Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero
Premiere: March 18th, 2016
Best part: Jon Bernthal.
Worst part: A few too many episodes.
Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.
Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.
Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.
Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.
Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.
Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.
Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Ben Affleck
Release date: February 18th, 2000
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Running time: 120 minutes
2000 crime-drama Boiler Room is one of the most underappreciated and surprising features of the past century. Between its time of release and today, this crime-drama has become an instruction manual for crime, corruption, and excess on screen. There is now an extensive, and somewhat questionable, laundry list of features and TV shows discussing the same topics and banging the same drums. If you are afraid of reality’s slimey infrastructure, look away now! Though broken in parts, Boiler Room is a fearless, imposing monster convinced the strength of power will always outmatch the power of strength.
This game-changing crime-drama focuses on the confusing life of 19-year-old Queens College dropout Seth Davis in 1999. Seth runs an illegal, unlicensed casino in his cheap, rundown residence. Despite his financial success, he continually faces the bitter disappointment of his New York City Federal Judge father, Marty (Ron Rifkin). One day, as his narration describes as a “What if” moment, his cousin Adam (Jamie Kennedy) and his wealthy, charismatic work associate Greg (Nicky Katt) come over to try their luck. Greg’s work pitch to Seth pays off, with the youngster hurriedly joining Greg and Adam at brokerage firm J.T. Marlin. Based off the Long Island Expressway, the firm is the ultimate place for Seth to get rich or, at the very least, die trying.
Boiler Room, directed and written by newcomer (at the time) Ben Younger, is a cool, calm, and charming ode to cinema and society of future past. The narrative, though splintering off into several key traits, sticks alongside Seth throughout tumultuous highs and lows. By all means, Seth is a despicable individual. From the get-go, he would rather keep his illegal casino running rather than shutting it down to prevent his father’s immediate termination. In addition, his treatment of friends and family leaves much to be desired. From his point of view, his brother and mother barely register whilst his friends are reduced to co-workers/employees forced to bow down (figuratively, of course) after each shift.
However, Seth’s rise of prominence at J.T. Martin is handled with care and flair. The second third delivers some of 2000s crime-drama’s most thrilling and light-hearted sequences. Chris Varick (Vin Diesel), taking the phone from Seth mid-trade, sells one customer on the sale of his life. Varick, the wolf amongst sheepish employees, shows off his fanciful, albeit questionable, skills to the tune of thunderous applause. Seth’s story runs through a gauntlet of exposition before the better days kick in. Stock jargon, particularly describing the importance of the Series 7 exam, might fly over most people’s heads. Younger and co. never drown in stockbroker gobbledegook or any movie like Margin Call would offer up. Even the twist – Seth discovering the firm creates fake demand for the sale of speculative penny stocks from expired or fake companies – is a bit of a bummer. The ride is seemingly too fun to leave behind.
Younger’s focus on story and character follows a familiar, albeit lively, beat through its speedy 2-hour run-time. On paper, these protagonists are supervillains sucking people dry. On screen, they are simply overcompensating for a lack of depth for ambition. They are little more than get-rich-quick schmucks. Younger’s film, against all odds given our post-Global Financial Crisis perspective, allows you to care for everyone involved. Seth, entering a relationship with receptionist/Greg’s ex Abbie (Nia Long), puts his new-found confidence to good use. Of course, in true Ribisi fashion, looking and sounding like an easy target will put you directly in the firing line.
The fall – Abbie turning Seth in to protect her sick mother, his father’s involvement, Seth losing one client’s life savings – hits with brutal intensity.Ultimately, Boiler Room‘s final quarter draws multiple surprises out of its otherwise stock-standard characters. Its life-lesson schpiel takes swift turns away from what many crime-dramas would typically accelerate towards. The film, if anything, provides a look at the Ghosts of Hollywood Past, Present, and Future. Ribisi, stuck in conventional villain roles today, showcases his immense tenacity. Diesel, having taken on several meaty roles well before his Fast & Furious/Riddick successes, proves he is more than just a bald head and deep voice. Affleck, shows glimpses of the charismatic professional he is today. Meanwhile, Tom Everett Scott and Scott Caan have since risen and fallen similarly to Boiler Room‘s plot.
Boiler Room, though a small-scale corporate-espionage thriller, paved the way for everything from Knockaround Guys to The Wolf of Wall Street. Stuck between Leo’s Oscar-worthy black comedy and David Mamet’s esteemed creation Glengarry Glen Ross,Younger’s breakout feature, like many of its actors, is filled with potential and chutzpah but fails to connect with the masses.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Release date: October 31st, 2014
Distributors: Open Road Films, Entertainment One, Elevation Pictures, Madman Entertainment
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising turn.
Worst part: The detective sub-plot.
No, Hollywood’s latest attack against Western Civilization – scintillating crime-thriller Nightcrawler – isn’t an X-Men spin-off. Almost certainly, this crime-thriller won’t resonate with average film-goers. In fact, those waiting for said superhero flick may shrug it off. From its casting choices to its viewpoints,the movie rallies against everything comfortable and wholesome. However, in this business-over-artistic-value era, few movies pack the one-two punch of creativity and intelligence.
Several recent movies have dissected capitalism, Western prowess, and modern media. Crime-dramas including Maps to the Stars and Gone Girl tear through the wool over our eyes. Nightcrawlerseeks to uncover the lowest rung of humanity. However, from a production standpoint, it appears unaware of its own hypocrisy. Despite attacking media, culture, and society, Hollywood’s allure still shines through. The cast and crew live financially and culturally rich existences. What would they know about lower-class suffering? So, with such people leading the charge, how does Nightcrawlerget away with it? By being accurate, determined, and so damn entertaining! The premise, though charging into several big questions and themes, revolves around one bizarre man. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed twenty/thirty-something with his eye on the prize. Desperate for cash, he resorts to stealing and trading metal from industrial complexes. Attacking and stealing from innocent people, his disturbing behaviour never pays off. One night, after pulling over to watch TV-news cameramen (nightcrawlers) film a fatal car crash, he concocts a get-rich-quick scheme. Obsessed with money, power, and respect, our unqualified and unstable lead becomes lost inside his uber-calculated conscience.
Arming himself with a cheap camera, a police scanner, and unemployed sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed), Bloom aims for industry success, adrenaline rushes, and recognition. Certainly, Nightcrawler is an ambitious and opinionated crime-thriller. Ambitiously, it strives for the action-thriller and Aaron Sorkin crowds. Tackling major endeavours within a taut 117-minute run-time, certain sequences eek under immense pressure. Rushing towards its resolution, the movie struggles to define its points. Delivering a crash course in 21st-century living, director Dan Gilroy – acclaimed filmmaker Tony Gilroy’s brother – throws everything at us. Obsessed with its snaky lead character, the movie’s ethical and emotional current crafts a punishing and relentless swell. Throughout the first half, this crime-drama seems intent on following Bloom’s rise to success. Examining its slimy go-getter lead, the opening scenes deliver several nasty surprises. Contrasting Bloom’s home and work life, it becomes a unique thesis on the American Dream. Watering his one plant before hitting the web, our near-nocturnal lead pours blood, sweat, and tears into his journey. As the second half rolls through, he transitions into a murderous, selfish psychopath. Post dynamic station manager Nina(Rene Russo)’s introduction, the movie becomes a schizophrenic struggle between right, wrong, and modern civilization. The narrative, examining what Network expounded upon decades earlier, obsesses over delivering harsh truths.
