Hollywood Retro Film Festival – Sunset Boulevard Review: Who Killed Joe Gillis?!


Director: Billy Wilder

Writers: BIlly Wilder, Charles Brackett, D. M. Marshman, Jr.

Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson

sunset_boulevard_xlg


Release date: August 10, 1950

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

5/5

Review: Sunset Boulevard

Kill Me Three Times Review – Guns, Girls & Genre


Director: Kriv Stenders

Writer: James McFarland

Stars: Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Sullivan Stapleton


Release date: November 28th, 2014

Distributors: Entertainment One, Hopscotch, Magnolia

Country: Australia

Running time: 90 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Simon Pegg.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Review: Kill Me Three Times

Verdict: A true-blue film noir/crime-comedy.

The Keeper of Lost Causes Review – Cold Case, Blistering Thrill-ride


Director: Mikkel Norsgaard

Writers: Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), Jussi Alder-Olsen (novel)

Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard


Release Date: August 29th, 2014

Distributors: British Film Institute, Nordisk Film Distribution, Madman Entertainment

Country: Denmark

Running time: 97 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chilling final third.

Worst part: The lead character.

Shuffling into varying release dates across the globe, Denmark’s latest cinematic hit, The Keeper of Lost Causes, is merely carrying the torch of a remarkable cinematic hot streak. This past decade, though marked by big-budget behemoths, has delivered several sleeper hits and international gems. Kicking off with 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Scandinavian crime-thriller trend has ascended significantly higher than expected. Borrowing from the aforementioned Swedish thriller’s playbook, this adaptation is, despite the occasional misstep, worth scouring for amidst the bevy of ultra-dumb actioners and childish comedies.

Our two cops gunning for redemption.

Our two cop leads gunning for redemption.

Being a new release designed specifically for adults, The Keeper of Lost Causes connects with the target audience before beating us into submission. Despite this concept’s overwhelming severity, the process makes for an intelligent and thought-provoking cinematic experience. Thanks to its crime-thriller novel roots, the movie seeks out a higher form of film-goer. This particular viewer type  – one wholeheartedly familiar with breakthrough Scandinavian crime fiction –  is already accustomed to the genre’s lightest and darkest ideas. Indeed, this whodunnit, adapted from high-profile author Jussi Alder-Olsen’s first Department Q novel, is far more rewarding than most. The story revolves around the day in, day out life of hot-shot detective Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). In the opening sequence, Carl’s preemptive side takes charge. In disrupting a crucial stakeout, Carl strides straight into the target’s lair. Getting one partner murdered and another terminally paralysed, our Maverick cop is sent, by his pragmatic chief, down to the basement. Whilst sorting through cold cases, Carl’s withdrawal symptoms begin to destroy him. Soon enough, however, after aligning with department outcast Assad (Fares Fares), Carl delves into his new department’s most horrific case. Shut down years earlier, the assignment examines the mysterious, five-year disappearance of noble politician Merete Lynggaard (Sonja Richter) from a passenger ferry.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Sonja Richter as kidnap victim Merete Lynggaard.

Trudging similar territory to airport novel heavyweights Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Alder-Olsen’s notoriously visceral works have placed him on a high pedestal. With bookworms pining for future releases, his novels have birthed several intriguing and note-worthy genre tropes. Inexplicably, The Keeper of Lost Causes aims for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series’ look and feel. Drenched in misery and anger, the narrative transforms Alder-Olsen’s material for the modern audience. However, with film and TV tackling similar material of late, this crime-thriller comes off as stale in comparison. Dealing in archetypes and a by-the-numbers story, certain plot-points and twists become visible from a mile away. In addition, the investigation itself lingers unnecessarily throughout the first half. Stalled by cop-thriller cliches, the first-two acts develop a confused and sluggish mystery-drama. Thanks to Carl and Assad’s good cop/bad cop dynamic, the main plot-line halts early in the second act. In fact, with potent dramas including Luther and Broadchurch throwing stronger punches, this movie may cause significantly more yawns then gasps. However, when separated from its rivals, this low-four-star whodunnit delivers the meat and potatoes. Adding enough depth when required, the narrative’s brightest spots lay in the tissue surrounding the bone.

“Do me a favour…if I get murdered…don’t investigate my case.” (Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), The Keeper of Lost Causes).

Just one tiny slither of this mystery-thriller's dark side.

Just one slither of this mystery-thriller’s dark side.

Light on exposition, the movie spends enough time examining, then taring apart, Carl’s personal problems – including his uneasy relationship with his step-son – and Assad’s backstory. Despite the generic whodunnit narrative, the second half transforms this conventional crime-thriller into a visceral and confounding thrill-ride. Switching this gritty experiment from Along Came a Spider to Prisoners, this spirited effort’s central conflict reaches darker, and more emotionally resonant, depths with each turn. As Merete’s never-ending struggle reaches breaking point, the movie’s Buried-esque dramatic shades deliver several heartbreaking peaks. As our two central plot-lines intertwine, director Mikkel Norsgaard (Klown) injects magnetic flourishes into its all-encompassing flashbacks. As the final third unravels, his vignettes tell haunting tales about our Buffalo Bill-like antagonist. More Daring and thought-provoking than most modern film noirs, this adaptation pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock, TV detective dramas, and even its competition. Like the sharp direction, the performances wholeheartedly elevate the predictable material. Lie Kaas spices up his tiresome role with levity and malice. Despite his character’s smarmy personality and frustrating code, our lead’s passionate performance grounds this obtuse crime-thriller. In addition, Fares delivers some much-needed levity as the concerned ally. Richter, confined to one morose setting, bares all for her fascinating character arc.

