Brimstone - Martin Koolhoven - Dakota Fanning is a mute woman alarmed by the arrival of traveling preacher Guy Pearce in her town while her neighbors are drawn to his brand of fiery, vengeful religiosity. She's got good reason to be - she just hasn't told anybody about it yet. Has all the elements of an epic spiritual western, but feels like a picture made on the cheap. Still, I admire its ambition enough to give it a recommendation.
Cartel Land - Matthew Heineman - Documentary about a citizen militias trying to take back power from drug cartels on both sides of the US/Mexican border that features some pretty great footage of gunfights etc. Surprise surprise - following the citizen soldiers in Mexico feels muuuuuch different than creeping along the borderlands with armed Americans in combat drag trying to catch migrants. Late in the film questions about the nobility of José Manuel Mireles the charismatic doctor taking back towns from cartel control emerge and it kinda sucks all the goodwill energy out of the first half's documenting of the progress of his citizen uprising movement.
Dying of the Light - Paul Schrader - I'll revisit this one if Schrader ever gets to release his cut (the director as well as producer Nicolas Winding Refn and stars Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin refused to promote the picture after control was taken away from Schrader, but I don't get the feeling we're missing out on a masterpiece. I like the idea of Cage as an aging (dying) agent - and this is probably the best performance by his hair I've seen in a while - looks dignified, thinning and gray, but it's not enough to pull a recommendation out of me. I like this stage in both Cage and Schrader's career - past giving a fuck about their reputations and I'm fine ground-outs like this one happen because their next at-bat was the electrifying Dog Eat Dog. I see how it works.
El Camino Christmas - David E. Talbert - This is a movie that I watched. Tim Allen was in it.
Elle - Paul Verhoeven - I don't have anything interesting to add to the conversation about Elle. I'm just happy to see Verhoeven making movies again... still.
Everly - Joe Lynch - First time I tried watching it I quit less than five minutes in - had some preconceived notion of what it was that it was not, but something made me take another look and hoo-ee am I glad I did. This movie's a blast. Just a sicko exploitation action movie blast. Yeah, it's a bummer that so much CGI is required to make blood these days - but this one really brings something special in the sadism department and Salma Hayek is really good. Happily revisit soon.
The Fear- Richard Cottan - Things going for this BBC mini-series - Brighton setting, Peter Mullan as a gangster, promising premise (a gangster gone mostly legit having to fight for his fortune, family and reputation whilst losing his edge and his mid to dementia) and Richard E. Grant. Somehow I didn't love it. Didn't trust the crime stuff to be interesting enough on its own and leaned too hard into the debilitating disease for dramatic heft - something I pretty much always dislike... but maybe that's just me.
For the Emperor - Park Sang-Joon - A baseball player caught up in the middle of a fixing scandal finds himself suddenly without a livelihood and up to his ears in gambling debt works it off as a debt collector and enforcer for the gangster he owes. Some really great gang fights with bats and knives, but virtually weightless emotionally.
A Gang Story - Olivier Marchal - Dual-timeline story about a gypsy gang in France - the rise storyline shows them come together from hardscrabble poverty and consolidate power through a series of brazen heists and the decline storyline shows the surviving members rich and sad and realizing one of their own has betrayed them. I get the impression it wasn't well-received in France, but I quite enjoyed the cast, the period setting and production values (not quite The Connection-level stuff, but if you enjoyed that one, give this a shot). Marchal is also the creator of the TV show Braquo, which has been on my radar for a few years.
Headshot - Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto - Iko Uwais of The Raid franchise gets the opportunity to bust heads again in this riff on the badass amnesiac genre - a genre that suits the action here just fine as I am fuzzy on the plot, but recall enjoying plenty of over the top violence. If you've watched The Raid movies and Kill Zone 2 and need another distraction - this one's down the quality ladder from those, but recommended.
Knock Knock - Eli Roth - A remake of Peter Traynor's 1977 film Death Game about a family man seduced and then terrorized by young women. Seems fitting that film maker Roth taken under the wing of Tarantino whose brand is regurgitating the films and cultural detritus that snagged in his brain pan as an indiscriminate youthful consumer and fashioning repurposed and hypercontexualized collage movies out of them would just go straight to remaking them like he's grindhouse J.J. Abrams. Kinda wish I could peek into the future and look at Roth's body of work... I'm curious about it more than I am interested in the films - I'm sure I'll see Death Wish at some point, I watched Green Inferno, and I dug the Hostel movies and chuckled a couple times during Cabin Fever. I pick up that people love to dump on him and I'm not quite sure (or interested enough to investigate) why. I didn't really like Knock Knock, but I did enjoy several scenes - mostly toward the end of the film. I enjoyed the opportunity to see Keanu Reeves, a huge movie star, doing things I've never really seen him do - generally losing his shit. He's built a career out of knowing his range and mostly sticking to it, so watching him emote like a desperate motherfucker at the end tickled me. The film invites so many interpretations and seems packaged to court controversy around the fear of unrestrained feminine sexuality (if it starred Michael Douglas that's the lens I'd have seen it through too), but I think it works most as a generation-X anxiety over the rise of millenials picture. We're middle-aged now. We are the establishment. Who do these young punks think they are and why aren't they interested in my opinions and values? I dunno, maybe it work better as a double feature with While We're Young.
