Triple 9 Audio Review: Bad Cop/Worse Cop


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Matt Cook

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul

triple9postersmall


Release date: March 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Review:

Drive Book Review: Noir Navigator


Author: James Sallis

Publishers: Mariner Books, Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press

Genres: Noir, Crime-thriller

9781842437247


Release date: 2005

Country: USA


3½/5

The connection between entertainment and reality has never been stronger. However, as our sponge-like brains absorb increasingly more movies, TV shows, songs, books, comics etc., our perception of reality has grown to resemble a multi-coloured, indecipherable blur. For example, anything featuring fast cars will push backward-cap-donning revv-heads to stain cinema car parks with tire tread and lost brain cells. Every so often, however, a creation will walk the line between intelligence and entertainment as coolly as a Buddhist tight-rope walker. Drive, written by author/poet/critic/musician/musicologist James Sallis, is one such attempt with something for book, TV, and film buffs alike.

His first critically and commercially effective novel provides pitch-perfect doses of explosive thrills and philosophical touches. This noir actioner, garnering a sequel, Driven, in 2012, is the greatest example of fusing Zen-like peacefulness and subtlety with Hollywood’s ADHD-like necessity for thrills, chills, and spectacle. drive-bvfThe story is simple enough, following a man so mysterious and collected he never gives out his real name. Our lead, known as ‘Driver’ to the reader, leads a lonely, one-note existence. His day jobs include race-car driver and car-crash-savvy stuntman. However, his night-time activities lean on the wrong side of the law. To the underground universe of Los Angeles, Driver is the getaway driver worth tracking down.

Sallis’ best-selling beach-read revels in the ghouls and demons languishing in the City of Angels. From the opening page, the narrative, characters, and details stick like grit underneath fingernails. The story follows a collection of missions Driver carries out, testing his will, guile, and patience. Each chapter is separated into dark, atmospheric, and pulsating short stories. Shifting between lonely nights – in his filthy one-room apartment and daring assignments, Driver is a likeable but ambiguous audience avatar. With only a handful of character traits (“I drive. That’s what I do. All I do.”) Sallis paints his anti-hero’s existence with healthy splashes of blood-curdling restraint.

Despite horrific subject matter, Sallis short-but-sweet style is easy to digest over a couple of hours. Known for Lew Griffin and John Turner series, the acclaimed writer perfects his crime-thriller style within Drive‘s subdued, succinct narrative. Driver is an overwhelming noir lead character. Fuelled by blood-baths and carjackings, the balance between chaos and remorse is difficult to repel. The narration, treating several moments of hardcore violence with control, is wholly focused on character over kills. Drive’s conflict, between nice guy and revenge-fuelled toughie, provides a hearty, rich concoction of noir, action-thriller, and character study.

Unlike the film, in which Driver’s decisions are influenced by his neighbour, Irene, and her child after her husband/his dad’s death, the book treats remorseless as the all-encompassing form of justice. Right and wrong become blurred, fitting into the mid-2000s anti-hero trend disgusted by the American Dream. Subverting and building upon noir and airport-read conventions, the focus on alienation, displacement, and mean-spiritedness is not for everyone. At a pacy, refreshing 187 pages, Sallis’ story is a Tin Man figure – lacking heart, but determined and spirited throughout the adventure.

Verdict: A gritty but simplistic Airport yarn.

Gone Girl Book Review: Partners in Crime


Author: Gillian Flynn

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Genre: Noir, Thriller

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)


Release: 2012

Country: USA


 

 

4½/5

Contemporary entertainment is peppered with tales of scorned femme fatales, slimy masculine figures, and doomed marriages. The effect of postmodernism in 20th Century literature and cinema saw artists question the constructs we had become accustomed to. Some of the biggest films, TV shows, books, and visual art works tore apart political, economic, social and cultural convention with cheek-wide glee. Gone Girl has, arguably, carried the postmodernist torch throughout the past few years. Flynn, a former Entertainment Weekly journalist turned author, has a real soft spot for tearing everything down around her. It is true – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. However, we cannot, as much as we would like to, blame everything on tabloid media’s virus-like effect on pop-culture and ideology. So, why is Gone Girl the much-talked-about book of the past decade.

Flynn’s second book, a New York Times Best Seller about 16x over, jumps from one gender to the other in rapid succession, giving the audience at least two fully rounded narrators. The unreliable narrator trope is beaten like drum throughout this arresting page-turner. We have Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot-Dunne, a married couple wiling away in a Missourian ‘McMansion’ whilst Nick’s mom dies of breast cancer. Nick, having grown up in this fly-over territory, has gotten used to the tranquility of modern suburbia. He, now a creative writing teacher at the local university, is even fine with the nosy neighbours and homeless communities surrounding them. Amy, having grown up in New York City’s upper-class establishments, feels restless, lonely, and frustrated. The plot thickens, however, when, on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home to find signs of a struggle and blood splatters around the kitchen and living room – Amy has gone missing.

gone-girl-adaptation-reviewIn the “dark and gritty” era, where post-war disillusionment draws us toward cynical, nihilistic artistic works, Gone Girl has something intelligent and interesting to say about our world. There are two forms of conversation warranted here – discussion pre and post Flynn’s big publication. Pre Gone Girl, the ascension of neo noir, crime-thriller experiment were pumped out without notice. Post Gone Girl, however, this trend has come close to overshadowing anything else the film, TV, and novel industries have to offer. The book utilises its core ingredients with style and brutal tenacity. The duelling narration bleeds over into several cold, heart-wrenching flashbacks. Nick and Amy’s first interactions – defined by diary entries telling of cute dates and explicit sexual encounters – boosts the conflict and climax’s impact impeccably. Each flashback makes us the third wheel, delving into a couple’s saccharine adventures. The fusion of bitter and sweet becomes increasingly more concentrated and repulsive.

Some chapters and pages are difficult to wrap your head around. Flynn’s pulpy prose extends beyond reason at some points, throwing in a wide array of tonal shifts and shocking revelations. As the ultimate Airport novel/beach read, the appeal is certainly on display. However, some may find this sordid, sycophantic narrative hard to digest. Nick and Amy, despite the story’s overwhelming trials and tortuous situations, are barely likeable. Flynn, finding unique ways of emphasising key words and phrases, illuminates just how shallow and disgusting they are. Their every thought a feeling is covered in a thick layer of sarcasm and irony. The world-weary “partner in crime” do indeed deserve one another. However, Flynn’s worldview reflects that of some of contemporary entertainment’s greatest visionaries.With two fingers on the pulse, each sentence beats like a well-oiled drum.

