Has the all-too-soon hiatus of HBO’s “True Detective” left you with a hole in your heart? Not literally, we hope. Does the Kickstarted big-screen return of Kristen Bell’s quirky amateur sleuth “Veronica Mars” get you all tingly inside? Keep it to yourself, you might want to get that looked at.
From “Sherlock” to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it’s a great time in the TV/film world for tales of crime and those who intrepidly detect them. But the crime thriller has always been a rich genre for filmmakers to mine, and there’s been plenty of hidden gems as a result. This week on For Your Consideration, we consider three offbeat options to get your forensic fix.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin
Available on iTunes and Amazon
A young woman lies face down in a sewer. Her hair floats lightly in the water, her shoes remain motionless on her feet, and she is identifiable to us only by the strange, blue bracelet she wears. But to the young man staring at her intently from a distance, she is anything but unknown.
So begins “Brick,” a noir set in a southern California high school that pays homage to and reinvents the best of the classic genre. In his quest to discover who killed his ex-girlfriend, Brendan (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), sullen, silent and smart, encounters violent men—drug lords and thugs—but also dim-witted quarterbacks and vice principals threatening suspension. This ability to balance the dangerous underworld of heroin and the comedy of its high school setting gives “Brick” a freshness despite its adherence to an older genre.
Director Rian Johnson has gone on to make the big budget hit “Looper”, also starring Gordon-Levitt, but “Brick” was his first film, shot at his high school, edited on a home computer, and scored by his cousin, lending it a grimy authenticity perfect for the noir ethos. With its pulsating plot, superb acting, and wonderfully winding dialogue, “Brick” makes you afraid to even blink for fear of missing something.
“Memories of Murder” (2003)
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung
Available on disc from Netflix
Lord knows if we’ll ever get to see Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer,” with or without the edits of Harvey Scissorhands – but we can always take pleasure in the Korean director’s previous three genre masterpieces: “Mother” (2009), “The Host” (2006) and this, the best David Fincher movie that David Fincher never made. Based on the true case of Korea’s first (publicized) serial killer, the film follows a standard set-up, as a bumbling small-town cop is paired with a by-the-book detective from Seoul to hunt down the perpetrator of a disturbing series of rape/murders.
Bong hits all the requisite plot beats, but his unique sense of black humor and expert craft keeps “Memories of Murder” fresh and thrilling. There’s any number of stand-out set-pieces, from a superbly choreographed tracking shot early in the film that emphasizes how woefully unprepared the local police are for such a malevolent force, to a bone-chilling stalking scene that makes me thank god I don’t live anywhere near a paddy. The heart of the film, though, belongs to Song, a phenomenal actor whose comic physicality belies his rich emotional range. His transition, as he realizes he is threatened not by his partner’s modern forensic methods, but a nebulous, elusive evil, is engrossing and alarming.
“The Great Mouse Detective” (1986)
Cast: voices of Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Candy Candido, Basil Rathbone
Available on Netflix instant streaming
One of the most forgotten Disney movies, this version of the Sherlock Holmes story remains clever, frightening, and exhilarating almost 20 years on. Set in Victorian London, a young mouse-girl seeks the help of the famous Basil of Baker after her father, a toymaker, is kidnapped by a terrifying, peg-legged bat. Needless to say, the game is afoot! Basil soon discovers that his arch-nemesis, Professor Ratigan (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) is behind the kidnapping, and the chase goes on from there. From an eerie scene in a toyshop to an epic finale involving a giant cat, an axe, a blimp, and the insides of the Tower of London, this is one of Disney’s genuinely frightening movies. Price gives Ratigan real physicality and a suave, charming air that makes his villainy all the more chilling, while Basil of Baker Street is every bit as lovably pretentious and heroically flawed as his human counterpart.
Some Disney movies we watch for nostalgia, others we watch for the animation. This one we watch because it’s a genuinely good film, based off a pre-existing tale but filled with more originality, wit, and adventure than most of Disney’s other endeavors. This is one Disney movie you’ll never outgrow.