“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” (Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), Nightcrawler).
Gyllenhaal & Riz Ahmed.
Nightcrawler‘s nihilism may repel some viewers. Set in one of America’s most violent cities, its anti-capitalism agenda unfolds spectacularly. Presenting a pro-TMZ/anti-ethics world, the movie worships this seedy underbelly of vile men and lifeless machines. Bewitching those around him, Bloom’s ultra-slick business speak describes everything about him. Like a self-help speech, he communicates in lists, statistics, jargon, and tiresome cliches. His actions, proving pictures speak louder than words or morals, discusses this era of citizen journalism, the cameras-on-everything craze, and matter-over-mind media. Feeding TV stations with graphic images and exclusive/first-on-the-scene accounts, there is nothing he can’t, or won’t, do. Credit belongs to Gyllenhaal’s complete career-180. Following up star-defining vehicles Prisoners and Enemy, his Oscar-worthy turn tests each tick and inflection. Russo, fresh off a long-term screen hiatus, excels as Bloom’s shadowy game’s central victim. Gracefully, Ahmed and Bill Paxton provide chuckles as Bloom’s personality-driven distractions. Gilroy, like our lead character, creates show-stopping, unshakeable thrills. Several set pieces – depicting everything from shootouts to car accidents to home invasions – deliver edge-of-your-seat fragments throughout. The car chase, set up by our icky ‘protagonist’, boosts the scintillating and gruelling last third. Bolstered by Bloom’s Mustang, this sequence distinguishes itself from everything else.
In Nightcrawler, the City of Angels plays host to spiritual, emotional, and psychological demons. As Bloom crawls under our skin, the drama accelerates whenever he’s on-screen. Chronicling a slick rise-and-rise-and-rise story, this pulsating crime-thriller revs with force, meaning, and consistency. Similarly to Collateral and Drive, LA becomes a mix of crime, grime, and slime. Despite the sickening blackness, the grey areas keep the reviews flowing and ratings soaring.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Release date: October 3rd, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 149 minutes
Best part: Fincher’s direction.
Worst part: Minor book-to-film translation issues.
Movies and relationships – despite the major differences between fantasy and reality – share one vital similarity. Oddly enough, these two ‘necessities’ rely on first impressions. A good first impression can make for blissful rewards, while a bad one can turn smiles into frowns. Tinseltown’s latest smash hit crime-thriller/marriage deterrent Gone Girlmakes it mark within its first few moments. In its second scene, one of our two lead characters, standing next to a wheelie bin, looks around the neighbourhood before skulking back into his/her house.
Ben Affleck as struggling journo/murder suspect Nick Dunne.
Analysing this one uneventful moment, Gone Girl‘s audience could piece a million ideas together to create a billion different interpretations. In a year of shlocky actioners and dodgy biopics, the movie pick critics and film-goers up off the ground. We can all rest easy, thanks to this pulsating crime-thriller. We can now look forward to a potentially ingenious Oscar season. Obviously, I fell in love with this movie and might never let go. Thanks to its commendable cast and crew, this is 2014’s best movie. So, what is it about? Well, that is certainly an interesting question. The aforementioned lead is Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a disgruntled writer dangling on the thinnest moral tightrope imaginable. The bin scene delivers only a minuscule look into his existence. Kicking off in the present, the narrative scours through his hit-and-miss past. Early on, we witness a younger, more confident Nick introducing himself to alluring femme fatale Amy (Rosamund Pike). Hitting it off immediately, our cute characters ignite the ultimate topsy-turvy relationship. At first, our lovebirds float through life in each other’s arms. Bolstered by kinky sex and likeable personalities, their coupling seems perfect. However, soon after Nick and Amy’s wedding, life swings the one-two punch of a recession and mass lay-offs. Following Nick’s twin sister Margo(Carrie Coon)’s advice, our leads move from New York to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. On their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find a crime scene. Amy has been kidnapped, and detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gulpin (Patrick Fugit) are on the case.
Rosamund Pike as mousey housewife/victim Amy Elliot Dunne.
From here, I promise to stick to my specific criticisms about the final product. In doing so, I will be avoiding Gone Girl‘s jaw-dropping twists and turns. Based on tabloid journalist turned novelist Gillian Flynn’s best-selling beach-read, the movie elegantly tackles several genre tropes and thrilling ideas. Faithful to said momentous page-turner, Gone Girl hands screenplay duties over to Flynn. Gracefully, Flynn develops a straight-to-the-point translation of her own material. The novel – telling a slinky and cynical story about marriage’s ups, downs, and left turns – tip-toes between plot-points and chapters. This adaptation, though aided by Flynn’s succinct screenplay, is bolstered by mega-successful psychological-thriller filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven). Along with the aforementioned modern classics, Fincher’s no-nonsense direction has delivered such gut-wrenchers as The Game, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. Like his Stieg Larsson adaptation, his take on Flynn’s novel amplifies the emotional resonance and stakes. Examining the text’s denotations and connotations with microscope-like focus, his style aptly suits the narrative. Amy – the missing gorgeous, white woman – sends the world into a tailspin. Meanwhile, Nick, a handsome journalist sulking inside their McMansion, becomes the prime suspect. The first half, setting up its story and character threads, omits the fat and lovingly nurtures its more-important concepts. Thanks to Fincher’s non-linear style, aided by chapter-defining fade-ins/outs, the narrative peels back story-lines with fingernail-like sharpness and intensity. Relishing in Amy’s oppressive diary entries, Fincher and Flynn craft an alarming tale of regret, temptation, monogamy, and gender politics. Adding to the overbearing cynicism, the story even pits Amy against her mother’s notorious literature creation ‘Amazing Amy’. Slithering around one another, these people are despicable, desperate, and just plain fascinating!
“I will practice believing my husband loves me. But I could be wrong.” (Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike), Gone Girl).
Tyler Perry as top-shelf attorney Tanner Bolt.
As a pulpy, trashy, and intriguing mystery-thriller, Gone Girl makes airport novels, Hollywood cinema, and Affleck look so damn irresistible. Affleck, coming off an Oscar win and a major career resurgence, makes the most of this experience. Shedding his polarising persona, the A-lister succumbs to the character. However, credit belongs to Pike for perfecting her indelible role. Delivering multiple turns within one performance, the British character actress deserves the Oscar win. In addition, the stunt casting works wonders. Neil Patrick Harris goes full ‘One Hour Photo‘ in his disturbing role. Tyler Perry delivers a charismatic turn as ego-driven attorney Tanner Bolt. Boosting everyone’s careers, Fincher is the all-seeing, all-knowing God of big-budget filmmaking. Dissecting Nick and Amy’s marriage like a water-logged body, the movie delivers several arresting surprises and hurl-inducing moments. Certain scenes, testing each viewer’s tolerance levels, lodge themselves in the consciousness. Throughout the second half, in which character psyches are repeatedly broken and remoulded, the narrative delves into its own unabashed insanity. In fusing 1940s film noir, 1980/90s Brian de Palma/Paul Verhoeven fare, and modern kidnap-thrillers, this mystery-thriller crafts an unconscionable swagger. As the cameras and Nancy Grace-like newscasters obliterate Nick’s life, Fincher – like with previous efforts – beheads 24-hour news media, police ignorance, and studio-driven dross. In fact, the movie points out its own quirks; calling attention to everything meta, symbolic, and cliched. Matching Flynn’s sarcasm, Fincher’s blackly comedic humour is worth the admission cost. Gone Girl‘s technical precision stands out above almost anything else in 2014. Jeff Cronenweth’s handsome cinematography, highlighting Fincher’s signature style, lends pathos to this gruelling experience. In addition, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score boosts their already impressive oeuvre.
