Asura: The City of Madness - Kim Sung-su - Jung Woo-sung is a dirty cop caught between the filthy mayor Hwang Jung-min and an anti-corruption task force led by the pitiless Kwak Do-wan in this potent, nihilistic, runaway train of a thrill ride. Woo-sung spends his time inciting riots, manipulating witnesses and covering up murders for Jung-min while getting squeezed into calculated betrayals by Do-wan and he only wants to stay alive and out of prison long enough to take care of his dying wife. Once the bonds snap that kept his life, and seemingly the entire machinery of the city, together the whole house of cards against humanity is gonna fall and kill everybody inside. Buckling in is only strapping yourself to the wreckage.
Bad Day For the Cut - Chris Baugh - A middle-aged sad-sack bachelor who lives with his mother and spends all his best moments and all of his meager monies at a local pub comes home one night to find his dear old ma murdered and not in some half-assed home invasion gone wrong kind of way. No, seems she was worthy of somebody hiring professionals to do it right, but it goes just wrong enough to send hapless Donal (Nigel O'Neill) off on a seek and destroy mission with results as unexpected as the whole thing is ill-advised. Plenty is revealed about Donal's roots and latent character - when pressed he finds that bottomless determination and a sprinkling of intelligence will take him further than anybody would have guessed - and the pervasive melancholy mood is punctured by surprising moments of brutal violence and gallows humor worthy of comparisons to similar fare like Fargo, No Country For Old Men or Blue Ruin. First contender for year's end honors at HBW. Can't wait to see what Baugh does next.
Bullet Head - Paul Solet - A trio of thieves hide out in a warehouse after a heist goes right and the getaway goes wrong. While the cops comb the city outside they find they're trapped inside with a more immediate threat. Turns out the warehouse has been used to host dog fights and a wounded, ferocious mastiff left to die has recovered and wants to eat them. There's a good movie or two trying to claw their way to the surface of the mess this one ultimately proves to be. If you pitched me Reservoir Dogs meets Cujo I'd, um, bite, but the overly elaborate and long chase/shootout climax is encumbered by bad CGI monsters, gunshots and an Antonio Banderas performance that might as well be too. There are a few weird and off-beat character moments early on that had me holding out hope for a better outcome that didn't show up. Starring Adrien Brody, John Malkovich and Rory Culkin.
Creep 2 - Patric Brice - The Duplass Brothers hit and miss along a surprisingly diverse spectrum of projects: drama, comedy, documentary, science fiction and horror films - all slightly ambitions and carried off by low-budget ingenuity and audacity. Serving as producers their Creep franchise handily tops their directorial effort Baghead in producing actual suspense and horror-ish thrills. The first Creep film was a found footage exercise in is-it/isn't-it horror/comedy discomfort with a two-person cast. The is-(co-writer/producer)-Mark Duplass-a-killer-or-just-a-weirdo question is answered by the end of the first film so the set-up of the second, though similar in size (again, a two-person main course with one extra cast member in the brief prologue), has very different dynamics on account of the audience already knowing that - yes, he is in fact a killer. He's also a weirdo or creep. We go a lot deeper into his story and character this time and are tickled by the dilemma of whether or not to call bullshit on his confession/revelations. On the one hand he is alarmingly honest, on the other he's undoubtedly manipulative - and honest about that too. I admire these films for proving you can engage and hold an audience with only solid writing and performance without being a self-important capital-A arteest. A bold choice or two doesn't hurt either.
Crocodile - John Hillcoat - Technically the third episode of the fourth season of the technology-based anthology TV series Black Mirror, I'm including this 60-minute short film because I won't be covering the not-necessarily-crime-centered show anywhere else. Yeah, a lot of the episodes include crime, but this one has a classic noir set up and fucking John Hillcoat directing. It's the story of a woman (Andrea Riseborough) with a crime in her past unwittingly drawn into an insurance investigation of an unrelated event she witnesses. The technology angle concerns a method of collecting memory from multiple witnesses to construct a more complete picture of the incident. Of course she's concerned that different memories will be accessed by the investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar) and a gauntlet of no-win situations present themselves. Sci-fi elements aside this could play with the brief nasties of classic film noir express trains to hell that I'm (and I suspect you) are so fond of.