The self-reflexivity and steely reserve elicits several laugh-out-loud comedic moments. Some throwaway lines are pithy and cute, others cause eyeballs to burst out of skulls. The book’s relationship with neo noir conventions, from the claustrophobic atmosphere to the divide between masculinity and femininity, reinvigorates the once-overlooked genre. In fact, Flynn takes joy in destroying the media, the American Dream, and all first world problems in between. This uber-popular novel may become the encapsulation of the early 21st Century’s greatest talking points. It’s a twisted, visceral, and thrilling ode to crime-thriller literature immense allure.

Verdict: A steely, conniving crime-thriller.

Article – Movies to TV: Why People Are Moving to the Small Screen


Article: Movies to TV: Why People Are Moving to the Small Screen

A Walk Among the Tombstones Review – Takin’ Charge


Director: Scott Frank

Writers: Scott Frank (screenplay), Lawrence Block (novel)

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook


Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Neeson’s charisma.

Worst part: The near-laughable bleakness.

Believe it or not, grimy pot-boiler A Walk Among the Tombstones is a game-changer. Recently, a specific trend has pulled scores of action-loving cinema-goers back to the theatre. This particular current, sprouting up only a couple of years ago, has been kind certain demographics. In addition, the big-name actors involved  have been given full-scale career revivals. Thanks to Kevin Costner vehicle  3 Days to Kill and Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua’s  latest collaboration The Equalizer, this resurgence of veteran anti-heroes shows no sign of slowing down.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

With A Walk Among the Tombstones, one headliner is making amends for recent poor career choices. Liam Neeson, despite being one of Hollywood’s most popular leads, has recently been dealt several hits and misses. Since 2008’s surprise hit Taken, the Irish badass has landed major studio gigs from The A-Team to A Million Ways to Die in the West. Picking every script he’s given, his immense charisma and professionalism support his A-list status. Having languished in Non-Stop‘s reputation-destroying aura, his latest effort makes for a remarkable return to form. The story, despite resembling Neeson’s preceding sleep-walk-like efforts, delivers enough thrills to win over detractors. In the first scene, set in 1991, troubled detective Matthew Scudder (Neeson) – whilst on duty – walks into a bar, downs an Irish coffee, then skims the headlines. Soon after, three latino gang-bangers kill the bartender, steal some cash, and leave. After Scudder thwarts the robbery, the movie jumps to 1999. We then follow Scudder – now an unlicensed private investigator aided by Alcoholics Anonymous – through the ultimate doomsday mission. Hired by notorious drug kingpin Kenny Kristo and his dodgy brother (Boyd Holbrook), our lead tracks down Kenny’s wife’s kidnappers. The perpetrators, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), are on a kidnap/murder rampage without end. Along the way, Scudder’s friendship with street urchin T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) becomes a distraction.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Based on Lawrence Block’s highly-rated crime novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones tackles the famed writer’s tropes with vigour and confidence. The narrative, etching itself into the consciousness, embraces its airport-thriller roots whilst crafting its own identity. Teetering between Neeson-action and crime-thriller ticks, the movie’s intentions strike a chord. Unlike most ‘Neesoners’, known to delve into dull pure nonsense, the movie’s existential shades and killers-punishing-criminals premise elevate it above most big-budget schlockers. As one of 2014’s more invigorating efforts, the story steadily, and intelligently, moves from one plot-point and revelation to the next. Like with Scandinavian detective-thrillers, the narrative revels in the genre’s darkest-possible tones. As the investigation takes several disturbing turns, the movie switches between grounded character study, fun actioner, and bleak crime-drama. From the first highly disturbing frame onwards, writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) succinctly, and passionately, delicately covers the material’s moral, ethical, and thematic depths. Examining every intrinsic detail, this adaptation turns mind-numbing and derivative ideas into worthwhile bursts of energy. His narrative, breaking off into slight sub-plots and character arcs, injects emotion and stakes into key moments. However, with Frank’s infatuation with Block turned up to 11, the darkness becomes laughable within the second and third acts.

“I do favours for people. In return, they give me gifts.” (Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), A Walk Among the Tombstones).

Our killers on the loose!

Our killers on the loose!

Fuelled by unlikeable people, disturbing crimes, paranoia, and tragic backstories, this concentrated dose of evil becomes tiresome and nonsensical. By setting this action-thriller in 1999, themes of identity crisis and man-made chaos come with the territory. Sadly, the Y2K commentary escapes the central, police-procedural plot-line. Reserved for only a couple of throwaway lines, the themes rift against the cop-thriller vibe. However, despite the over-ambitiousness, Frank still crafts emotional heft whenever possible. Thanks to Mihai Malaimaire, Jr.’s cinematography, the movie’s atmospheric aesthetic bolsters Frank’s straight-laced direction. Adding unique camera angles and movements to peculiar sequences, his flourishes bolster this otherwise morbid experience. In addition, the sound design amplifies each action beat. Elevating Scudder’s significant presence, the gunshots and punches strike with brute force. Despite the positives, the movie occasionally delves into bafflingly pretentious tangents. Marked by slo-mo flourishes and a manipulative score, certain scenes do little but extend the movie’s egregious run-time. However, even in its corniest moments, Neeson’s otherworldly aura lends gravitas to this stock-standard crime-thriller. Fitting the tragic anti-hero role like a glove, his thunderous tone and impressive frame make up for the character’s cliched development. Boosting his polarising action-hero resurgence, the movie makes for a major step in the right direction. In addition, Stevens, a breakout star thanks to Downton Abbey and The Guest, excels in his underwritten, Red Herring role.

Resembling 90s-style crime-thrillers like Ransom and Payback, A Walk Among the Tombstones comes off like a Mel Gibson vehicle driven by a universe-conquering Irishman. Bolstered by Neeson’s monstrous aura, the movie excels whenever he’s on-screen. Thankfully, that’s most of the time. However, despite Frank’s competent screenplay and direction, some stylistic and thematic choices hinder this hearty effort. Adding to 2014’s film noir/crime-thriller resurgence, the movie flaunts Hollywood’s gothic/manic-depressive side.

Verdict: Neeson’s notable return to form.

The Guest Review – Perfect Psychos


Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributor: Picturehouse

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dan Stevens.

Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.

Most movies, from coming-of-age dramedies to soul-sucking horror-thrillers, rely on their lead characters and actors. Existing to entertain and/or inform, these people become avatars for viewers to envelop. Stepping into their shoes, we follow them through thick and thin as they trudge from the conflict to the climax to the resolution. Mostly, we follow the good guys as they hit multiple obstacles and conundrums. However, with The Guest, we tread a much darker path towards one helluva pay off.