Despite the wheelie-bin scene’s infinite importance, the scene before it sums up Gone Girl‘s insatiable prowess. Nick, looking at the back of his wife’s head, discusses his overwhelming desire to break her skull and learn her many saucy secrets. The following two hours does this with style, gusto, and chills. Thanks to Flynn’s taut screenplay and Fincher’s vigorous direction, this adaptation succeeds where similar efforts fail. Like Fincher’s previous efforts, Gone Girl takes the genre, eviscerates it, reshapes it, and dares others to do better. It’s a worthwhile experience…just don’t watch it with your significant other!
Verdict: A pulpy and confronting mystery-thriller.
Writers: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf (screenplay), Pete Dexter (novel)
Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro
Release date: August 8th, 2014
Distributor: IFC Films
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The arresting performances.
Worst part: The incoherent narrative.
Once upon a time in sunny-side-up Hollywood, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese said: “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard”. Positioned above all the philosophically viable quotes one can muster, these two short sentences achieve true purpose. In fact, Scorsese’s words describe the filmmaking process as a journey of unconscionable measure. So, how does all this relate to kooky crime-drama God’s Pocket?
Phillip Seymour Hoffman & John Turturro in cool-cat roles.
Well, with Scorsese’s influence casting itself over everything, God’s Pocket tries too damn hard to be simple. Betwixt by its own elaborate sheen, the movie aims for succinct but lands just short of pretentious. With too much going on at once, the movie wholly relies on familiarity and grit. In fact, this type of simplicity makes for a confusing and unexacting tale of woe and whimsy. However, despite matching up to Scorsese’s quote, it’s still a halfway descent first effort. The story, such as it is, examines one man and his sketchy practices. An outsider to the titular Philadelphian district, small-time crook Mickey Scarpano (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has found solace in his surroundings. Struggling to maintain his marriage to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), Mickey looks to his mates, gambling, and alcohol for guidance. Floating through day-to-day life, the man runs errands with best mate Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and mob enforcer Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). Sadly, Mickey’s existence is hindered by his abrasive stepson Leon(Caleb Landry Jones)’s industrial accident. Along the way, whilst Mickey is arranging payment plans with funeral director Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), Jeanie calls for an investigation into her son’s death.
Christina Hendricks in post-Mad Men form.
Admittedly, I may’ve been a little harsh on God’s Pocket‘s overt modesty. The narrative’s low-stakes aura is, to a certain extent, refreshing compared to today’s big-budget offerings. Here, Mad Men star John Slattery slips past his TV series’ lavish world to pay homage to 1970s Middle America. Being Slattery’s first feature, his direction far eclipses his screenwriting. Co-written by Alex Metcalf, the screenplay takes to cliches and contrivances the way its characters take to booze and cigarettes. With several story-lines in play, Slattery and Metcalf throw in too many insufficient perspectives. After the dysfunctional family dynamic is introduced and deliberated on, we’re introduced to notorious God’s Pocket columnist Richard Shelburn(Richard Jenkins)’s peculiar lifestyle. Shelburn, an avatar for the novel’s author Pete Dexter, becomes an unnecessary antagonist in this free-wheeling narrative. In following the original material so closely, Slattery and Metcalf pick up and drop certain story-lines without warning. Infatuated with his own creation, Slattery gestates on certain plot-threads without giving them definitive beginnings, middles, or ends. In fact, several plot-lines are left wholly unanswered for. Despite the taut 88 minute run-time, the movie comes off like an underwhelming brawl between Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Ben Affleck’s directorial flourishes.
The working men of God’s Pocket are simple men. They work, marry, and have children. And, until recently, they die like everyone else.” (Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), God’s Pocket).
Richard Jenkins as God’s Pocket’s top columnist.
Despite this hearty love letter’s overwhelming negatives, the final product’s positives reside in its all-around willingness to succeed. With Slattery paying respect to a long-lost era, his head and heart are certainly in the right place. In fact, thanks to emotional resonance and technical savvy, God’s Pocket achieves just enough to earn a low-3-star rating. Accustomed to period pieces, Slattery’s directorial motivations craft a rich, textured version of Middle America. The movie never screams out an exact date or time. If anything, this 70s-set crime-drama allows its audience to pick up certain nuances skidding across each frame. Depicting a horrific place to call home, Slattery’s version of God’s Pocket is defined by earthy colour palettes and specific iconography. Halfway through, you begin to notice the time period in all its glory. With browns, yellows, and greys amplifying certain scenes, Slattery depicts a world in which men are men and women succumb to those around them. Finding the ugliest of ugly folks, his attention to detail and taste for black comedy excel. In addition, Slattery draws dynamic performances from his talented ensemble. In one of his last roles, Hoffman delivers a mesmerising turn as the ultimate average Joe. In addition, Jenkins, Hendricks, and Turturro excel as downtrodden characters begging for justice and respect.
Stepping up to a blank canvas, Slattery makes a valiant first effort out of such broad material. Experimenting with specific stylistic choices, dealing specifically with its gritty veneer, this busting of the proverbial cherry could’ve been a helluva lot worse. However, unlike Mean Streets or Gone Baby Gone, this dissection of Middle America comes almost flatlines at opportune moments. If anything, Slattery would do well to sat back, relax, and reflect on the final few Mad Men episodes remaining.
Verdict: An unfocused love letter to simpler times.
Writers: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice (screenplay & book)
Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda
Release date: June 20th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: The catchy musical numbers.
Worst part: Eastwood’s direction.
Musicals – some people absolutely love them, while others despise them more than death, taxes, and the Republican Party combined. Gen-Y, a group infatuated with bright screens and tight clothes, is a generation with no interest in musical theatre. In fact, most youngsters would take Selena Gomez any day over Jean Valjean. Despite the preceding few sentences’ condescending tone, I must ask the following questions for the sake of objectivity – is this a major issue? Which demographic is the focus of musical theatre? Is anyone to blame the fall of specific genres, trends etc. throughout entertainment history?
Our troupe in action.
With all this in mind, Hollywood has thrown several big-budget musical adaptations at us over the past decade. With everything from Les Miserables, to Moulin Rouge, to Rock of Ages gracing us with their presence, this trend, like any others, has its fair share of spectacular hits and crippling misfires. So, who would be the best person to elevate this genre above its blockbuster-drenched competition? According to…himself, actor/director maestro Clint Eastwood is the man to make this potentially transcendent cultural shift happen. His latest directorial effort – and first musical adaptation – Jersey Boys, despite its charming high points, lands with a deftly sullen thud. Beyond the commendable intentions, this tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons delivers far more false notes than grand crescendos. I’ll stop myself there. Before I delve into my complaints, I’ll describe the topsy-turvy plot. Jersey Boys kicks off with three miscreants struggling keep their heads above water. Stuck in New Jersey, bad-boy Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and his sidekick Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) spend their days scoring gigs and breaking the law. Moving through “revolving door” prisons, these boys are destined to either join the mob or die. However, after timid confidant Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) wows an audience, their aspirations become reality. Along the way, after the group hires ‘Short Shorts’ creator Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), recording contracts and country-wide tours make stars out of our four rapscallions.
