'71 - Yann Demange - A young British soldier is separated from his squad and spends a harrowing night hunted on the streets of Belfast in the year of Our Lord 1971. Jack O'Connell follows up his electrifying performance in last year's Starred Up with another emotionally rich performance at the center of an exhaustingly tense film. And Demange has crafted the rare movie that works as a thriller and as the machine that generates empathy. He hasn't stripped politics from the story entirely, but has chosen rather to focus on the human beings living in the tension of the day to day reality policy makers can afford to ponder from a comfortable remove. Something like a cross between Carol Reed's Odd Man Out and Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday, this one is a contender for year's end honors, solidified my admiration for O'Connell and given me a new name to get fucking excited over in Demange. Best moment: the riot is terrifying.
The Equalizer - Antoine Fuqua - A mysterious vigilante disassembles the Russian mob in Los Angeles with more than a little panache, but still less than John Wick employed. In an alternate universe Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington will Red Dawn the shit out of their respective criminal US-landscapes and meet in the middle where Dolph Lundgren will be waiting to go all Red Scorpion on em. No, it's fun. Stupid and fun. Best moment: the hardware store First Blood finale is hall of fame stupid fun.
Kill Me Three Times - Kriv Stenders - The Everybody's-an-Asshole-Murder-Comedy is a difficult genre to completely succeed in. The Coen Brothers pull it off with remarkable consistency, but even in their immaculate oeuvre there's gulf betwixt Blood Simple and The Ladykillers. Still, I'm excited when somebody takes a big ol' swing at the genre. Hell, I'll defend efforts like Drowning Mona and Horrible Bosses so yeah, I'm invested in this working out. All to say Kill Me Three Times succeeds across the board and that's a damned rare thing. Which isn't to say it's a perfect film or even one of my favorites of the year - it isn't either - but it's solid and consistent. It's got an impressively large cast with complex inner-connectedness with Simon Pegg at the center as the professional killer hired by one character after another to solve their problems. It's got an appealingly cold heart and true love is no bullet proof defense here which I appreciate. Still, it's not as funny as it wants to be, neither is it as thrilling as it could be. The two elements don't undercut each other as they're want to in most offerings in this genre, they exist in balance, they're just not all-out great either way. If this is your kind of thing, I think you'll dig it like I did, maybe even more. And here's hoping Sullivan Stapleton gets more and better work. After intriguing a presence as he is in small roles in Animal Kingdom and The Hunter and as compelling as he looks in Cut Snake, I believe he's got something to offer. Best moment: Bryan Brown chewing scenery is always welcome.
Los Bastardos - Amat Escalante - The none-too-subtly named dual protagonists Jesus (Jesus Moises Rodriguez) and Fausto (Ruben Sosa) are a couple of undocumented day laborers in Los Angeles faced with a life changing choice. The film's main focus is on the grind of their day to day existence and is strongest when it puts us on the street with them - walking forever across the cityscape to hang out for hours bullshitting with other work-hopefuls, waiting for a gig that may or may not come and if it does may or may not pay. But that's a shotgun in the bag they're carrying around and there's off-hand mentions of a special job they've supposedly been hired to do and they could obviously use some extra cash. The opening shot of the film is an excruciatingly long take of slow approaching figures and it sets the tone well. That awful climax we can see coming from a long way away is coming as sure as the sun... but there's some time to kill until it gets here. This one isn't for everybody - it's not a passively entertaining film and it's gonna take some movie-watching muscles to get there, but for those who reach the climax it will leave an impression. On a side note, it's probably got my very favorite cunnilingus scene of all time and a solid performance from Nina Zavarin. Best moment: the end. Yeah, no arguing the strength of that ending.
Miami Vice - Michael Mann - I think I finally got it. Third time through and I managed to scrape off every layer of resistance I'd approached the film with the first couple of times. I can finally say this here is some classic Mann. 2nd tier, sure, but solid in an unassuming and unapologetic way. Mann continues to follow his fascination with alpha-males (dudes who do stuff and are good at it and enjoy doing it and can be pricks about it sometimes) and digital film making without frills -except when frills are expressly the point (go-fast boats, haircuts, sweet-ass hardware, mojitos)- and delivers a piece of slick, project your own qualities on the stock characters, grade-a populist fare. If this one were a Melville joint, in French, or just straight up silent, I think it'd help underline how special Mann is and what exactly he's after here (and every time out - who knows maybe Blackhat will take a couple more viewings to get up there). Best moment: the warehouse heist - Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx look like they know what they're doing and I could watch the ski mask reveal Farrell's mustache and pony tail as he tosses grenades on a loop.