From Easy Money to Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Scandinavian crime cinema is making transcendent strides toward long-lasting worldwide acclaim. The Keeper of Lost Causes – one of many recent, top-tier film noirs – comes agonisingly close to reaching its more commercially-viable counterparts’ successes. With strong performances and profound twists, this whodunnit eviscerates the soul before busting the case wide open. Unfortunately, like most similar crime-dramas, the movie boasts a story we’ve seen too many times before.

Verdict: A disturbing and intensifying mystery-thriller.

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. 

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.

Gangster Squad Review – Guys & Molls


Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn

 


Release date: January 13th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Br0s. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Charismatic performances.

Worst part: Its lack of depth.

A girl, carrying dreams of Hollywood success, steps into a bus station. A creepy figure immediately lures the gullible blonde into a trap. However, the criminal was followed by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). O’Mara defeats the criminal and his accomplices, finds the frightened girl and says “Welcome to Los Angeles.” From the get go, Gangster Squad establishes the ‘City of Angels’ as a seedy underbelly of the 1940s and ’50s. The film is nothing but a violent-as-all-hell piece of escapism.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

The goons O’Mara took down belong to Jewish ex-boxer and powerful criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). His burgeoning empire, comprised of drug trafficking, pimping and money laundering, continues to grow. With L.A. becoming the grimy centre of corruption and murder, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls for the creation of a unique team of trustworthy and talented law-men. O’Mara leads the squad while battling the demons of his military service. He picks womaniser and war veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and detectives Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this small, blood-thirsty unit. They take down Cohen’s vicious organisation piece by piece. Cohen, however, has bigger plans and uses L.A’s corrupt cops and politicians to his advantage.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone.

Gangster Squad is a fun, pulpy, lurid yet empty crime flick. Girls will love Gosling’s inclusion, but this cartoonish representation of L.A’s ghastly existence lives for action and excess. It’s a punchy and breezy farce that aims to please. Unlike most gangster/crime films that spring to mind, gunfights and explosions tell the simplistic story. Tommy-Guns and tenacity are all this squad needs. Both they and the baddies obliterate every neon-lit setting with a reign of bullets. The film seeks to modernise one of Hollywood’s defining genres. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) elevates the car chases and hand-to-hand fistfights with violence and visual flair. Fleischer never tones down the carnage, especially when a henchman is needlessly and disgustingly dispatched. The Chinatown sequence had to be created after the Aurora Cinema shooting. It still works, capturing the district’s beauty along with tension-inducing thrills. The digital cinematography occasionally distracts during many set pieces. But Gangster Squad admirably understands exactly what it is and never swerves away from that. This Dick Tracy-esque look at a classier time never ventures beyond the shallow heights of its premise. Gangster Squad is predictable and forgettable. Its cliché-ridden script, by former L.A. detective Will Beall, fails to lift the film beyond the allure of kinetic visuals and a starry cast. Its got all the gangster film clichés including horrifically over-the top antagonists, morally-driven protagonists, predictable deaths and a problematic romance. The romance between Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s femme fatale is hard to believe and lacks the chemistry both actors created in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She looks across a crowded club and a minute later is forever in his arms. He can’t be that smooth! Can he?! Worse still is Beall’s ridiculous anecdotal dialogue.

“The whole town’s underwater. You’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit.” (Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Gangster Squad).

Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Without influential screenwriters like David Mamet and James Ellroy at the helm, the gritty one liners and monologues sorely lack believability.  Its enlightening thrills will hopefully inspire people to track down better material. Categorically, Gangster Squad sits uncomfortably between outrageous crime films such as Sin City and subtle character studies like The Public Enemy. It’s easy to point out several films Gangster Squad is paying homage to. The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, ChinatownMiller’s Crossing and Public Enemies – these gangster/crime films have already revolutionised an ageing genre. Gosling and the rest of this A-list cast are charismatic in underdeveloped roles. Gosling’s performance is obviously based on some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His squeaky voice and mannered personality sizzle as his ‘James Cagney meets James Dean’ shtick energises. An impressive sequence is his stylish entrance into his favourite club. Walking and talking like a real cool-cat, his actions light up the screen. Brolin acts with his gruff tone and square jaw, once again displaying his engaging on-screen presence. O’Mara is the only multidimensional character, smartly questioning the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with vigilantism. Credit also goes to Penn. Penn’s excessive mannerisms and silly prosthetic make-up effects elevate the character. Much like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables, his performance stands out beyond the film’s earnestness.

In the hands of a better screenwriter, Gangster Squad could have rivalled the best film noirs of the past 20 years. It, however, becomes a series of enjoyable yet depth-less, tiresome and forgettable parts. Maybe, stick with playing L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A fun, pulpy yet shallow gangster flick.