Dan Stevens transforming from Downton Abbey to Demonic warrior.

Dan Stevens switching from Downton Abbey to the dark side.

Watching The Guest could be seen as one of 2014’s most confronting experiences. Throwing several emotions and tonal shifts at us, this psychological-thriller might just push audiences over the edge. In crafting this  efficient homage, the filmmakers and actors involved hit their strides. In addition, beyond the movie’s glowing positives, its production and distribution schedules took several fascinating turns. Blitzing the festival circuit, the movie’s wide-release-level success speaks wonders for its overall quality. The marketing, showing off its silky smoothness, gives away a small fraction of the narrative’s true genius. From the get-go, the story delivers enough chutzpah to please average film-goers, cinema aficionados, pretty psychopaths, and everyone in between. In the opening shot, two bootstrapped feet run along a dirt road. Who owns these feet? Where are they going? And why are they running through such hallowed ground? Of course, these answers come to light in the next scene. These camouflage blazoned feet belong to David Collins (Dan Stevens), a drifter searching for somewhere to call home. David, a discharged soldier thirsty for retribution, knocks on the Peterson family’s door. Having watched their oldest son, Caleb, die in Afghanistan, David fulfils a promise to pass on his last messages. The matriarch, Laura (Sheila Kelley), invites him to stay. However, the patriarch, Spencer (Leland Orser), isn’t impressed and the younger Petersons, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer), are suspicious of his sinister behaviour.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer speeding making left and RIGHT career turns.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer making left and RIGHT career turns.

Like our pseudo-titular character, The Guest reels us in before throwing us out into the cold. As an intensifying roller-coaster ride, the story has more brains, heart, and brawn than most blockbusters. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal works (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular), the twists and turns revolve around our characters. After the gritty first few minutes, the movie stands by its lead anti-hero. Chronicling each word, decision, and movement, the movie steadily raises the stakes whilst injecting doses of pathos. In the first third, the story delivers a familial drama devoid of clichés, unlikable people, or sappy moments. Subtly, the blackly comedic moments alleviate its distressing aura. Beyond this, In buying beer kegs for Anna, having a beer with Spencer, and crippling several of Luke’s bullies, David becomes a fascinating and intriguing specimen. In fact, for the first-two thirds, he’s presented as a vengeful warrior in the vein of Ryan Gosling’s Driver. Thanks to his hyper-intelligence, quick wit, and stunning physicality, it’s difficult not to like him. Eventually, with the tension building throughout, everything crashes down around our invigorating lead character. In the last third, With kooky plot-twists coming thick and fast, the tone too often switches from sickening drama-thriller to Terminator-esque action spectacular. However, the climax and resolution deliver the break-neck pacing, nail-biting jolts, and applause-worthy moments to warrant multiple viewings.

“I’m a friend of the family.” (David Collins (Dan Stevens), The Guest).

Stevens' David sparking up a psychological thrill-ride.

Stevens’ David kick-starting a psychologically warped thrill-ride.

Credit belongs to Stevens for making such a courageous career transition. He, further stretching his range, delivers a devilishly appealing performance as the friendly, neighbourhood psychopath. Each facial expression and mannerism adds to the character’s enthralling arc. Playing to a more mainstream crowd than their previous efforts, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett(You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die)’s latest reshapes and elevates their dynamic. Impressively, Wingard and Barrett’s latest balls-to-the-wall extravaganza tops their 2013 horror-thriller smash. To a certain extent, this action-thriller pays homage to everything they grew up with. Beyond the Hitchcockian narrative threads, this inventive partnership tackles nearly every 1970s, 80s, and 90s Hollywood trope. In particular, their directorial and screenwriting flourishes allude toJohn Carpenter flicks including Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. Bundling together revenge-thriller, horror, and action tropes, audiences will be left awe-struck by the movie’s vitality and determination. Throwing in effective jump scares and action beats, Wingard’s style toys with many zany concepts. Fuelled by neon-lit interiors and neo-western vistas, the world building bolsters this pulpy and relentless sensory assault. From the prologue opening to the Halloween-themed-prom finale, each frame further solidifies the movie’s immaculate legend.

Fulfilling its many promises, including honouring our fallen comrades overseas whilst tearing apart the military-industrial complex, The Guest is a slick, ferocious, and manic action/horror-thriller romp. Overcoming its minor flaws, the movie bolsters Wingard and Barrett’s reputations. Nailing its self-aware, nostalgia-drenched vibe, this psychological-thriller comes off like its lead character – tough, surprising, and willing to tear chunks off its adversaries. As 2014’s Stoker, its trashiness and joyousness make for one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A lean, mean thrill-machine!

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

Cold in July Review – Payback’s a B*tch!


Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici (screenplay), Joe R. Lansdale (novel)

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw

cold_in_july_ver2


Release date: May 23, 2014

 Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The atmospheric visuals.

Worst part: The undercooked sub-plots. 

My screening of crime-thriller Cold in July was a precious and disarming experience. Sitting alongside my mother, several distractions reared their ugly heads before the lights dimmed and the movie reached its first frame. It’s strange whenever a movie instantly immerses you in its magic. The distractions fade away, and the narrative’s cinematic aura introduces itself willingly and charmingly. After the opening frame (part of a spectacular first scene), Cold in July fills its quarrels and catastrophes with a revolver’s worth of bullets.

Michael C. Hall.

With a dynamic story and engaging characters riding off into the sunset, this crime-thriller addresses the best and worst aspects of its ever-expanding genre. With new additions kicking their way through our doors each year, the revenge-thriller is hurriedly becoming a worn-out concept. In fact, recently, Blue Ruin roared its satirical and visceral sound at an unsuspecting film festival crowd. Here, the genre’s stripped-back nature is in full effect. The movie, not one to shoot second, delivers major questions before and after lighting up the screen with bullets, blood, and bad deeds. Intriguingly, to describe the plot, I may have to reach into the deep, dark recesses of my soul. This crime-thriller kicks off with a bang. With an intruder rummaging through his house, polite citizen Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) takes the law into his own hands. After blowing the intruder’s brains out, Richard watches on in horror as his actions ripple across town. Tested by his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw), and their child, Jordan (Brogan Hall), this simpleton craves for everything to go back to normal. However, this act of self-defence yields severe consequences for our lead character. As the victim’s disgruntled father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is released from prison, Richard watches over his family and home. Following through with its premise, masculinity, right vs. wrong, and gun worship are given as much credit as the lead actors.