Resting on several generations’ love of nostalgia and peace-of-mind slices of entertainment, this Jersey Boys adaptation feels like it’s been released about 5-10 years too late. I don’t mean to illuminate my age or insinuate a hatred of anything even remotely twee. In fact, I recently saw the West End stage production of Jersey Boys in full bloom. The musical – gripping onto its obvious archetypes, fun sense of humour, and lively visuals – sets the right tone for this harmless narrative from the get-go. Inexplicably, Eastwood leaves out everything vibrant and profound about the original material. For his forceful and misguided adaptation, his style drenches this light-hearted tale in a distressing brand of darkness. From the first breaking-the-fourth-wall narration sequence onward, the musical’s iconic tropes clash with the movie’s dour tone and meandering development. Here, the differences between film and theatre production stick out like Valli’s piercing falsetto. This time around, the younger Joe Pesci’s inclusion lacks any sense of verve or sky-high wit. Eastwood, who may be going senile, clings onto the musical’s intended audience whilst neglecting its most valuable conceits. Without stretching the musical’s boundaries, his adaptation takes an inappropriately maudlin approach. At the very least, Eastwood’s comforting themes about the good ol’ days, Americana, empowerment, and masculinity aid this otherwise peculiar adaptation. Regrettably, noticeable in comparing the musical with Eastwood’s efforts, this adaptation clearly isn’t concerned with attracting new followers.
“Oh, by the way, if you’re ever in Vegas, go to a casino. Say the name, “Tommy DeVito”. My hand to God, you’ll be outta there in 12 seconds.” (Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Jersey Boys).
The amazing Christopher Walken.
Like Walk the Line and Ray, this version follows our famous musicians through poverty, success, temptation, and salvation. With his style known for creating ever-lasting time capsules, this version could, and should, have been an epic tale of devastation, regret, and profound accomplishments. With tinges of Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell shining throughout, these filmmakers would’ve brought more enthusiasm and wonder to this note-worthy concept. With muted colour patterns, an acute attention to detail, and lingering camerawork defining Eastwood’s directorial efforts, his visual palette prevents this adaptation from hitting any high notes. Worst of all, our leads are hampered by dodgy old-age make-up in the final scene. Beyond this, the musical numbers are largely neglected in favour of the by-the-numbers-biopic execution. However, used sporadically throughout, certain songs become shining lights in this morbid affair. Paying homage to everything from the Ed Sullivan show to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, performances of ‘Sherry’, ‘Walk Like a Man’, and ‘Who Loves You’ provide context and gravitas for Eastwood’s out-of-touch vision. Graciously, like with every Eastwood production, the performers shine throughout. The four leads excel despite the awkward circumstances. Having played Valli on stage, Lloyd Young excels as this heartbroken celebrity figure. In addition, famed character actor Christopher Walken is a delight as high-end gangster Gyp DeCarlo. Meanwhile, Mike Doyle is enrapturing as the group’s “theatrical” manager Bob Crewe.
Whilst I was watching Jersey Boys, I spent a certain period of time imagining what Eastwood’s day-to-day production schedule must’ve been like: At 8am he starts filming, at 3pm he talks to a chair, and at 4: 30pm he goes to bed. I know this is a cruel way to talk about such a colossal Hollywood legend. However, here, like with Invictus, Hereafter, and J Edgar, he’s taken promising material and tarred it with soppy story-lines, leaden pacing, and a bafflingly dark tone. ‘Walk like a Man’? More like ‘Direct like an Amateur’. Sorry, Clint.
Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson (screenplay), Mara Leveritt (book)
Stars: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan
Release date: May 9th, 2014
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: The enrapturing performances.
Worst part: The laboured pace.
Today, our news-media system delivers more threatening news stories than ingenious ideas. Instead of travelling in the appropriate direction, commercialised new reports unnervingly pump stories into the airwaves. One momentous story shook the world back in 1993, but has taken a couple of decades to come into prominence. The West Memphis Three saga hit Middle America harder than any political dilemma, Fox News controversy, or racial conundrum could ever hope to. This story, thanks to the good ol’ money-hungry Hollywood forces, is now the subject of a star-studded yet bloated docudrama.
Mishandling the invigorating material, Devil’s Knot, based on Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book of the same name, becomes yet another ambitious yet underwhelming biographical account. Given a dodgy release date by the Hollywood cash machine, this crime-thriller has seemingly been forgotten by everyone associated with it. With its starry cast and intriguing director/writer team, this docudrama could, and should, have honoured this devastating true story. Following on from such influential documentaries as the Paradise Lost series and Peter Jackson’s 2011 hit West of Memphis, Devil’s Knot doesn’t even leave a fingerprint on those features. Examining this potent subject matter with ambiguity and verve, the aforementioned documentaries gave us conclusive insights into this topic. Embarrassingly, Canadian stage and screen icon Atom Egoyan (Exotica) tries to push those expository efforts out of the way. Arrogantly, this acclaimed director, thanks to his blinding gaze, delivers a one-sided account of touchy events. His feature starts off with the true story’s horrific facts. The narrative begins with modest married couple Pamela and Terry Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola) stressing over the whereabouts of Pamela’s son, Stevie Branch, and his friends, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Contacting the authorities, the couple watches on in horror as a missing persons report is filed. Finding their bodies several days later, the police, along with private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth), further examine this life-altering tragedy.
As we know, a month later, gothic teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were arrested and charged in connection with this appalling crime. From the opening scene, it becomes painfully clear that Egoyan and screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson are afraid of the material they’ve taken on. The saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sadly, by developing a fictionalised/dramatic account of this event, Egoyan and co. step too far outside their comfort zones. Bringing his unique style to this heartbreaking true story, Egoyan’s effort delivers more stylistic flourishes and brash opinions than groundbreaking touches and invigorating sequences. This TV-movie-like interpretation, by painting in broad strokes, doesn’t tell us anything new about the case. Avoiding neutral touches and invigorating concepts, Devil’s Knot awkwardly jumps from one depthless plot-point to the next. Unsurprisingly, the opening sequences reflect those of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Introducing potent themes and dangerous characters, this crime-thriller delivers an exhaustive amount of red herrings and societal boundaries. Throughout the first third, the camera lingers on a broken town hindered by this destructive event. as rednecks clash with authoritative figures, Egoyan’s account immediately begins pointing fingers and naming names. Forcing one-or-two people’s viewpoints into each frame, this crime-thriller’s narrative rubs critics and filmgoers the wrong way. Looking down upon the deep south’s cultural practices and disturbed communities, caricature-like performances and heavy-handed symbolism ruin this otherwise well-intentioned docudrama.
