Review: Criminal Activities

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Criminal Activities is a small budget neo-noir marketed as a John Travolta film, and though Travolta is great in this film and if you are a fan it is a must watch, he has a fairly small role. The real star for this film is  Jackie Earle Haley. Haley took a script from the 1970’s that has been shelved for decades, rewrote it for a more modern time and changed some of the story. He did this without taking a screenplay credit. This is also his directorial debut and he also has a small but great role in the film.

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This story starts with a young man that dies, it looks like suicide or an accident, but was it murder? He is hit by a bus, but was very paranoid in the days leading up to the incident. When four classmates meet up at the funeral, a drink leads to smoking weed in a car and talking. When one friend mentions some insider information on a stock, the four decide to go in as partners on the deal. Another says he can get the money and they can split the profits after they sell the stock. When the information backfires and the stock is worthless, they find out they have to payback a mob boss at a large premium. When they cannot pay it back the mob boss has the four friends commit a kidnapping to pay off the debt. This is where things get interesting.

Travolta plays the mob boss and Haley plays one of his thugs. Michael Pitt,  Christopher Abbott, Rob Brown and Dan Stevens play the four friends. Stevens’ work is something that has stood out to me lately in small films. The Guest is another small film he is in that is well worth checking out. Edi Gathegi is also great as the kidnap victim.

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I have always enjoyed Haley as an actor, but now I also look forward to his work behind the camera. If you are a noir fan and have been skipping by this film thinking it is another low budget Travolta vehicle, you need to stop. Not only is Travolta a minor character in this film, he is also at his best. This is the best Travolta I have seen in the last 10 years. This is a very good film I really enjoyed and I think neo noir fans will enjoy it too.

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Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

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A Walk Among the Tombstones is a Matthew Scudder movie from 2014.  Matthew Scudder is a character written by Lawrence Block that has been in one other movie and in 17 books.  This story comes from the 10th book in the series.  I’ve recently just read the first book in the series and reviewed it here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/23/review-the-sins-of-the-fathers-by-lawrence-block/

Though I’ve only read one book and now seen this movie, I’m a big fan of Scudder and look forward to reading more of the books.  Liam Neeson plays Scudder, a recovering alcoholic, ex-police officer that isn’t a private detective, but does favors for people and for those favors, these people give Scudder gifts.

This film is written for the screen and directed by Scott Frank who also wrote and directed The Lookout.  He is also bringing another classic noir character to the screen soon, Hoke Mosely a character that has appeared in 5 books by Charles Willeford.  This story will be coming to the television screen instead of the big screen, but I still look forward to seeing it when it is released.  Frank has also written many other crime and neo-noir stories for the screen, he seems to have a good sense of taking a classic crime or noir novel and bringing it screen.

Some of the notable supporting cast is David Harbour, who often plays the creepy character, goes above and beyond in this film.  Dan Stevens plays a drug dealer/business type very well.  Stevens come onto my radar after his starring role in “The Guest.”  The Guest is a very fun movie that covers a lot of genres, if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it as well.  Ólafur Darri Ólafsson also plays a pretty creepy role that is a very interesting character.

So the story for this movie is a fellow AA member’s brother needs Scudder’s help.  Scudder meets with him and quickly figures out that he is a drug dealer.  This dealer has had his wife kidnapped and killed, but because he is a drug dealer he can not ask for the police’s help.  He asks Scudder for help and soon Scudder takes on the case.  The story takes off from there.  This is not only a neo-noir film in story, but is very much filmed in a classic noir style as well.  I really enjoyed this story and the visuals of the film. I really hope this is a new franchise for Liam Neeson now that Taken has run its course.  I would really look forward to seeing more movies with him as Scudder.  If you’re a Lawrence Block fan, or a Liam Neeson fan, or just a fan of a hardboiled tone, you will like this film.