C. Hall and Sam Shepard.

The premise – relying on charm and subtlety to push it forward – is certainly an interesting one. With revenge-thrillers making their mark on the transformer-and-superhero-ridden cinematic landscape, the little guy is making his mark over the big boys surrounding him. Okay, enough with the metaphors! I’m here to discuss Cold in July in a sincere and serious fashion. However, with something so delicious and gritty gracing our screens, it’s difficult not to notice its overt cheese factor. From the first few scenes onward, in which the town’s tasteless inhabitants tell it the way they see it, this story delves head-long into its most discomforting conceits. Cold in July tracks its characters, as its familial drama quickly reaches breaking point. With Ben swearing revenge, paranoia builds upon the already bizarre narrative. Echoing Cape Fear‘s intensifying structure, this guessing game rolls through the small-town setting with thunderous momentum. However, shockingly, this conflict only takes up the first third. The first third, housing Richard and Ben’s cat-and-mouse game, delivers more tension-fuelled moments and standard story beats than expected. The narrative then takes a turn for the kooky, as certain revelations alter Richard and Ben’s vicious battle. Taking on goons and genre tropes, this crime-drama lovingly transitions into a fiery western. Aided by War hero turned private investigator Jim Bob Luke(Don Johnson)’s kooky introduction, the movie’s second-half turns bolster an already arresting revenge-thriller.

“Are you really my father?” (Freddy (Wyatt Russell), Cold in July).

Don Johnson.

Upping the ante throughout the tight 110-minute run-time, director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) understands the benefits and limitations of the genre he’s playing in. Influenced by Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Drive, Mickle honours these significant game-changing features and directors throughout this alluring thrill-ride. Matching sickeningly dark twists with blackly comedic jabs, his efforts deliver gut-wrenching surprises and moral quandaries. Clinging onto Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Mickle and fellow screenwriter Nick Damici (also starring in a key role) occasionally veer into cloying obstacles. Several sub-plots, from the intrinsically important to the mildly distracting, are left wholly unresolved. By story’s end, questions and answers face off inside the viewer’s swirling mindset. Mickle’s feature, if anything, follows through on its promise to stick by Texas’ good ol’ fashioned timeliness. With certain settings becoming drenched in sleaze and sweat, the visuals strike up an unusual concoction of filth, degradation, and blood. Tracking our leads through strange situations, the cinematography is worth the admission cost. Slightly off-kilter, certain camera angles and movements heighten the tension. With a John Carpenter-like score upping the stakes, the movie’s 80s-era vibe comes close to tripping this meticulous story. Gracefully, the movie’s organic performances push this crime-thriller over the edge. In this hard-edged role, C. Hall’s adds tenacity and liveliness to every scene. Following his character, the story jumps whenever he does. In addition, Shepard and Johnson simultaneously parody and pay homage to their wonder years.

Overcoming the corny one-liners, gaping plot-holes, and obvious homages, Cold in July puts its foot down at opportune moments. Setting up several intriguing sub-plots and motivations, the first half pays off significantly more so than the second. However, despite these mild complaints, this crime-thriller eventually comes through. Unlike most modern movies, Cold in July is surprisingly honest about its best and worst qualities.

Verdict: A taut and intriguing crime-thriller

Devil’s Knot Review – Courtroom Kerfuffle


Director: Atom Egoyan

Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson (screenplay), Mara Leveritt (book)

Stars: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan

Devils_Knot_One_Sheet_2


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributor: Image Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

 

2/5

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.

Colin Firth.

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.

Reese Witherspoon.

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.

Verdict: An ambitious yet bland misfire. 

Prisoners Review – Pitch (Perfect) Black


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano 


Release date: September 20th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 153 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Roger Deakins’ cinematography.

Worst part: The overt religious symbolism.

The 2013/14 Oscar season is chock-a-block with alluring crime-thrillers, docudramas, and fantasy-action romps. With crime flicks including The Counselor and Captain Phillips on the horizon, these big guns may, unfortunately, overshadow Prisoners. Despite the been-there-done-that premise, this detective-thriller contains many noteworthy aspects. With its dynamic performances, chilling moments, and ingenious visuals, this movie should, at least, be placed among each year’s seemingly hundreds of Best Picture nominees.

Hugh Jackman.

With many big-name directors and actors attached to this material during its time in Hollywood’s ‘blacklist’, this engaging and discomforting movie should’ve arrived earlier in this underwhelming year of celluloid. As a potent cure for a blockbuster season hangover, this expansive crime-thriller carries its weight whilst delivering a thought-provoking narrative. This procedural drama begins with a conservative look at the quaint middle-class American lifestyle many strive for. Carpenter and small business owner Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) leads a meticulous and peaceful existence. Teaching his children in the ways of his strict honour code, Dover runs a tight ship within his picturesque household. When Dover and his family, rounded out by wife Grace (Maria Bello), visit the Birch family, led by Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), for thanksgiving, they rejoice in the thrills of their enviable lives. However, everything hurriedly turns sour when the two families’ youngest members, Anna and Joy, go missing. One excruciating day passes after another, and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), along with Pennsylvania’s finest, thoroughly search the state for the two children. With lead suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) continually being released from custody, Dover takes the law into his own hands. Running into Alex’s aunt Molly (Melissa Leo), Dover and Loki butt heads while vital clues remain scattered throughout the sleepy town.

Jake Gyllenhaal.

Despite the trailers’ brave attempts to spoil this well-crafted crime-thriller, the marketing, thankfully, leaves out the movie’s many disturbing twists and turns. Comparing this detective-thriller to such TV dramas as Law and Order and The Killing does not do it justice. Prisoners is significantly greater than a by-the-numbers crime-drama because it focuses on its most accessible and intriguing aspects. The A-list cast and crew lend their talents to this darkly sickening thriller to deliver a blood-curdling and tension-filled Oscar contender. Prisoners taps into the First World and dismantles it from its core. Over the course of its exhaustive two and a half hour run-time, the movie’s media-and-law-abiding setting, establishing the familiar traits of the Dover and Birch households, is thoroughly examined. Prisoners bravely emphasises the things that force people to turn against one another. Within the opening scenes, the families enjoy a sumptuous and comforting time together – playing popular tunes, laughing heartily, and holding one another tightly. However, once the first rain storm hits, the narrative sends the characters and audience into an emotional tailspin. Prisoners boldly attempts to determine who, out of the criminals lurking the dour streets or victims who overturn the law, are the real ‘prisoners’ within this movie’s naturalistic yet troubling populous. Containing similar plot-points and themes to Mystic River and Gone Baby GonePrisoners lands its punches similarly to those influential and moody kidnap-dramas. Similarly to Denis Lehane and Cormac McCarthy’s seminal works, Prisoners presents a tabloid media-like situation in meticulous and graphic detail. Despite the overt messages and graphic nature, this crime-drama delivers on its many audacious promises.