“The state is gonna kill three men, and I can’t stand by and watch that happen.” (Ron Lax (Colin Firth), Devil’s Knot).
One of many courtroom scenes.
The narrative, moving beyond the monotonous detective-drama plot, sluggishly transitions into a cliche-ridden and laughable courtroom drama. Amicably, this section analyses the police department’s disgusting miscarriages of justice throughout the investigation. However, attempting to turn into a concoction of To Kill and Mocking Bird and Primal Fear, the movie’s ever-pressing conflict tries and fails to develop clear-cut heroes and villains. Bookmarking certain clues and scenes, some factions are depicted as stereotypes and apathetic hindrances. Egoyan and co. may as well have written “Bad Guy” on certain characters’ foreheads. In addition, Egoyan’s unsubtle visual style draws bizarre conclusions throughout the intricate narrative. Telling and showing us certain actions and reactions, the characters’ testimonies become irritating, narration-driven interludes. Sucking the tension out of this discomforting crime-drama, his experimental visuals – adding specific filters, grains, and editing tricks to dreary scenes – drown this feature in inappropriate flourishes, kooky moments, and trite storytelling beats. Further harming Egoyan’s vision, our eclectic performers are mistreated within significant roles. Firth, despite tackling a different type of role, is woefully miscast as the straight-laced investigator and bitter divorcee. Sharing valuable scenes with Mireille Enos, Amy Ryan, and Elias Koteas, Firth struggles to maintain his raspy, hick-drenched accent. Witherspoon, putting on weight for this project, is stranded in a one-note role. Her character, despite being the emotional core, is left to sob heartily throughout a needless subplot. In her defence, she fares better than Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, and Steven Moyer.
Placing its director’s vision and sycophantic viewpoints above the material, Devil’s Knot carries a wavering pace, dour tone, and tiresome genre conventions toward its shallow finale. Preceding cinematic endeavours, analysing the issue and developing vital interpretations, drastically overshadow this insufferable effort. Predictably, this unnecessary and obvious docudrama says nothing new about the West Memphis Three saga. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it just to gain attention.
Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner
Release date: December 13th, 2013
Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, Roadshow Entertainment
Running time: 138 minutes
Best part: The entertaining performances.
Worst part: The alienating plot turns.
In one of American Hustle‘s more pivotal scenes, Christian Bale’s Character Irving Rosenfeld asks Bradley Cooper’s character Richie DiMaso the movie’s most important question: “Who’s the master? The Painter? Or the forger?”. Despite being the trailer’s most valuable moment, the query still efficiently sums up this crime-drama’s raw edginess.American Hustle, safely landing into Academy-Award-contention territory, is one of 2013’s most puzzling yet entertaining movies. Its top-flight cast, enigmatic plot, and dizzying set pieces deliver multiple rewards.
Christian Bale & Bradley Cooper.
Despite presenting itself as a “For Your Consideration…” Oscar trap, American Hustle is an honest and adept crime-drama. Today, we rarely become witness to such ground-breaking yet kinetic movies. Despite facing stiff competition in this year’s Oscar race, American Hustle wouldn’t care if it won, lost, or drew. Acclaimed director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) is obviously his own man. Given his fiery on-set temper and inspiring talent, O. Russell achieves the near impossible – delivering a stylish, convoluted, and enlightening crime drama free from pretentiousness and overblown moments. Despite my glowing recommendation of American Hustle, I understand the movie’s already-discomforting-yet-minor backlash. It’s certainly not for everyone. At least, I can try to win people over by describing the movie’s terrific yet dicey plot. Rosenfeld (Bale) is a despicable businessman running several companies within New Jersey. With his dry-cleaning and glass-installation businesses in tip-top condition, he becomes a slimy yet clever small-town hero. However, Rosenfeld’s world is rocked by seductive beauty Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). With Prosser becoming Rosenfeld’s mistress/business partner, their greatest plans kick into gear. Embezzling large funds from gullible investors, the terrible twosome expand their vast riches. Thanks to Prosser’s alter ego ‘Lady Edith Greensly’, their schemes and romance blossom into something dreadfully beautiful (or beautifully dreadful, it’s difficult to tell). However, Rosenfeld is bewitched by his bi-polar wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adrenaline-and-cocaine-fuelled FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper). Forced into the FBI’s clutches, Rosenfeld, Prosser, and DiMaso forcefully work together to take down corrupt yet well-meaning Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).
From there, allegiances, plans, and ideologies are warped, tortured, and eviscerated. It may seem diabolical, but the dramatic beats liven up this talky crime-drama. Depicting the late-70s’ ABSCAM scandal, American Hustle delves into the true story’s intricate webbing and most enigmatic elements. With its opening title card saying: “Some of this actually happened”, the movie pokes fun at Hollywood’s stranglehold over inspirational yet unbelievable true stories. After biting into ABSCAM’s saucy yet dangerous secrets, the movie sporadically delves into its own fantastical and larger-than-life adventure. I’ll admit, the convoluted plot-strands and alienating exposition become this cognitive structure’s most problematic elements. However, these inane moments hurriedly brush past the audience. Its most memorable moments are worth the admission cost. Here, ABSCAM’s most confusing aspects are insignificant titbits stuck in an increasingly formidable conflict. Before and after the scandal is brought up then brushed aside, the characters take control of the movie’s electrifying and alarming narrative. Within the first ten minutes, American Hustle takes us on a discomforting, sexually appealing, and comedic journey. Thanks to Rosenfeld and Prosser’s shared narration, these characters introduce and describe themselves. O. Russell, continually choosing controversy over convention, makes several brave choices within the first act. Beyond the schizophrenic narration, the narrative jumps from one influence to another. Despite the movie’s overt self-indulgence, O. Russell displays a glowing affection for such influential crime-drama directors as Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Sidney Lumet. The tonal shifts, ever-changing perspectives, and debilitating plot-turns are derived from Goodfellas and Casino. In fact, like those pulsating movies, American Hustle graciously explores the criminal mind’s most fascinating intricacies.
Despite the engaging narrative, the plot occasionally gets away from O. Russell and co-writer Eric Singer. Highlighting the true story’s most baffling parts, the movie locks onto its comical and distasteful characters. Despite this, the movie’s sickening comedic touches quickly launch into overdrive. With the wild characters embracing this pressing situation’s absurdity, the biting and ironic humour comes thick and fast. Stuck between rocks and hard places, these dim-witted heroes and villains bumble, wine, and cuss through every dangerous conflict. With lives and reputations at risk, insults fly across each swanky setting. In particular, Rosalyn’s nasty insults and abrasive attitude hit with gut-punch-like effect. Credit, obviously, belongs to O. Russell for the movie’s pitch-black humour and cynical outlook. Despite the punchy tone and zippy pacing, O. Russell’s work hurriedly descends into darkness and chaos. With his filmography covering the gulf war, mental illness, and fallen sporting heroes, his misanthropic perspective casts a detailed shadow over each unique project. American Hustle, his most violent and zany effort yet, illuminates similarities between 70s, post-Vietnam USA and post-economic-crisis Earth. O. Russell, giving fraudulent miscreants second chances whist looking down upon important government agencies, develops several truthful yet misguided opinions. Like Catch Me if You Can and The Informant, American Hustle‘s criminal/lawman conflict supports the anti-hero and flips-off the villainous yet untouchable government fat-cats. At least, O. Russell’s work says what we are all thinking. Beyond that, O. Russell bravely pokes fun at the American Dream. Deliberating on race, gender, and class, the movie makes middle class, suburban living seem like a torturous adventure. Setting household appliances, inventive schemes, and aspirations alight, American Hustle is not for the faint-hearted or ignorant.