Point Break - Kathryn Bigelow - Disguised as a square going radical, radical gone square special agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) infiltrates the So-Cal surfing scene to nab some bank robbers. Instead he accidentally gets radicalized beyond previous athletic exploits by modern savage, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Disguised as a day-glo jock-rock stadium tour turd Bigelow manages to slip some amazing imagery into this flick. If you take nothing else away, sear the picture of tuxedoed Ronald Reagan with a gas-pump flame-thrower gleefully torching the American auto industry -or whatever- into your brain. It's a startlingly boss sequence that's only one among many. Exuberantly macho and over the top, it's easy to see why Point Break spawned so many knock-offs, but even the best of the lesser-thans (from Drop Zone to The Fast & the Furious) only take the undercover cop in extreme sports framework and leave out all the... okay, maybe that is the best part. But nobody does it with the style, the R-rated violence or the absolute commitment to every potentially silly and terrible corner of the canvas that Bigs does. The power-bottom status Utah achieves in the film's central relationship (every time Utah's got the upper hand, he is literally on his back "beneath" Bodhi - Bodhi will express dominance and Utah will makes his choice... Bodhi stares him down and Utah submits and fires his gun, eh shoots his wad, into the air, Bodhi chooses to let the both of them die rather than pull the cord and Utah drops his gun saves both of them by pulling the chute, and in their final tangle, Utah lets Bodhi take him under the waves and finally gets the best for both of them by slipping on the handcuffs when Bodhi is confident he's won) is perhaps akin to that Bigelow held in hollywood thanks to the flick's success (I hate being crass enough to point out the remark ability of a woman helming the biggest balls-out, most enduring, dudliest dude movie of its moment, but there I go - hey, if I really wanted to pander, I'd say something about (vagina-having) Nancy Dowd writing the best, dudliest dude sports movie of all time, Slap Shot, but I'm classy... and I have black friends too... and some gays - I'm not that white guy, okay? Except... I am exactly that white guy that this movie was marketed at, a teenager at the time of its release, and over the summer I showed it to my own boys because I thought they needed this version to be what stuck with them after the (even sillier looking- how is that possible?) remake comes out in December. Best moment: Reeves and Swayze consummate their thing. Overheard in the heat of pasion: "Pull it!", "No, you pull it! If you use your other hand what are you going to hold on with?" Then a rough landing, a literal roll in the tangled sheet and a satisfied "Johnny, goddamn, you are one radical son of a bitch." Sorry, Brokeback Mountain, this is all the cowboy love story I'll ever need.
Rectify Season 2 - Ray McKinnon - Season two of the Southern-man-out-of-prison drama seems to have a slightly better grasp on its identity than the first season did - not uncommon among many of my favorite TV shows (The Shield, The Sopranos, Justified). But it could also be me coming to terms with what it actually is instead of what I thought it might become. What it is: at times scorching, character-driven meditation on life, death, transgression, consequence, forgiveness and grace. Occasionally achingly beautiful, once in a while morally terrifying and punctuated by the odd bit of dead-on humor. What it is not: concerned with getting anywhere in a hurry, willing to leave any detail of a character's emotional rationale un-pondered, giving a fuck what you want it to be. What this means: it's a singular work of long-form television with a lot on its mind and a rare determination to say it exactly as it intends to. It's alternately electrifying and frustrating, riveting and dull, and I haven't decided whether I'll tune in for the third season yet. Aden Young's central performance gains intensity and focus in the second season. J.D. Evermore's Sheriff Daggett has the most potentially interesting role of round two, but doesn't get to take many steps down his path, while Adelaide Clemens and Abigale Spencer's roles feel like they've declined in purpose and interest as well as my standout performer from season 1, Clayne Crawford - all three are given less and less of interest to me to do in season 2. The always and everywhere great Sean Bridgers has a juicy episode that is probably the season's standout, but the Best Moment: goes to Young and Johnny Ray Gill walking through the orchard. It's a transcendent moment of beauty that is worth everything else to get to.
Run All Night - Jaume Collett-Serra - Liam Neeson is a bad guy. His son is a good guy. Ed Harris is a bad guy. His son is a bad guy. Liam Neeson's son kills Ed Harris's son and Ed Harris sets out to kill Liam Neeson's son. Liam Neeson tells Ed Harris not to kill his son and that he's sorry about Ed Harris's son being killed even though everybody knows Ed Harris's son was a bad guy... and that Liam Neeson's son is a good guy. Ed Harris (a bad guy) hires Common (an uncommonly good bad guy killer) to kill Liam Neeson's son (a good guy). I'm not sure why I just sounded so snarky. I actually enjoyed this movie on some significant levels: 1) It's set in a grungy workaday criminal underworld, not so different from a grungy blue-collar neighborhood - which I gravitate to far harder than say a tale of upper-echelon mafiosos running empires from mansions and shit. 2) It's cast primarily with actors who look like they could've lived the lives they're supposed to have as opposed to have instead of a bunch of twenty-three year muscle/tattoo guys with expensive haircuts who supposedly run a city. 3) It's small-scale stuff. Yeah, the reach of Harris's fingers into the power structure - cops on his payroll, killers on his speed-dial - are plausible and he doesn't feel like he's got bottomless pockets - it very much feels like he's breaking the bank to kill Joel Kinnaman and he's broken up enough to ruin himself over it. 4) The cinematic quality consistently outmatches the material - which lends more weight to all the aforementioned reasons for succumbing to it because to me it suggests the director had a budget, and chose these slums (material, characters and setting) because it's what he's drawn to as well. Fuck it, I'm in your corner, buddy. But the film does have some significant drawbacks: 1) The silly notion that somebody fighting for their life has their humanity irreparably tainted for responding with lethal force - to the point where Batman won't use a gun or, in this case, Neeson will make stupid (and worse - impractical) decisions just to keep his grown-ass-man son from taking a life. It's an overly-romantic notion that clashes with the more grungy, grounded elements and world of the film. 2) Common's hit man is just a little too much the ultimate boogie man badass that again - clashes with the more realistic elements. 3) The action climax - again, you've set up this fairly believable world that I want to hang out in, but you start getting all action-heroey on me and I'm checking out. I like crime movies and I like action movies - but they're two different things and don't often mix in successful ways. So, hey, it's a qualified thumbs up for the first half of the movie and some beautifully shot scenes. Best moment: the cop car chase sequence rides the fine crime film/action movie line most successfully.