Antiviral - Brandon Cronenberg - Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) has a nasty virus. He's been taking his work home with him and it's catching up with his poor, abused immune system. Syd's a salesman who deals in viruses and his extracurricular activities aren't just highly lucrative and highly illegal, they're potentially deadly. This is the most perverse thing I've seen in a good long while. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fucking excellent. A sterile flick about germs. A study of celebrity/saint worship from a child of fame. So damn many beautiful touches of perfect awfulness. Mutilation and adoration of flesh, a techno-religious experience. I really don't want to say anything more about the content of the picture because it is all so deliciously wrong, that one of the chief pleasures is letting it unfold without any expectations to live up to. Can't wait to see what young master Cronenberg does next. Best moment: so many to choose from, but I'm going to say... anytime the camera pans around the deli.
Atomic Blonde - David Leitch - All style. Not a complaint. Holy crap is this a gorgeous picture. To quibble over confusing or possibly nonsensical plot elements is to have missed the point entirely. As a mere impeccable assemblage of aesthetic choices it's admirable, but as an achievement in execution it is often breathtaking. Also - staircase fight scene is so great.
Baby Driver - Edgar Wright - Surprisingly straight-forward crime flick from Wright who's made a career out of genre tinkering and trope subversion, but I ain't complaining. Of course it is hyper-stylized and ridiculous, but its commitment to having a good time all the time trumps any potential picked nits. If all crime flicks were this glossy and bubble-gum sticky/sweet I'd be sick of it pretty quick, but executed on this high a level, I'm more than happy to indulge in as overtly a fantasy of a crime picture as this one is today.
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.
Bernie - Richard Linklater - You've seen the trailer for this one, too, huh? Yeah, it's another true story with the whole plot offered up in the advertising, but what makes Bernie so worth watching is the performance from Jack Black. Such a soulful, restrained turn as the enigmatic con-man? (Gigolo? Man-child? Conniver?) Killer. Whether he's out for the money the whole time or really the salt of the earth pushed too far, Bernie is one of the most memorable and complex characters of the year, and Black's rendering it's almost unfathomable to me that it didn't win him major recognition.
Blood Father - Jean-Francois Richet - Mel Gibson turns in an engaged performance as Link, a dirtbag parolee just trying to stay sober while he ekes out a quiet living as a tattoo artist in a dusty ass-end of nowhere trailer park, whose runaway daughter reaches out desperate for his help. He takes her in for a few days and promises her some money if she sobers up, but trouble tracks her down in the form of a nasty pack of criminals she's on the run from before sobriety can really be established. Nothing special about the plot or set-up here, they're pretty standard. The pleasure is just how punchy a familiar tune can sound when played loudly by the right band in the right venue. The action is simple, but clear and quick and brutal. Gibson holds the center as a man left with only two emotions - anger and more angrier - and precious little in coping mechanisms since he's committed to sobriety and the rules of his parole. One of those commitments is ditched early (and not without pain) but Link confesses to his daughter that he's having fun living on the lam with baddies coming out of the woodwork after them, and that's our cue to jump in and chew this thing as a palatable piece of pulp (based on the novel by co-screenwriter Peter Craig) rather than a harrowing tale of crime and consequence. The subcultures of the film add tremendously to the atmosphere - the trailer park full of scraggly, well armed rednecks, the fleabag motel, peckerwood biker bar and the compound where Dale Dickey and Michael Parks run an internet business specializing in confederate and nazi paraphernalia. Note to filmmakers: if Michael Parks is available you fucking use Michael Parks.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 - S. Craig Zahler - After the amazing job Zahler did creating a low-budget high-intensity horror/western in Bone Tomahawk and the wonderfully nutso vibe of the trailer for his crime flick follow-up featured shorn-headed Vince Vaughn beating up a car with his bare hands I was primed for something unhinged. Happy to report that just like Bone Tomahawk this one features some absolutely jaw-dropping violence - just nasty, snapping, crushing, crunching, slicy, spicy action that elicited many a delighted/horrified squeal from my blood-lusty self. The tone is a tricky one and I mostly enjoyed being a little off-balance, but it goes from blue-collar family drama to B-crime movie straight on into some super-gnarly exploitation prison fare (which, I believe, is where its heart truly lies) and not all of them fully succeed. The film opens with Vaughn's character being laid off a job he really needs, then coming home early to find his wife Jennifer Carpenter is cheating on him. Dude is pissed and the rising violence percolating beneath his surface makes us nervous for his co-workers and especially his wife when he angrily tells her to go inside the house and wait for him. Then comes the car beating scene and what follows is the first hint that Zahler is up to more than your average exploitation movie-making. Vaughn and Carpenter's post-cheating revelation conversation is some unexpected character shit that points to promising things both for writer Zahler and actor Vaughn. Unfortunately the real payoff, if it comes, will probably be in other projects because while an interesting pause beat in the drama, it's not really followed through with by exploring the interesting relationship further (it doesn't have to, I just hoped it would). It does lead to more upending of audience expectations of Vaughn's character though - and I fuckin appreciate that (the other best example is when he switches sides in the middle of a fight). We progress from there into my least-favorite