“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, *but* you had to survive?” (Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), American Hustle).
Thankfully, for less-opinionated viewers, the visuals develop a kinetic and entertaining sensory experience. Sporting elaborate costumes, hair-dos, and personalities, each character sustains exterior and interior quirks. With these characters’ schemes as outlandish as their skin-flashing outfits, the costume design lends American Hustle a pulsating and tangible sheen. In addition, each character – whether they be rich, poor, innocent or slimy – balances stupefying hair-dos atop their attractive facades. DiMaso’s perm, Rosalyn’s beehive, and Polito’s road-kill-like hairstyle are enlightening distractions. Opening with Rosenfeld pasting a bizarre toupee atop his bulbous scalp, American Hustle‘s characters are defined by styles and substance. The mis-en-scene, plastering ugly colours, swanky interior designs, and elaborate patterns across every frame, lends verisimilitude to this otherwise sketchy and kooky narrative. O. Russell, infatuated by overt 70s icons, pumps up the catchy soundtrack at opportune moments. Wings, Steely Dan, The Bee Gees, and Elton John elevate certain tension-inducing sequences. However, credit belongs to the A-list actors draped across every sizzling frame. Their determination and courageousness, tested by O. Russell’s punishing direction, pushes them through each discomforting scene. Like O. Russell’s previous efforts, the shouting matches develop each puzzle piece and flawed character. Swiftly increasing each interior setting’s temperature, the pithy dialogue and loud voices reveal each character’s ugliest qualities. Bale, carrying a belly and comb-over, transforms into a seedy, depraved, and quick-witted figure. Cooper steals his scenes as the incessant and manic agent. Adams, falling boob-first into every scene, is revelatory as the slinky yet tough mistress. Renner and Lawrence provide big laughs and immaculate performances. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Alessandro Nivola, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena contribute commendably.
With his energetic direction, elegant screenplay, and Fighter and Silver LiningsPlaybook alumni, O. Russell has pulled off a stunning hat-trick. Despite minor quarrels, American Hustle peels back several purposeful layers over its 2+ hour run-time. Unlike American Gangster, American Psycho, and American Pie, this crime-drama discovers that particular word’s immense ironic twang.
Verdict: A funny, scintillating, and engaging crime-drama.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke
Release date: July 19th, 2013
Distributors: RADiUS-TWC, Lionsgate, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films
Countries: Denmark, Thailand, France, USA
Running time: 90 minutes
Best part: Kristin Scott Thomas.
Worst part: The wafer-thin story.
You can always tell the quality of a movie by the reaction it receives at the Cannes Film Festival. Treated to simultaneous cheers and boos during its world premiere, Only God Forgives is one of many movies to be treated to the festival-related wave of critics and film aficionados alike. Having seen the mixed to negative reviews since then, and now the movie, I can only summate that the aforementioned polarised crowd was simply trying to warn everyone. The movie reaches for success, but can’t overcome its own overblown hubris.
Only God Forgives is, undoubtedly, the most ambitious yet discomforting movie I’ve seen so far this year (though that’s not saying much). A mix of different styles and messages ties this movie into a knot that can’t be undone. Set in Bangkok, the story, such as it is, follows Julian (Ryan Gosling). His business, a massive drug smuggling operation hidden by a Muay Thai boxing club, is about to take a serious blow (no pun intended). Julian’s brother and business partner Billy (Tom Burke) goes out one night, and ends up raping and killing a 16 year old prostitute. Billy’s death, at the hands of the prostitute’s father and Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), is about to make Julian’s life a living hell. Julian and Billy’s abrasive mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) travels to Bangkok to seek vengeance for her eldest son’s death. Believing Julian to be unworthy of avenging Billy’s death, Crystal sends goons after everyone who may be involved in this horrific crime. Julian and his prostitute-girlfriend Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) will soon be tested by Bangkok’s seedy underbelly.
Kristin Scott Thomas.
Fittingly, Julian, Crystal, and Lt. Chang, from Billy’s murder onward, go on an explorative journey of heartache, lust, redemption, and philosophical awakenings. At least that’s what I deciphered from this solemn and relentlessly pulsating crime thriller. Suffering a serious bout of pretentiousness, Only God Forgives lumbers around like a wounded beast. Its ‘style over substance’ execution is unfortunate given the cast and writer/director at the helm of the movie’s intriguing premise. Nicolas Winding Refn (Primer, Bronson) is, normally, a focused and affirming crime-drama filmmaker. His hyper-violence-based style has, over time, transformed some of his critically-praised dramas into modern cult classics. This follow-up to Refn’s surprise hit Drive, unfortunately, lacks the convincing character-based drama and thematic depth of the aforementioned 2011 movie. Only God Forgives is a skin-deep look at the depraved nature of man and the violent sides of two opposing cultures. These aspects are appealing and potent when they are brought up, rather obviously, throughout the narrative. However, Refn looks too deeply in places he shouldn’t. In too many scenes, we are treated to the characters thinking and talking about doing something instead of actually doing it. Refn’s plodding direction, featuring many unending shots of blank-faced characters looking off into the distance, makes his 90-minute ode to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Asian crime-action cinema feel like an eternity.
Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm.
I thoroughly enjoyed 49% of this oppressive drama-thriller, but found the other 51% insultingly abhorrent. This surreal movie may be an experiment, but it proves that a commendable final product is far more interesting than watching someone meticulously undertaking an analysis. It’s difficult to put my finger on this movie’s biggest flaw, because it feels like a half-completed production. It seemed like there was a lot more Refn could and should of expressed, but was restrained by everything around him. Here, his ambitiousness and self-indulgence have helped churn out a sprawling mass of visually stimulating flourishes and influences. This strange concoction of The Killer and Blue Velvet contains many familiar intricacies placed together in an intriguing way. This slow, shallow visual feast is also a thorough examination of film noir and foreign cinema’s importance. Despite the surface-level writing and direction, Only God Forgives is strengthened by its hyper-kinetic visual style. Refn’s pulpy, visceral, and slick visuals bolster the movie’s discussion of masculinity, honour, and family ties. For those who love gore, sweat, and the colour red, Only God Forgives is the movie for you! Despite the repetitiveness of each vital scene, Larry Smith’s cinematography is simply breathtaking. The hallway shots, for example, emphasise Refn’s eye for intricate imagery/settings. The lack of dialogue and intelligence may grate on many people’s nerves. However, having the over-cooked dialogue drowned out by Cliff Martinez’ thundering score is a major positive.
“You can’t see what is good for you. So it’s better you don’t see.” (Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Only God Forgives).
“Want to fight?”