Viola Davis & Terence Howard.

Despite its conquering story and gripping sequences, Prisoners falls flat whenever it relays its fear-inducing messages. Aiming to explore the First World’s obsession with anti-heroes, paranoia, and the media, the movie’s themes land with a heavy thud. As each character switches from good to bad and vice versa, the movie’s unsettling religion vs. atheism debate lingers unnecessarily. Frequently discussing religion’s power over large groups, the movie’s Bible-thumping nature soon becomes cringe-worthy. Prisoners also continually emphasises the angels and demons scrounging throughout the maze-like labyrinth. Comparing several of the Bible’s influential verses to the characters’ shocking actions and consequential decisions, Prisoners occasionally struggles to depict its profound shades of grey. Thankfully, the movie’s powerful visual style smooths over the narrative’s crevasses. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) effectively unleashes the story and setting’s grittiness upon the audience. Beyond the town’s recognisable layout, the landscape’s seedy underbelly, illustrated by dirt-covered vistas and rain-soaked streets, becomes a villainous character in itself. This subtle yet powerful visual style succeeds during the torture sequences. The dilapidated interiors and bone-crunching violence heighten the movie’s tension-inducing moments. Let’s not forget that Prisoners‘ visual style largely comes to life because of Roger Deakins’ punishing and controlled cinematography. Lending each rainstorm, snow-covered setting, and sparsely lit area a profound purpose, Deakins develops an immaculate stronghold over every scene. Zooms and pans elevate even the movie’s most sombre moments. Despite the movie’s wavering pace and bizarre quirks, the distinct sound design and purposeful editing pushes the audience into this emotionally bruising and visceral roller-coaster ride.

“He’s not a person anymore. No, he stopped being a person when he took our daughters.” (Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), Prisoners).

Melissa Leo & Paul Dano.

Any discussion of Prisoners should include coverage of the ambiguous and amoral characters. These people, though likeable in some respects, are scummy and refuse to admit fault. Despite some characters’ absurd characteristics, many of them hauntingly transition from humans to animalistic cretins. As the movie progresses, the characters’ intriguing tendencies switch from fascinating to horrifying to justifiable. Carrying the movie’s religious symbolism, the contrasting story-lines, revolving around Dover and Loki, boost this intricate crime-thriller. Dover is a force of nature unafraid to fight for his ‘tribe’. He, transitioning from stern father to malicious avenger, resembles many of modern entertainment’s most masculine and vicious characters. Embracing crucial anti-hero characteristics, Jackman delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. Throwing his nice-guy persona aside for this polarising character, Jackman’s purposeful mannerisms and thundering cries illuminate the character’s emotional torment. After his career-defining turn in Les Miserables, his performance here should garner him a second successive Oscar nomination. As the other side of the same battered coin, Loki’s unsettling interior is replicated on the outside. With slick hair, religious tattoos, and a sketchy persona, the symbolism is, literally and figuratively, worn on his sleeve. As the befuddled yet determined cop on the challenging case, Loki’s slight arrogance and by-the-book methodologies land him in trouble with outrageous cops and criminals. Gyllenhaal’s courageous turn elevates this disturbed character’s journey. Dano and Howard deliver brave performances in small turns. Unfortunately, Bello and Davis are under-utilised in silly and irritating roles.

As a haunting drama-thriller that throws the audience into a moral black hole, Prisoners made me ask myself the question: “What would I do if I were in their position?”. This intriguing movie lurches into polarising areas to deliver a confronting yet entertaining examination of humanity in its darkest hour.

Verdict: A confronting, raw, and engaging crime-thriller. 

Broken City Review – City Slickers


Director: Allen Hughes

Writer: Brian Tucker

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffery Wright


Release date: January 18th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


3/5

Best part: Russell Crowe’s intimidating performance.

Worst part: Its ham-fisted messages.

Many people, in some way or another, were hit by the global financial crisis. A few years have passed, and Hollywood has since made a stack of films focusing on this hot button issue. Broken City avoids the bombastic nature of many post- economic crisis action/crime flicks to deliver a subtle and old-fashioned crime-thriller.

Mark Wahlberg.

It’s a dark and gritty film noir that reminded me of what Hollywood used to be. Sure, it has its drawbacks, but I was still able to grab onto this engaging story. Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is arrested and tried for the alleged murder of a young black man. He is released from his shackles after a controversial hearing. His victory, however, is short lived. The mayor, Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and Taggart’s superior, Capt. Carl Fairbanks (Jeffery Wright), persuade Taggart to quit the force. Seven years later, Taggart is running a small business as a private investigator. Running out of money (despite his forceful nature), he pushes himself to take an assignment given to him by Hostetler. Hostetler believes that his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is cheating on him. Afraid that her debauchery might affect his upcoming re-election campaign, Hostetler asks Taggart to tail her. From that point on, multiple threads intertwine as Taggart gets into one bad situation after another.

Wahlberg & Russell Crowe.

Despite some juicy plot developments in the film’s second half, it’s still a by-the-numbers crime -thriller. The film lacks a sense of urgency and style. Every so often, the slow pacing would dull the film down to an extraneous extent. I don’t think it should’ve been a mindless action flick, but it needed a little less conversation. Having said that, it’s a narrative that is easy to connect with and enjoy. It may be typical on many levels, but sometimes that is a good thing. It, however, is still not as smart as it thinks it is. At points, it feels like the director and screenwriter are hammering nails into your head. Over and over again, we are reminded of how scummy politicians, cops and ‘one percenters’ can be. The use of symbolism and metaphor isn’t subtle in any way. It’s a film that lambasts how New York City has evolved over the past decade. The rich look down on the poor, race relations are at an all-time low, and people are too afraid to help one another. It discusses these issues without acknowledging Rudolph Giuliani’s beneficial time in office.

Crowe & Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Brian Tucker’s script falters on many levels. This is a formulaic thriller that lives on the strength of its cast and director. This is Allen Hughes’ first directorial effort by himself. He and his brother, Albert, have directed many influential action/thrillers together since their debut feature Menace II Society. He pushes every plot twist and turn on the audience without excessive force. Despite the film’s slow pace, Broken City is terrifically tense and punchy at points. The problem with the direction, however, is that Hughes focuses too much on the messages without giving the film a sense of style. The Hughes brothers have created kinetic visuals for many of their movies. From Hell placed us into a shiny Victorian-era London at the time of Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, The Book of Eli, despite its flaws, had a sumptuous post- apocalyptic visual sensibility. Broken City is nothing but, for all intents and purposes, a very moody thriller. Whereas Gangster Squad heightened its visual style to a cartoonish extent, this film doesn’t push it far enough. Some of the costumes and hairstyles give the film a nuanced 70s look, but these stylistic elements are very slight.