element of the film - the crime movie. Least favorite because in every other situation Vaughn's character proves himself an independent operator with an interesting moral code and superior level of competence. Why this guy would work for the boss he works for as a criminal just boggles my mind. Vaughn is clearly the more intelligent, level-headed and respectable, yet finds his life utterly fucked (and therefore his budding family's too - the supposed reason he's demeaning himself with a life of crime in the first place) because of his boss's short-sightedness and greed. Then, late in the game he makes a play in cooperation with the same shit-bag crime boss and the dynamic seems much more like neighborhood bros forever than stand-up guy calling in a fraction of the chit he's owed by a sheltered, privileged scumbag whose life goes on uninterrupted and doesn't appear the least bit cowed by the consequences of his actions heaped upon his best guy's family. It rang false or at the very least extremely frustrating to me. With all the other bold and strong choices made by Zahler and Vaughn, whose performance is overly mannered and stilted to the exact degree that his character would be (the more I sit with it, the more I like what he was doing here), I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they did exactly what they wanted to do rather than believe it was a mistake or mis-calculation or simple under-executed piece of the overall vision. I'm sure I will revisit this film repeatedly and it may smooth out or vex me further. Thankfully, then we move on to the meatiest part of the film - the prison bit. We start with a pretty straight up hard time picture, but very early switch gears into fucking extreme exploitation action movie gnarliness with the always welcome Udo Kier introducing us to a plotline John Carpenter would've made one of his greatest movies out of in the early eighties - Vaughn's pregnant wife has been abducted and will suffer an ugly as hell fate if Vince doesn't get himself transferred to a specific super-max facility and murder another inmate who is kept within a secret prison within a prison run by the sadistic always leather-gloved Don Johnson and he's got to do it super quick. From here the movie is pure fucking pleasure as he starts and finishes prison fight after prison fight escalating the awful like he's in a video game until he is dishing out just outrageously awesomely gross physical damage to body after body inside a high-pulp torture factory with floors of broken glass and vests that deliver random incapacitating electric shocks. By the time he's decapitating some motherfucker on the jagged edge of a literal shit hole it's reached a level of go-for-broke gross out violence that few American made action pictures with movie stars ever get to. And that, friends, makes spending time with this sorta unsufferable character way worthwhile. Zahler and Vaughn give the character the sort of irritating national pride and self-righteousness most likely born of having a father or uncle who went to 'Nam, that's common in say your average Michael Bay leading man, but make you sit with him in such an uncomfortable proximity, his mostly terrible taste and personal aesthetic that would be an endearing punchline for a handful of scenes in a more mainstream movie, is instead presented without irony and believably similar to the way I appreciate Steven C. Miller's suburban dude bro characters with their shiny black pick up trucks and crisp ball caps over some of the overly earnest feints at "authenticity" in your average art house rural plight drama. We have every reason to believe he's got a Nickelback tune on repeat in his head while pumping himself up for the coming violence - mercifully, we're spared enduring it.
Buzzard - Joel Potrykus - Joshua Burge plays Marty, a misanthropic temp worker at a bank, who skates by on as little effort as possible and whose only ambition in life seems to be ripping off the low-hanging fruit of societal systems and institutions. In the opening scene he takes advantage of a loophole in the bank's checking account promotion like he's in a Seinfeld episode or he's Adam Sandler in Punchdrunk Love filling his grocery cart with pudding, but he doesn't give a shit about how he's perceived by the incredulous teller who stresses how bad it looks that Marty works for the bank. Marty answers matter-of-factly "It doesn't matter... it's irrelevant." It's as close to a moral stance as Marty ever takes - actually, I take that back. There are a couple other times Marty is genuinely morally outraged: when he discovers that another con artist has ripped him off, and Marty fails to find any sense of shame on the part of his victimizer with his reasoned appeals and twice when he's caught in a criminal action and the marks refuse to let him off the hook - that's when we get glimpses of all the scary potential within him. But Marty's criminality expands to every area of his life. He owes nothing -certainly not decency, or consideration- to co-workers, family or even those who are trying to help him. Marty's serial-victim is his co-worker Derek (writer/director Potrykus) who is nicely juxtaposed to Marty. Derek's another lonely guy without any perceivable ambition who is content to coast through life simply doing his cushy job and living in his parent's basement, but he desperately wants a friend and finds nothing but contempt from Marty - who could have an anonymous easy life if he didn't hate everybody and everything so much that he's driven to rail so pathetically against it at every opportunity. The idea that Marty is lazy is unfounded - he works hard at pet projects - he's just not that bright. We get the feeling that if he survives long enough he may blossom into a very dangerous man. This film is funny as hell, but unnerving too as the extremities of Marty's commitment to anarchy and self-preservation run up against his absolute refusal or inability to imagine consequences for his actions or lack thereof. Office Space meets Taxi Driver? Clerks by way of Nightcrawler? It's a portrait of a uniquely American strain of sociopath (correct usage? I think so) and while on the surface may seem an outlier for discussion on a crime film blog, I think it's the best example of pure criminality on the list.
Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino - Dug it. Jamie Foxx plays the titular former-slave now bounty hunter trying to find the wife he was separated from as a victim of the cold, ugly commerce of flesh-trade. Along the way he'll learn the legal and capital ins-and-outs of violence as well as give and take more than his fair share of it. I liked it in 2012, but was pretty stunned by a recent rewatch. In fact, in my more hyperbolic moments you might hear me call it one of the best American-made movies about America ever. Tarantino's angriest picture is still fun at times, but it also boils under the surface and features some harrowing violence (among all the other types of violence; funny, cool, kinetic, gore-splattered, implied) to keep you sober. The seething, crawling, all consuming need to commit violence just barely concealed behind the masks men wear and the non-existent limits he will go to to sate his appetite once any kind of legal justification is available and how any law is available if you have the money to make it so... it's something else and might continue moving up my list.
Go For Sisters - John Sayles - Bernice (Lisa Gay Hamilton) is a parole officer whose work causes her path to recross with childhood friend Fontayne (Yolanda Ross), a parolee trying to put her life back together. When Bernice's son, a former soldier, goes missing (most likely kidnapped) in Mexico, she enlists her former friend's help in tracking him down. Along the way the duo hire a private detective (Edward James Olmos) and get in over their heads with dangerous people, but the bond between the women proves surprisingly strong and provides a very satisfying main course for the film. The actors ultimately rescue what could have been an exercise in trope subversion (I know - this time the detectives are black women, looking for a young boy who's disappeared) and elevate it to one of the best dramas, let alone crime films I've seen this year. And Sayles certainly deserves credit for that - I don't mean to suggest that he only wrote a cute send-up of the mystery genre - I'm sure he meant for it to be more than that - but without the great performances and chemistry between performers, that's all we'd have. Best moment: the opening scene of Bernice at work hearing stories from parolees is top notch scene setting and character building and both Hamilton and Ross are amazing to watch.
God's Pocket - John Slattery - Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a semi-legit businessman and a low-level criminal whose stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is a royal fuckup. When Leon provokes an elderly and seemingly feeble black coworker to fight and ends up dead, nobody at the job site is too upset by the loss and they all follow the foreman's lead by sticking with the accident on the job story he comes up with in order to spare the poor, old-timer unnecessary grief from the white cops. Leon's mother (Christina Hendricks) however is convinced that there's a cover up of some kind and goads her husband and a local celebrity newsman (Richard Jenkins) to investigate the incident leading to tragi-comic results on every front. Can't for the life of me figure out why this one didn't get more play what with the great posthumous performance from Hoffman, the rest of the cast which includes Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Domenick Lombardozzi and Glenn Fleshler, the feature directorial debut of Slattery and the revered source material by Pete Dexter. In a very strong year, it's one of my favorite films and should pick up the following it deserves in years to come. After The Paperboy, it's nice to see so much of the feel of Dexter's voice and tone come through in an adaptation.
The Guard - John Michael McDonagh - Those McDonagh brothers know how to use Brendan Gleeson, I'll say that. He's rude, crude, semi-corrupt and very effective in his work, and when he's teamed with Don Cheadle's straight-laced feeb from the States to investigate an international smuggling ring, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a racially updated remake of 48 Hours, but you'd be mistaken. It's so much more. And less. Unexpected and understated, performance, pacing and tone keep this one from resembling anything else it happens to look like on the surface.
A Hard Day - Seong-hoon Kim - Terrific entry in the worst-day-of-your-life genre from South Korea. Sun-kyun Lee plays Go, a dirty cop, who must scramble to cover his tracks and salvage everything he can as his career and life in general take the express train to shit-town. Best moment: Go kills a man on the way to his mother's funeral and has to hide the body in the coffin with mom. It's the movie in a nutshell - fast-paced, inventive, absurdly funny and a solid thriller all around.