Line of Duty season 1 - Jed Mercurio - Because I like crime shit people assume I'm going to love whatever cop fare is on prime time these days, but it's rare that I connect with those shows because solving crimes is not really the appeal for me. Might as well watch a show about plumbers solving problems - investigations and puzzles are only interesting for a little while. What's interesting about cops is the seamy environments they work in (in other words, the criminals and victims of crime) and the unique position they're put in authorized by society to use their judgment in enforce law including the use of lethal force and the complications that come from human shortcoming. So cop shows about interesting characters who happen to be cops - that's when you've got potential. This one is that. Concerning IA investigating a top cop - no heroes or villains, just interesting opposing forces with interesting goals and motives.
London Spy - Tom Rob Smith - Mini-series with Ben Whishaw as a London club-scene hedonist approaching midlife and drug addiction who falls for a strange man he passes jogging the street as he's drunkenly stumbling out of a club one night/morning. The two men are an unlikely match, but the connection is powerful enough that when his boyfriend disappears under suspicious circumstances Whishaw doggedly searches to find out why and finds himself rubbing shoulders with shadowy intelligence underworld types who may kill him. Plays kinda like the flipside of a John le Carré story (which may've been the pitch). I gave it a chance because of Smith's name (being a fan of his books Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6) and I'm glad I stuck with it though it's more a love story than an espionage thriller - the climax is effective and affecting and Jim Broadbent is always worthwhile.
1922 - Zak Hilditch - The novella about a farmer who convinces his young son to help him murder his wife (the child's mother) to keep her from selling the farm is easily my favorite Stephen King anything, and while the adaptation is nowhere near as powerful it is also not at all embarrassing (as many King adaptations can be). Thomas Jane gives a solid and sometimes surprising lead performance - looking appropriately haunted, withered and hardened and Molly Parker is somebody I'm always happy to see. The film's understated, unforced tone and pacing is both what keeps it from greatness and from ruin - the emotions and the horror are kept submerged and interior. Is the resulting haunting literal or an acute and latent attack of conscience or a disintegrating mind? Doesn't matter - it's unsettling, but (Jane's) Wilfred James made his play and is going to live and die with the consequences. And they are terrible. Curious how it impacts viewers unfamiliar with the source material.
OJ: Made in America - Ezra Edelman - This multi-part documentary is where more of the love fell for long-form TV tellings of The Juice's story last year and certainly it told the longer story - the Simpson story, the rise and fall - where the dramatic version concentrated on the trial and all the supporting cast, and it is interesting, but I'm going to come down in favor of the FX American Crime season - preferring the supporting cast and dynamics of the moment over the individual's story fascinating as it is.
Oklahoma City - Barak Goodman - Timelier than ever documentary on the elements at play in the deadly domestic terror attack.
Our Kind of Traitor - Susanna White - Stellan Skarsgård is a Russian mafia figure whose hail mary move to get out of the life that's about to catch up with him violently is slipping a disc to vacationing Brits Ewan McGregor and Naomi Harris who turn it over to Damian Lewis and MI6. A cat and cat and cat and mouse game of trust and defection plays out with a workman-like film-making efficiency, but never really reaches the humanity of the best le Carré adaptations.
The Purge - James DeManoco - For a near future schlock action/horror exploitation premise The Purge franchise sure punches above its weight in the satire department. The initial outing saves its budget by staging eighty percent of the run time inside a single location while all the night's mayhem rages outside the walls of the gated community Ethan Hawke's family lives in. The home-invasion thrills are fine, but it's the prickly premise begging to be explored further that leads to the better pay-offs in subsequent installments.
The Purge: Election Year - James DeManoco - The third installment of my current favorite splatter satirical franchise explores the idea of violence as America's most lucrative domestic product with its own tourism economy made up primarily of affluent, young, white Europeans eager to travel to the U.S. for their chance to participate in some divinely appointed righteous bloodshed. The integration of religious elements here are just another example of how on-the-nose and awful the whole series should seem, but which DeManoco manages to spin into exploitation gold. I'm way on board for the next installment: The First Purge.
Rattle the Cage - Majid Al Ansari - A man arrested for a fight with his ex-wife's new fella finds he's picked the wrong cell to sleep off his hangover in when a strange policeman arrives and begins killing everybody. This is a tight thriller with a simple premise revealed in satisfactory fashion and just enough explanation to keep plausibility intact. Just missed my top picks of the year - check it out, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Rectify season 4 - Ray McKinnon - I finished it mostly 'cause I'm a completest. Honestly, I felt it'd run out of steam about a season earlier, but I was pleased by many character moments and a few surprises along the way. Any time Sean Bridgers is onscreen is gold. I admire McKinnon and company for making exactly what they wanted to and something unlike anything else on TV, but I do feel like it took its time not getting anywhere.
RED - Robert Schwentke - Mediocre, but not a complete waste. The best bits all involve Malkovich, but if you want to rate it against other action, crime comedies from: Bruce Willis - not as good as The Whole Nine Yards John Malkovich - not as good as Burn After Reading Helen Mirren - not as good as The Fate of the Furious Mary Louise Parker - better than R.I.P.D. Morgan Freeman - better than Lucky Number Slevin.