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Collapsing Into One Frame: Miami Vice, Time and Luck…

It’s that time.

Yeah.

Badges get flashed, guns come out. Arrests get made. That’s what we do.

So?

So, fabricated identity and what’s really up collapses into one frame. You ready for that on this one?

I absolutely am not.

Time and again, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice returns to the idea of images collapsing into a single frame.

It’s a recurring visual and thematic motif in Miami Vice. Around the midway point, the undercover police note the technique that smugglers are using to get past the complex array of checkpoints and scans set up to secure the border. “What’d you spot?” Tubbs asks their source at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Go-fast boats running that close?” Crockett muses looking at the footage. “On radar they look like one, not two.” The same technique is used later with the jet, which blurs on radar into a single image. More impressively, Mann accomplishes something similar with the camera. Two become one.

This theme of collapse is core to Miami Vice. Watching the film, there is a sense that everything is falling apart, that boundaries cannot hold. This is true of all barriers; the lines that Crockett and Tubbs try to create between their professional and personal lives, the walls set up among the different groups on the inter-agency taskforce, the borders that nominally exist to separate Miami from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It arguably even applies to the boundaries that writers and artists try to impose upon story, with Miami Vice constantly threatening to collapse into itself.

The result is a challenging a provocative piece of work, an ethereal dream-like mediation that reads very much as the inevitable climax of Mann’s meditation on the themes of law and order. Mann’s protagonists typically work to maintain some structure on what they do, to prevent the barriers from completely caving under outside pressure. Miami Vice represents the film in which those boundaries come crashing down.

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Non-Review Review: Den of Thieves

Heat was not the first cops and robbers film to parallel the opposite sides playing for control of the board, suggesting lives on a collision course inside a gritty crime epic.

However, Heat did it better than most. Heat inspired an entire generation of film fans, and arguably an entire subgenre of heist movie. Los Angeles had always lent itself to operatic crime sagas, with triumph and tragedy playing off against one another in the City of Angels, but Heat redefined the game. The movie developed a style of storytelling, both in terms of actual technical craft and in terms of storytelling construction.

Mann of Today.

Success breeds imitation, and there have been far too many crime films inspired by Michael Mann’s classic, to the point that many film fans were disappointed to discover that Mann himself had not adhered to the template in making Public Enemies. Almost every year, there seems to be another example of a movie constructed in the image of Heat, from Takers to The Town. The quality varies from film to film, as does the level of innovation and inspiration.

Den of Thieves is rather brazen in how much it takes from Heat, lifting both the crime classic’s cinematic language and even direct scenes. The result is a lukewarm reHeat of an exquisite meal, something to which the movie cheekily alludes towards the end of its climactic heist when one character literally serves up days-old leftovers. It isn’t anywhere near as filling or satisfying as the original meal, but it can satisfy a craving.

You definitely feel the Heat around the corner.

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59. Heat (#124)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Joe Griffin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Michael Mann’s Heat.

Michael Mann’s Los Angeles crime epic finds lives intersecting and overlapping in the City of Angels. At the heart of the story, career criminal Neil McCauley and driven detective Vincent Hanna find themselves on a collision course that leave countless lives shattered in their wake.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 124th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Hannibal – Aperitif (Review)

I’ll admit to being a bit sceptical about Hannibal as a concept. I am quite fond of all three of the Anthony Hopkins films, although I realise that both Red Dragon and Hannibal are flawed pieces of work at best. I also have a soft spot for Michael Mann’s Manhunter, even if I am not as firm a devotee as others. However, there’s a point where you reach saturation even with an especially interesting character.

There was something increasingly frustrating about watching Thomas Harris and various writers and directors delve beneath the surface of “Hannibal the Cannibal” to offer trite explanations and rationalisations for a character who was originally a force of nature. A television series seems to be the perfect way to over-saturate the market even further. If the character of Hannibal could seem trite and mundane after four films released years apart, how do you make a weekly television series exciting?

Surely you’ll either resort to explaining away all the mystery of the character, or you’ll simply wind up with a particularly shallow and generic serial killer show. There is a middle ground to be found, but it will be hard to strike that balance. With that in mind, I will confess that I am quite impressed with the pilot for Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Although it’s too early to form a definitive judgement, Aperitif is quite appetising.

The meat of the matter...

The meat of the matter…

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Non-Review Review: Gangster Squad

To suggest that Gangster Squad favours style over substance feels like an understatement. Although the prologue claims that Gangster Squad was “inspired” by the true story of Mickey Cohen, it seems to favour mythic figures and sweeping action over real characters and nuanced drama. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For most of its runtime, Gangster Squad feels like a trashy and update of a forties or fifties B-movie, cheap and nasty far executed with enough speed and charm to entertain. Occasionally the movie seems to falter – it clumsily attempts to shoehorn in some social commentary into this bright and colourful vigilante tale – but director Ruben Fleischer works well to keep things balanced. The wheels come off a bit towards the end, as Fleischer demonstrates he handles atmosphere better than action, but for most of its runtime Gangster Squad is a diverting piece of cheesy nostalgia.

This new plan is working gangbusters!

This new plan is working gangbusters!

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Non-Review Review: Narc

Joe Carnahan’s Narc is a visceral and powerful film. It’s less concerned with plot and character than it is with mood, crafting a suffocating visceral aesthetic that seems to almost smother the viewer. Set in snow-bound Detroit, it creates a world that feels closed in upon itself, the white sheets of snow clearing into dirty mounds to allow passage within the city, but suggesting that there’s nothing but white space beyond the world we explore. While Narc tells a story we’ve seen many times before, practically revelling in the familiar plot points of a police movie about the drug trade, Carnahan’s direction gives the movie a bit of an edge – and a powerhouse performance from Ray Liotta makes it much more engaging than it might otherwise be.

That’s a whole Liotta gun…

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Non-Review Review: Collateral

Collateral is a masterpiece. I think the only Michael Mann movie I’d rate against it would be Heat, which puts it in very good company. It’s probably my favourite neo-noir film, and I actually ranked it as my favourite film of 2000-2009. There are a lot of reasons for that: I think it’s the best example of digital video cinematography I’ve ever seen, the script is superb, the two leads are fantastic and it’s an utterly compelling examination of urban isolation. The screenplay was originally set in Manhattan, but I think the decision to transpose the story of a cabbie and his client to Los Angeles was actually quite clever – there’s generally an eerie emptiness and anomie to how life in Los Angeles is portrayed, and Collateral captures it perfectly.

Top gun...

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