“There are some wars you fight and some wars you walk away from. This isn’t the fighting kind.” (Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), Broken City).

Wahlberg, Crowe & Jeffery Wright.

This film is very enjoyable, particularly if you are interested in film noir. If you look closely, you can spot elements of many influential crime films such as L.A. Confidential, Klute, and Chinatown. It contains many film noir clichés, yet it leaves the trench coats, fedoras and cigarettes behind. It relies, to a certain extent, on the strength of its characters and performances. Wahlberg plays the down-on-his-luck lead character. He is an old-school private eye and a brutish male with several understandable weaknesses. Women and alcohol are continually waved in front of him. The banter between him and his cute blonde assistant is funnier than you think it would be. They embody small business owners hit by the troubling economic situation. Wahlberg has made many hits (The Italian Job, The Departed) and stinkers (The HappeningMax Payne). Not only does he play cops or criminals in most of his movies, but he plays all of them with the same intensity and range. He is still a charismatic on-screen presence. He brings toughness to this already intriguing role. Russell Crowe steals every scene he’s in as the slimy and vindictive mayor. Zeta-Jones, however, is under-utilised as NYC’s scheming first lady.

Broken City suffers from a lack of originality and style. Despite this, it’s a subtle and likeable take on a classic film noir story. The cast and director pull a rabbit out of a hat; creating an enjoyable, witty and intensifying crime-thriller. Thanks to Wahlberg and Hughes’ collaboration, Broken City scrapes by on being pure, unadulterated comfort food cinema.

Verdict: An enjoyable yet problematic crime-thriller.

Jack Reacher Review – Cruise the Conquerer


Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins


Release date: December 21st, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Tom Cruise.

Worst part: The laughable antagonists.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, films starring muscular heroes, one liners and brutal action sequences ruled the box office. The advent of CGI technology has sadly decreased the number of popcorn-chomping blockbusters of this type. With superheroes, aliens and models headlining blockbusters in the 21st century, it’s up to the remnants of decades past to rekindle a dormant sub-genre. Along comes Hollywood heavy-weight Tom Cruise in a role perfect for both a career resurgence and a nod to classic action films.

Tom Cruise.

Jack Reacher is a tense yet tedious ode to a time of anti-establishment messages and roaring gunfights. This thriller begins with a devastating act of terrorism in the heart of America. A man drives up to the top of a parking garage, slides a coin into a parking metre, puts together a heavy-duty sniper rifle and kills five innocent people. Disturbed war veteran James Barr is convicted and District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) considers it to be an open and shut case. His daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) however, also a lawyer, is convinced that Barr is an innocent man. Barr’s only testimony requests a mysterious ex-military loner named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher’s cunning detective skills inevitably attract attention from advanced criminals, led by the Zec (Werner Herzog) and Charlie (Jai Courtney). Reacher and Helen become uneasy allies at a time when trust may be much more dangerous than the truth. A gritty and visceral popcorn flick is needed every once in a while. Jack Reacher prevails in this case due its intensity and inventive thrills. The first five minutes are excruciatingly uncomfortable. The sniper sequence is a silent examination of the human psyche. One unending shot depicts the shooter’s perspective, choosing his targets carefully before pulling the trigger over and over again. This scene may hit too close to home in the wake of the Newtown massacre, but the scene propels the story forward.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Jack Reacher effectively reveals the key elements of this complex case. Director and writer Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) creates a dark, energetic yet smart edge-of-your-seat thriller. Our likeable protagonists face off against the creepy underbelly of America. Crime and national prejudices are examined succinctly. The west’s involvement with Iraq and Afghanistan is dutifully discussed as our characters comprehend with a world that has abandoned them. However, the story itself is riddled with overused tropes. This fun action flick quickly becomes a generic and forgettable detective thriller. Certain clichés detract from the intensity created earlier in the film, stretching this relatively simple plot out longer than needed. Jack Reacher becomes a relevant and thoughtful character study. Based on Lee Child’s best-selling novel One Shot, his Jack Reacher character is a familiar anti-hero with shades of something much more sinister. He carries only the clothes on his back and a bus pass to his next destination. Unlike most action heroes however, Reacher places people above order. Like the heroes of Sergio Leone films, he wanders America in search of trouble. His entrance into the film is priceless, depicting the loner who wanders into town without a hint of warning. The film is an enlightening homage to classic action/crime cinema.

“You think I’m a hero? I am not a hero. And if you’re smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose.” (JAck Reacher (Tom Cruise), Jack Reacher).

Jai Courtney.

Jai Courtney.

This Dirty Harry crime narrative combines seamlessly with the revenge fantasy elements of Point Blank. This is a film with a profound personal edge. It’s as gritty as dirt underneath fingernails. The action sequences, for example, are taken to greater heights than most modern hand-to-hand combat sequences. every hit lands with a loud crunch as McQuarrie opts for unique camera angles instead of pesky quick cuts. While Cruise doing all of his own stunts allows for the film’s car chase sequence to be captured with pristine beauty. Tom Cruise is the most important aspect of this adaptation. Cruise caused major controversy when he was cast as the beloved character. Fans openly objected to the star’s casting saying he lacked the muscular build and towering height of the literary icon. The A-lister has silenced his harshest critics here. Cruise’s steely-eyed persona and startling intensity create a charismatic anti-hero. Cruise is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. Couch-jumping and Scientology aside, Cruise is a true professional with a thirst for the unknown. Not since Collateral has he been this intimidating. He is able to convincingly deliver several silly lines of Child and McQuarrie’s gruff dialogue. “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot.” This line stands out as Cruise grits his teeth and menacingly threatens Jai Courtney’s henchman character over the phone. 

Whether it be mad action fans or common film-goers, Jack Reacher is likely to entertain. Despite rather common narrative flaws, Reacher is bolstered by an energetic performance from the now 50 year-old Cruise. Its an action flick unlike most coming out nowadays.

Verdict: Cruise excels in this enjoyable yet clichéd action flick.

Alex Cross Review – Crooked Case


Director: Rob Cohen

Writers: Marc Moss, Kerry Williamson (screenplay), James Patterson (novels)

Stars: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Ed Burns, Rachel Nichols


Release date: October 19th, 2012

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


1½/5

Best part: Ed Burns as Cross’ police partner.