Den of Thieves - Christian Gudegast - Gerard Butler is the alpha cop leading a leatherdick task force and in Pablo Schreiber's gang of thieves there ain't no cucks allowed so fuckin strap in and strap on cuz everybody's strapped on these streets and... oh who am I kidding? I enjoyed the hell out of this silly best-scenes-of-your-favorite-macho-crime-movies-strung-together-for-maximum-ka-pow!-turned-up-to-eleven-testosterone-smoothie. Yeah, the posturing is abrasive at first, but this one actually improves as it goes and by the end I even had emotions and shit. Plus the final heist is pretty great - clever, but stops short of eye-roll-inducing - and the climactic chase/shootout is staged and executed well. No, Michael Mann shouldn't feel threatened, but David Ayer should probably check his rearview - I'd be happy to see more crime stuffs from Gudegast.
Detroit - Kathryn Bigelow - Totally get it if you don't want to sit through two hours of white cops torturing black folks - as a thriller it isn't a great premise and as a drama of social importance it feels constantly upstaged by same old shit every time you turn on the evening news - but as an immersive experience it's pretty potent (though the riots outside are where I'd rather have spent the run time). The period pops and Bigelow is great at generating and sustaining an atmosphere of impending violence and Anthony Mackie continues to make me wish he had a leading man vehicle that matched his potential.
Gemini - Aaron Katz - Slick looking, low-budget murder mystery serving as a tour of L.A. glitz and a rare movie about movie stardom that isn't off-putting in its treatment of celebrity culture. Solid cast includes Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, James Ransone, Michelle Forbes and Ricki Lake.Lola Kirke holds the center effortlessly and, while the low-grade thriller resolves and dissolves with a little less intriguing post-film brain itch than Katz's previous deconstructionist detective flick Cold Weather, I'd absolutely be down for a hangout picture with Kirke and Kravitz's characters.
Hangman - Johnny Martin - I watched the trailer for this serial-killer thriller starring Karl Urban and Al Pacino's hair and thought: was that their best effort to get me to watch the movie? Then I watched the movie. Joke's on me.
Hollow in the Land - Scooter Corkle - Dianna Agron plays the elder of two siblings from deadbeat, no-account parents who've disgraced the family's name and community standing before abandoning their offspring to fend for themselves in a small, dead-end industrial community where drugs are the only escape and violence the sole guarantee. Alison (Agron) works in a factory to support her wayward younger brother who's tempting many potential bad ends with his careless behavior and when he disappears after a violent encounter that the cops say is murder big sister takes it upon herself to find him before he's killed by the police or various criminal types he's managed to piss off. Surely pitched as a more-thrillery Winter's Bone it manages to work by its attention to detail and place and avoids the pitfalls of too many rural noirs that play up the outrageous aspects of small town life in an exploitative fashion (not that I'm not down with exploitation once in a while). There aren't any grotesques in the cast, neither are there lingering looks at squalor, and the lesbian sexuality isn't sensationalized. It's also refreshingly free of any sense of inherent nobility in blue collar life, but all these elements add credulity to Alison's outsider status and Agron's jaw is set for optimal resolute determination. It's a nicely executed, muted (but not dirge-like) tale of life in the margins and the director's name is Scooter.
Kills on Wheels - Attila Till - Two wheelchair bound boys find a mentor of sorts in a disabled gangster/hitman who takes them on as apprentices. It's a helluva premise and mostly works with utter nihilism not quite overtaking a healthy dose of teenaged fuck-the-world angst. The last ten minutes are a little disappointing, but make sense out of questions bothering me in the structure, and won't keep me from enjoying a revisit in the future.
Last Rampage - Dwight H. Little - True crime drama about Gary Tison's escape and murderous final days in Arizona. Robert Patrick is the second Bob to play Tison (Robert Mitchum had the role in 1983's A Killer in the Family) and during the opening escape sequence I was excited by the prospect of following him on a kill-crazy adventure, but the film quickly deteriorates into joyless melodrama and you get the sense that it's really kind of tedious having to kill everybody who crosses your path. Honestly I expect movies where fathers and sons consider murdering each other to be more fun. At Close Range this ain't.