This hyper-violent and lurid mishmash of Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese’s directorial ticks is, thankfully, aided by the dynamic cast. Here, Gosling continues his run of stoic and scummy anti-heroes after Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. Known for his enviable physique and bug-eyed performances, Gosling is a naturally charismatic screen presence. Unfortunately, his character’s quiet reserve and expressionless veneer become increasingly frustrating. Unlike Gosling’s damaged character from Drive, Julian has little reason to be this submissive, peculiar, and antisocial. Unfortunately, Gosling’s Steve McQueen-esque nature has become a trait he should stray from to achieve a greater level of acclaim. Thomas is scarily affecting as Julian and Billy’s greasy, white trash mother. Transforming herself, Thomas brings vitality and dimension to this otherwise irritating figure. Watching Julian and Mai intently, Crystal is a foul-mouthed and incestuous force of nature. Constantly reminding Julian of how Billy was the ‘bigger’ man of the two, her harsh personality and cougar-like behaviour push everyone around her to breaking point. Thai actor Pansringarm delivers an awe-inspiring performance as the vile yet well-meaning Chang. As a fan of karaoke and severing limbs (for some reason), Chang’s enrapturing characteristics define him as the ‘Angel of Vengeance’.
With the sex appeal of a dirty Thai hooker and subtlety of a Heineken commercial, Only God Forgives has none of the smoothness, scintillating story/character aspects, or emotional impact of similar Refn-directed crime-thrillers. This movie, about mothers, brothers, gods, and monsters, has some haunting and perplexingly beautiful images and concepts. However, to paraphrase every motherly figure in existence: if you have nothing interesting or original to say, say nothing at all.
Verdict: A confused, frustrating yet gorgeous crime-thriller.
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan
Release date: March 29th, 2013
Distributor: Focus Features
Running time: 140 minutes
Best part: The Oscar-calibre performances.
Worst part: The final third.
A man’s greatest influence, and fear, should be his father. Many brilliant movies have bared their characters’ souls to convey this theme (the Godfather trilogy). In The Place Beyond the Pines, this moral is valuable to every character skulking through its grungy settings. The film is a touching and brutal look at how ideologies, passed down from father to son, can still be affected by everything and everyone around us.
This movie is unlike any other coming out in the next couple of months. It requires a significant amount of attention and thought. The film is a sprawling mix of three profound stories – looking at the cops and criminals of Middle America. The first tale is one of regret and alienation. Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a travelling carnival, finds out that his womanising ways have paid a price. His old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), to Glanton’s shock, has been looking after a child they conceived a year beforehand. Glanton quits the carnival to look after their child. Unable to find a job, he and Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) rob banks to provide for everyone involved. In the next story, heroic cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is struggling to cope with both his newfound notoriety and the force. Pressured by both shady cops, such as Deluca (Ray Liotta), and his wife Jennifer (Rose Byrne), Cross begins to manipulate people to elevate his reputation and rank. The third story is based on the consequences of Glanton and Cross’ actions. With Cross running for Attorney General, his troublesome son AJ (Emory Cohen) is doing him no favours. AJ’s friendship with similarly disturbed teen Jason (Dane DeHaan) could yield major problems.
Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) is a talented independent film-maker. The Place Beyond the Pines is essentially three indie-dramas in one. The subject matter and tone are polarising aspects of this heartening crime-thriller. Throughout its exhaustive run-time, there are a plethora of emotions and decisions affecting each character. The story is divided in an intricate yet disjointed way. These stories divide the movie much like a play; containing their own messages and sub-plots which affect the course of nature. The power of masculinity is conveyed in light of the film’s many shocking developments. For example, the first third separates the men from the boys (figuratively and literally). However, I couldn’t detect a significant idea relevant to all three stories. Each third says something completely different to the others. By placing the most enthralling story in the first third, the following two seem uncomfortable and anti-climactic. It’s rare to see a film with such originality and yet so many noticeable influences. Glanton’s rotten journey contains shades of East of Eden and The Town. The second third contains elements of crime-thrillers like Copland and L.A. Confidential. While the final third is a disturbed concoction of Boyz n the Hood and Stand By Me. However, Cianfrance removes any trace of ‘Hollywood’ so as not to stick too close to those referential movies. Cianfrance’s style lifts what could’ve been a tired and convoluted drama. In fact, Cianfrance proves he can handle intense crime material similarly to James Mangold and Ben Affleck. The first act weaves itself seamlessly into the second. This is done via an eclectic motor-bike/car chase through the tired streets of Scynecdoche, New York. One unbroken, shaky-cam sequence provides a 90 second thrill-ride that tests the nerves of both the characters and audience.
“If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.” (Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), The Place Beyond the Pines).
Cianfrance brings an earthy aesthetic to this already grim spectacle. From the opening scene, the camera never stays still – capturing the inherent poignancy of this narrative. The opening is a seemingly unending shot of Glanton’s broad shoulders (Gosling certainly has an enviable physique). The shot illuminates his debilitating situation and existential angst. The editing has a poetic beauty that immerses you in these vastly different stories. While the soundtrack, by alternative singer-songwriter Mike Patton, lends the film a nuanced and affecting twang. However, Cianfrance’s style doesn’t specifically reside in the film’s aesthetic quality. He pulls back far enough to let the nuanced performances do the talking. Cianfrance significantly develops every important character. The top cop vs. greasy criminal conflict is presented as a gruelling fight for survival. Cianfrance puts a different spin on character types seen in movies like American Gangster and Mystic River. Despite the overt type-casting, the moody and breathtaking performances stand out. Gosling and Cooper strip away their ‘pretty-boy’ personas to deliver disgustingly affecting turns. Gosling brings brevity to his ‘loveable criminal’ role. Despite his many distracting tattoos, Glanton’s calm and creepy personality is mesmerising and strangely potent. Cooper proves that he is one of the best actors working today. His character’s journey is both frustrating and entertaining – allowing him to see the forest through the trees. Cross’ questionable methods convey a character who will stop at nothing to reap the rewards he was promised. Liotta, Byrne, Mendes, and Mendelsohn deliver the crackling dialogue in ways that lend dimension to their archetypal roles. Bruce Greenwood also delivers an engaging performance as the irritable police commissioner. Cohen, on the other hand, delivers an unconvincing Tom Hardy impression.
The Place Beyond the Pines is about the obvious and subtle differences between Gen-X and Gen-Y. The movie delivers a heartening and profound statement about how our actions in the past, present, and future may intertwine. With this tense and well-performed crime-thriller, Cianfrance proves he is one of the best indie-drama directors working today.
Verdict: A moody, scintillating, and visceral crime/drama-thriller.
Writer: Andrew Dominik (screenplay), George V. Higgins (novel)
Stars: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta
Release date: November 30th, 2012
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Brad Pitt’s phenomenal take on the assassin character.
Worst part: The occasionally inexplicable gangster discourse.
This year, both Lawless and Killing Them Softly contained Australian directors tackling gritty crime stories. Whereas Lawless presents a fun yet violent view of prohibition-era gangster culture, Killing Them Softly steps significantly away from this style to contemplate the relevance of gangster culture in the 21st century. The result is a witty and tension filled crime drama, as Killing Them Softly subverts the cliché assassin character lifestyle and puts a fresh spin on the gangster’s economic and political status in our current financial climate.
Brad Pitt & Richard Jenkins.
