamond dealer). It’s shlock and kitsch and low-budget dreck — intentionally so — but it does have all the humour, suspense and twists it needs.

Then there’s…

KILLING THEM SOFTLY POSTERKilling them Softly

Dir: Andrew Dominik

It’s four years ago, in a post-Katrina New Orleans, on the eve of the US presidential election. Apparently high hurricane winds have purged the city of all its women and African-Americans, leaving only white Mafiosi and their customers. Times are tough. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) a low-life hood, and his best pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) an Aussie junkie (who makes Frankie look positively genteel in comparison) are hired by a sleazy dry cleaner to pull of the perfect heist. All they have to do is knock over a gangster-run poker game and steal all the cash. Everyone will blame Trattman, the poker game chief (Ray Liotta) since he is known to have robbed his own game years back.

Killing Them SoftlyNaturally, things go wrong. A corporate-type gang leader (Richard Jenkins) brings in a known hitman (Brad Pitt) to kill everyone involved. He subcontracts the hit to a depressed, over the hill killer named Frankie (James Gandolfini from The Sopranos). But, for some reason, Frankie just want to get drunk and laid in his hotel room, not kill people – imagine that. So Brad Pitt might have to hunt them all down and kill them himself.

That’s basically the movie – no suspense, no twists and turns, no thrills, no sex, and no humour. Just a bunch of criminals trudging through their gory, pointless workdays. Oh yeah, and lots and lots of dull business discussions about who gets paid what, who kills whom, and how they should reach their demise. And the occasional gratuitous — but oh-so-tasteful — slo-mo death scenes.brad-pitt-richard-jenkins-killing-them-softly

OK – great movie stars, incredible art direction, sound, and editing, and social relevance: lots of supposed reference to Bush-era economic malaise, political disappointment, alienation – all the stuff high-brow, festival-type movies thrive on. And yet, despite these fancy trappings, it would be harder to find a duller, more pointless movie than this one. A thriller it ain’t.

So, which would you rather have? A hundred dollar piece of Kobe beef (unsalted, lukewarm, overcooked) or a fresh, hot and juicy burger (of questionable origin) on a wonderbread bun?

Killing Them Softly is playing now, and Sushi Girl opens today. Also opening is Exile, an archaeological and historical documentary about the myth of the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land and how it was reinterpreted by Imperial Rome, early Christianity, rabbinic Judaism, and modern-day Israelis and Palestinians, each with their own point of view. Check your local listings for details. And it’s a busy weekend with Monsters and Martians film fest and free Japanese movies sponsored by the Japan Foundation.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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