Worst part: The incomprehensible cinematography.

As the lead in a hugely successful series of crime novels by James Patterson, psychologist and detective Alex Cross has been enormously influential for both modern literature and the African-American community. The character has been brought to the screen before; portrayed by Morgan freeman in 90’s crime thrillers Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Alex Cross, based on the 12th book in the series, all too clearly needs the charismatic presence of Freeman. The reboot comes across as nothing more than a simplistic literary adaptation of a series lost on the mass cinema audience.

Tyler Perry.

Tyler Perry.

Cross (Tyler Perry) and police partner Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) are top cops in their precinct overlooking the crime addled streets of Detroit. Established as both a saviour of the innocent and loving family man, Cross has been known to calm the approaching storms around him with tenacity and hyper intelligence. His detective work is second to none, putting him on the war path with the criminals and corrupt. His latest investigation however leads him into the oncoming path of a skinny, psychotic assassin known as Picasso (Matthew Fox). This cat and mouse game soon leads to the darker side of Cross coming to the surface. Overlooked by their own allies, Cross and Kane take the law into their own hands before Picasso can strike his next targets.

Matthew Fox.

Matthew Fox.

This adaptation of the hugely successful series will be lost on anyone unaware of the source material. Director Rob Cohen was once a name to look out for following the success of his first action flick The Fast and the Furious. Cohen here continues his embarrassing losing streak after Stealth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Much like his previous flops, style leaves substance in the dust. Alex Cross‘ contrived story fails to spark excitement, mostly due to a lack of tension or originality. Alex Cross is an inept and dull crime thriller, following the story and character clichés of every cop film of its type. Aiming for influential crime-thrillers such as Se7en and Silence of the Lambs, the film’s lack of emotion, depth or complexity creates a level of tedium endured when watching lesser quality TV police procedurals in the vein of Law and Order or Criminal Minds. The over the top silliness of this adaptation can partly be blamed on the irritating visual style at hand. Yet another director influenced by the work of the late Tony Scott, Cohen directs with a lack of coherence or subtlety, trying desperately to pass it off as a dark and gritty look at Cross’ run in with a psychotic madman.

Ed Burns.

Ed Burns.

Constantly shaking and tilting cameras, the awkward inclusion of low grade footage, low lighting and quick cuts develop a classic example of how not to create Bourne style action thrillers. Similarly to Guy Richie’s Interpretation of beloved literary figure Sherlock Homes, Cross investigates each crime scene with remarkable and almost super-human accuracy. Unlike Homes however, Cross’ discoveries aren’t explained or quantified. From one discovery to another, the alluring concept of Cross’ investigative skills are used solely for simplistic exposition; failing to develop the character beyond the obvious. The obvious clichés of every detective thriller are all checked off here. Poorly shot action sequences and a numbingly-silly revenge plot fail to draw attention away from the implausible character motivations or actions. Within the first 20 minutes, basic character traits are repetitively and unnecessarily communicated. Any luck of expanding on basic character types is lost, partly due to the significant lack of chemistry between anyone involved. The consistently flat delivery of the painful dialogue scattered throughout creates little more than a forgettable detective thriller through the eyes of this beloved character.

“He won’t stop. I’ve seen his face. I’ve heard his voice. I will meet his soul at the gates of hell before I let him take a person that I love away from me.” (Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), Alex Cross).

Perry & Burns.

The miscast characters fail to live up to previous examples in the genre. Tyler Perry (primarily known for his melodramatic screenplay/directorial work and for playing the religious, ball busting old woman ‘Madea’ in several of his own features) lacks any sense of emotional range or charisma needed for this important role. Turning down The Wire’s Idris Elba was clearly a mistake, as Elba could have brought flair to this generic cop-thriller. Not faring much better however is Matthew Fox (TV series Lost, Speed Racer) as the psychotic menace, despite being brave enough to shed 35 pounds for the role. Sporting a similarly elaborate villainous façade as Guy Pearce’s recent turn in Lawless, Fox fails to achieve the same charismatic presence and immersion into the wild role. Trying too hard to be a mix of the Joker and Hannibal Lecter, his kooky mannerisms, bulging eyes and thick Brooklyn accent fail to create a satisfying whole. Also faring worse for wear is John C. McGinley as the typical angry police chief. His gruff tone and elaborate mannerisms, though effective for his role as Dr. Cox in Scrubs, distract from every illogical yet serious situation.

Surprisingly, despite his extended career making soapy dramas, Tyler Perry is far from the worst element of Alex Cross. Thanks to the stale screenplay, amateurish direction, and over-the-top performances, this crime-thriller makes for a mutilated corpse.

Verdict: Don’t ever come across Alex Cross.

End of Watch Review – LAPD Lore


Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour


Release date: September 21st, 2012

Distributor: Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena.

Worst part: The confusing mix of steady-cam and video footage.

From L.A. Confidential to hit TV series The Shield, entertainment continually presents a nasty yet somewhat realistic look at cops and criminals in one of the United State’s largest cities; filled with the most inhumane gangs and law enforcers in history. End of Watch however conveys an updated representation of the L.A. cop cliché, creating believable characters whom best describe themselves as the thin blue line between predator and prey.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Following yet another police ride-a-long in the modern Hollywood film-making era, Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) capture the seedy underbelly of South Central L.A. in more ways than one. Following the continuing trend of found footage cinematography, Taylor and Zavala place small cameras on the police car dashboard and their clothing to capture the lives of L.A’s most respectable cops. Filming for a university class in Taylor’s Law degree, the partners encounter ‘regular’ incidences such as unwilling informants, car chases and shoot outs. The decorated partnership is faced with its biggest threat upon busting multiple crimes linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Becoming the cartel’s biggest targets, they must protect themselves, their families and the innocent people of lower class L.A.

Anna Kendrick.

Capturing a unique perspective of a dangerous situation, the irritating tropes of found footage filmmaking are thankfully enlightened by the subject matter being documented. David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Harsh Times and Street Kings) has evolved as a director with each presentation of LA’s cop vs. criminal system. Leaving behind the fantastical action tropes and over-the-top characters of Street Kings, End of Watch is his most accurate and engaging account of modern police officers struggling with the day to day. The hand-held film-making style conveys a similar aesthetic as the controversial reality TV series Cops, capturing a gritty and affecting view of L.A’s finest. The cinematography however distracts from the overall appeal of this smart crime-thriller. Despite the action sequences, police searches and crime scenes being presented with affecting realism and intense performances, the constantly shaking camera affects the continuity of each important sequence.