This brutal yet enjoyably rambunctious thriller is based in the economic decay of the year 2008. The presidential race is won by Barrack Obama and the country is left in tatters by George W. Bush’s unfortunate time in office. Goofy mobster Frankie (Scoot McNairy) is released from prison and is desperate for one last job. After meeting up with his obnoxious partner in crime and dog thief Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), they hold up a high stakes mobster protected poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). Threatening the mob structure of New Orleans, the robbery is investigated by professional assassin Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt). Before tracking down both criminals, Cogan hires broken down hitman New York Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help him track down everyone involved before the money disappears.
Ben Mendelsohn & Scott McNairy.
Based on the crime novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) creates a crime thriller with similar elements of his first two features. The film is a subtle and contemplative look at the gangster life in America from Dominik’s foreign outsider perspective. The gangster version of the American dream is succinctly compared to the current economic structure of the United States. The criminal and first world perspectives of several characters are found to have many similarities, conveying a dour world in which the greedy, violent and rich succeed over everyone else. Despite the overbearing use of TV and radio to communicate the presidential debates, the memorable speeches of both presidents act as narration for several moments of pain for these suffering characters. This discussion of America’s post-economic depression is also relevant in the wake of 2012’s presidential elections, subtly commenting on the Obama government’s effect on the world over the last few years. At a swift 97 minutes, Dominik directs with the quick wit and flair of crime genre masters Guy Richie and Quentin Tarantino. The extended dialogue sequences give each character their own interpretation of their current predicament in this crumbling infrastructure. Each criminal is affected by the first world. Whether escaping the hold of prison, marriage, capitalism, drugs or money. It’s a lower-class hatred of the middle and higher class, subverting the thrills gained by several cheeky anti hero characters in modern crime capers.
“They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ’em softly. From a distance.” (Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), Killing Them Softly).
Tightly edited, expletive filled and snappily worded, the dialogue sequences extend into nail-biting tension, with the audience concerned for the fate of each character. This is truly a man’s world; with no female characters in sight besides a vicious hooker. The male led democracy we live in is torn down by the strong characters here, with death falling upon the weakest of gangsters. The performances create several strange and thrilling characters in this intertwining narrative of resentful and violent sociopaths. Complaining about the bureaucracy of his own department, Richard Jenkin’s accountant is a likeable and sorry soul, forcing his status as the messenger upon Pitt’s assassin. Gandolfini subverts his leader and family man status from hit HBO series The Sopranos with his broke, drunken and divorced hit-man, while Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) portrays a down on his luck dealer with a balance of charm and desperation. Pitt’s second collaboration with Dominik has created a significantly different take on the witty yet resentful assassin character, portrayed recently by Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper. Pitt’s Jackie craves his profession, choosing to shut out emotion for the sake of his well manufactured craft. Taking out his targets from an affecting distance to avoid their emotional response, every blood splatter and slo-mo sequence surrounding him depicts the well thought out structure of each assassination. His black clothing, slick hair and well-trimmed goatee create an enviable presentation of the smooth yet vicious Cogan.
Thanks to Dominik’s assured writing and direction, Killing Them Softly balances everything with style and class. Gripping onto genre tropes, a political commentary, and wacky characters, the movie avoids regular flaws by sticking it it’s, ahem, guns.
Verdict: The most gripping and delectable crime flick since The Departed.
Writer: Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (book)
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman
Release date: August 29th, 2012
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment
Running time: 115 minutes
Best part: Guy Pearce’s creepy turn.
Worst part: The unbalanced narrative.
The prohibition era gangster film has always been a popular movement in modern cinema. Despite their period piece settings, films such as Miller’s Crossing, Public Enemies and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (comedic example) have brought the genre into the contemporary filmmaking era with dashes of wit and violence. The latest presentation of 1930’s gangster life, Lawless, is a gritty, authentic yet confused retrospective of the infamous Bondurant brothers. Continuing the current trend of prohibition-era crime drama, born from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Lawless is a pulpy, visceral yet profound lesson in gangster lore.
Shia LaBeouf & Mia Wasikowska.
The Bondurant brothers were supposedly immortal moonshine makers and runners, situated in the hills outside of a crime-ridden Chicago. With Al Capone and other dangerous men ruling the city, the Bondurants were in charge if the regional distribution of illegal alcoholic substances. Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard Bondurant (Jason Clark) are two of the most notoriously violent citizens of a broken United States. The youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) wants to be just like them, trying anything to prove his worth to his older siblings. Their control of the countryside is interrupted however by the introduction of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), determined to destroy every drop from their distillery. Along with an alluring new bartender (Jessica Chastain), the brothers fight to keep their reputations alive and the dirty cops at bay.
The film successfully combines old and new Hollywood-style crime genre conventions. The strong, straight edged characters are brought to life with every gun shot, punch and stab, containing a loud ring to effectively depict every brutal act in this vile conflict. The third film by Australian director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) is a dirty and hauntingly authentic look at so-called true events. The story of the Bondurant brothers is presented from Jack’s point of view. Unfortunately, this narrow presentation of gangster life and family bonds in the southern districts of America only focuses on the exploits behind Jack’s one dimensional goals. His eagerness to join the running and distilling business leaves little development for the other, more intriguing characters in this meaty story. Despite his character’s naive and occasionally banal nature, LaBeouf puts in a revelatory performance that could hopefully lift his controversial career. The other characters in this enthralling saga are performed convincingly despite the lack of development. Tom Hardy, continuing his promising year after breathtaking performances in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dark Knight Rises, creates a loyal yet remorseless interpretation of the gangster who lives on his own terms. Despite his nearly inaudible southern drawl, Hardy’s physical presence and piercing stare creates a fierce leader with a slight vulnerable side. Also enrapturing in their small roles are the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s love interest Bertha and Gary Oldman as influential outlaw Floyd Banner.
“It is not the violence that sets men apart, alright, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.” (Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), Lawless).
This adaptation of the novel The Wettest County in the World by descendant Matt Bondurant succeeds in creating a darkly rich re-creation of 30’s America. Influenced by prolific crime directors such as the Coen Brothers, Brian De Palma and Michael Mann, Hillcoat efficiently emphasises the earthy and unflattering tones of every bar, dirt road and blood stained room in this era of temptation and cruel violence. Silhouettes and low lighting also effectively capture the depths these characters have fallen into, while the authentic Virginian setting depicts a southern community quickly falling to the evolving landscape of a changing century. The film continues Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave’s flair for punishingly affecting violence and torture sequences. Matching the whipping scenes of Australian western The Proposition and cannibalism in The Road, Lawless lives up to its name and the characters live up to their frightening reputations. Blood splatters all over the walls, gun fights and punch ups are handled with a shocking level of detail, creating many uncomfortable and even blackly comedic moments. Much of the violence and wit is convincingly handled through a passionate performance by Australian actor Guy Pearce. Rakes lashes out at the Bondurant Brothers with a strong distaste for their freedoms and practises. Creating one of the most disgusting yet pampered characters since Alex in A Clockwork Orange, his relentless nature, snarly accent and unique mannerisms create a truly threatening interpretation of the dirty detective character.
Bolstered by Boardwalk Empire’s immense success, Lawless is the latest effort to hop on the cinematic anti-hero wave. Thanks to Cave’s prose and Hillcoat’s style, this gangster flick sucks the stills dry and never lets up!
Verdict: An unfocused yet engaging gangster flick.