Pena in action!

Pena in action!

End of Watch finds a unique balance between story and character. Creating a thought provoking insight into the work of the L.A. police force, the film concentrates on its main characters as much as the oncoming gangland threat. Both Taylor and Zavala provide a first hand perspective of the dangerous and uncomfortable positions they put themselves through everyday. Continually breaking the fourth wall, descriptions of investigative techniques and the police station itself create an intelligent yet engaging hands on approach. The film also provides an enjoyable balance between 80s crime thriller and kinetic action flick. The violence, similar to Ayer’s previous work, is depicted as the most important factor in a cop’s line of work. Bullet holes, severed heads and skewered eyes are presented in an affecting manner, creating a much more realistic account of police work than many conventional action-thrillers of its type. The City of God-like look at multiple gangs in one city provides a broader look at the battle L.A. police continually fight. However, the overtly brash stereotypes of Mexican and African-American gangs create little more than an obvious representation of L.A’s crime problem.

“The LAPD’s got a big F*cking cock!” (Van Hauser (David Harbour), End of Watch).

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

The film is lifted by Taylor and Zavala. They present themselves with the determination and moral core necessary for their work on the front lines. Having become used to every horrific crime scene, threat and response imaginable, they create a somewhat witty and sarcastic look at the line of duty. Somewhat silly at times, Taylor and Zavala lend an emotional centre to a story affectingly capturing the most remorseless area of L.A. Gyllenhaal and Pena are the core of the film, providing two of the most charismatic and heroic characters in recent memory. Showing a touching and heart-warming look at their loving relationships, the chemistry between everyone involved provides a brave look at an unhealthy situation. The car becomes a safe setting for both officers, willing to openly, poignantly and hilariously discuss their relationships, personalities and existential problems. Gyllenhaal continues to prove his acting prowess, adding his determined and enjoyable performance here to his similarly commendable work in Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. While Michael Pena may hopefully achieve notoriety with his turn as the funny yet cynical police partner.

End of Watch, aided by an enjoyable cast and crew, is a testament to the hard work certain A-listers willingly undertake. Thanks to Ayer, Gyllenhaal and Pena, this crime-thriller takes charge and delivers a worthwhile 2-hour distraction. Hooah!

Verdict: An intense and enjoyable crime-thriller.

Savages Review – Stone-r Flick


Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio del Toro


Release date: July 6th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Benicio Del Toro’s sadistic villain.

Worst part: The multiple endings.

Ever since Proposition 19 was announced, planning to make medicinal marijuana usage legal in California, this hot button issue has been discussed by both the US Government and Hollywood to varying degrees. With an issue as pressing as drug induced relief for dying patients, heavily opinionated director Oliver Stone has now thrown in his two cents. It comes in the form of his new flick Savages, a film containing a lot of talent but failing to sink any teeth into this pressing debate.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, JohnTravolta & Taylor Kitsch.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, JohnTravolta & Taylor Kitsch.

Savages is a toned down, confused yet stylish thriller, based on the exploits of US and Mexican drug cartels. Operating in California’s stunning Laguna Beach, two friends Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch – having a bad year after mega-flops John Carter and Battleship) run a near-perfect Cannabis manufacturing and distribution business, creating the rarest and most potent chronic available in California. Protected by corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), the pair share a sun and sea-drenched life, along with a polyamorous relationship with Ophelia (Blake Lively). Their operation however attracts the interests of a Mexican drug cartel known as Baha, run by the seductive Elena (Selma Hayek). After turning down her prestigious offer, the two friends must then retrieve their girlfriend from Baha’s grasp, particularly steering clear of crazy cartel enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro). The two will lay down their version of the law, while escaping the clutches of the USA/Mexico drug scene.

Blake Lively & Salma Hayek.

Blake Lively & Salma Hayek.

Without the multi-layered and in-depth narrative of Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 Oscar winner Traffic, Savages sadly feels like a pale imitation. With inventive visuals, opinionated direction and noticeable thematic relevance, this is truly a Stone-r film (pun intended). Self confessed pot-fiend Oliver Stone, known for classic anti-establishment films such as JFK, Platoon and Wall Street, over the years has lost his affecting touch. His last few films, including W., Alexander and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, have been boiled down into overly serious yet goofy message-based propaganda. Savages is no exception, taking shallow pot-shots at the Obama Government, reality TV and the drug war without following through. It’s enough to say you are against certain issues in a democratic society, but without the investigative and strongly opinionated story elements of previous Stone films like Born on the Fourth of July, what is left is an empty and simplified pseudo-remake of Natural Born Killers. Stone does however create a derivative yet distinct sense of visual flair for this overly serious crime-thriller. Told from the perspective of Blake Lively’s character, her shattered point of view is illustrated through the fun and experimental use of quick cuts, lens flares, contrasting bright colours and black and white photography. Frustratingly taking the viewer out of this revenge-fantasy at every turn, Tony Scott’s shaking cameras and colour filters are also on display, conveying a hyper-kinetic look at the drug trade hopping across borders in more ways than one.

“I have orgasms, he has wargasms.” (O (Blake Lively), Savages).

Benicio del Toro.

The film is called Savages for a reason, displaying a shocking yet tasteful use of violence. Stone holds back from gratuity, lingering just enough on each bullet hole, cut and blood splatter to leave a lasting affect on these powerful characters, stuck in the middle of this interweaving standoff between law and cartel enforcement. The film sorely focuses too much on expressing an obvious and painfully monotonous look at a bad political situation. The film tells its story like a stoner expressing an idea; it starts off promising yet quickly descends into tedium and loses focus. Quickly becoming annoying is Lively’s continuous narration, filled with terrible puns (‘Wargasm’ and ‘12 step-dad program’ …Really?!) and obnoxious explanation of every twist and turn. The film contains many obviously black and/or white characters, mostly representing different factions in this seemingly important discussion. The three main characters are also reduced to two dimensional anti-heroes and victims, particularly due to the Yin/yang qualities of Ben and Chon. Ben is simply the charitable pot-head with a heart of gold, while Chon is the typical tough as nails war veteran with a taste for murder. Instead of an objective yet formalist discussion of race, crime and sex in the vein of City of God, the film presents a largely xenophobic representation of other cultures, particularly with every cartel enforcer portrayed as a laughable Mexican stereotype.

Despite Stone’s immense prowess (seriously, go watch his previous efforts), his last few films have fallen into easy-to-avoid traps. With Savages, his hyper-kinetic style clashes with its overbearing message – making for a truly unpleasant experience.

Verdict: A disappointing crime-thriller.