Haywire - Steven Soderbergh - More than just an A-list introduction vehicle for former MMA fighter and then budding action star Gina Carano, it's also a deconstruction of the international action and espionage genre from Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs with gender politics, the mercenary business and movie tropes on its mind. True, the big movie stars Carano's Mallory Kane goes toe to toe with aren't all action movie regulars, but each one represents a type of formidable masculine movie persona and it's fun to see her meet and mix with each and justify her threat-level status. I don't mean to make it sound like a strictly academic exercise either. It's playful (David Holmes' score always elevates the material) and kicks some serious ass. Carano's line delivery isn't always natural (was Arnold's, Van Damme's, Dolph's?), but she absolutely sells the physicality and there's a hell of a lot of it. The Michael Fassbender scene is the show-stopper, but she tangles brutally with the larger Channing Tatum employing believably smart tactics to best his size and strength as well as just squashing the comparably impish Ewan McGregor. She also gets to handle weapons, run and jump a lot and do some stunt driving to boot. Some of the best moments in the movie are what would otherwise be throwaway montages in ordinary adventure films of perfect getaways, but when she makes un-forced errors (slipping and falling while running, hitting an obstacle that seemed perfectly avoidable while driving a car) it shakes the viewer out of passively reading action movie short-hand and underlines her humanity and fallibility which only increase the stakes and make it more impressive when she performs elevated-human moves. Carano's film career has been spotty (as most action stars' are) and Haywire remains the high point, but she doesn't have anything to prove after this one - if the project is quality, she's an asset.
Headhunters - Morten Tyldum - Expectations (or lack of) working in its favor here. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have given it a chance if I wasn't hoping to like it and feeling there was a decent chance I would, but holy crap... I really liked it. Relentless pursuit thriller about an art thief who makes the wrong mark. Really, just poor, poor decision there, pal. Literally goes places you'll not explore in safey-safe, big-budget U.S. productions, and scores major points along the way. Adapted from the novel by Jo Nesbø.
Holiday - Isabella Eklöf - Victoria Carmen Sonne plays Sascha a naive young woman on holiday with her older boyfriend and his pals. They stay in nice spots, eat at good restaurants, hit the best clubs and always get their way. They're violent criminals and thugs and people stay out of their way because everyone who gets close to them can feel the danger. Everyone that is except Sascha. The film opens with Sascha shopping in a trendy boutique and when her credit card is declined she decides to pay with some cash she's a courier for on behalf of one of her boyfriend's illicit activities. When she tells the bagman that the count if a little short because she needed to buy some jewelry he slaps her and threatens her with the most chillingly absolute declaration of his indifference to her well-being and that threat that she could be left behind or killed outright at any moment for any reason is a lesson well learned... by the audience. It never leaves the viewer's mind. Throughout the beautiful, scenic tourist activities it sits in the pits of our stomachs like a sack of wet rags, only Sascha seems to have forgotten it and moved on without any kind of appreciation of the danger she is in. We spend the run time of the film watching her blindfolded tightrope walk across the abyss maddeningly oblivious until reality can be suppressed no longer and then... This movie is rough. It's an exercise in sustained dread that stuck with me for weeks afterward.
The House That Jack Built - Lars Von Trier - Matt Dillon delivers one of the funniest performances of his career as Jack a frustrated architect/engineer who spent twelve years as a serial killer in the 70s and 80s. The film is narrated by Jack telling his story to Bruno Ganz's Virgil as the latter escorts him through the afterlife. Along the tour of heaven and hell the duo talk to pass the time - Jack finding it refreshing to speak frankly about his hobby with someone he cannot shock - and viewers are subjected to episodes from Jack's life as he murders (mostly women) in increasingly elaborately staged scenarios. We witness Jack bloom as his once crippling OCD eases and his muse dares to go bigger as consequence and punishment fail to find him. Nobody more surprised than myself to have an LVT pick in my top ten this year. I've been pissed at him since all that terrible Dogme '95 horseshit derailed a career I was very interested in up to that point. I've watched several of his films and skipped just as many over the last 20-some years, but while most of the ones I've seen have let slip flashes of brilliance - just terrific moments that make it clear he's a film maker of considerable talent - most of them have committed the unforgivable sin of boring me. The House That Jack Built did not. I know this one caused some outrage at its festival premier and that what I saw was a 'compromised' R-rated cut. I can't say whether my views on the film would change seeing the unrated cut, but to say that LVT's career has courted controversy I think gives him too much credit. Mostly I've found his provocations to feel juvenile and likewise those who are outraged by them, who constantly take the bait, to sound just about as juvenile in their outcries. The philosophical mumbo-jumbo spouted by Jack weighs nothing and did not engage me at all. If it engages (and enrages) you or not may be the litmus test for audience response to the movie - much the same way the degree to which you listen closely to the monologues the characters on True Detective will decide your appreciation of that show. In both cases I think they're perhaps overly elaborate reveals of character's self-perception, but the meat is what happens on screen and there's a lot of meat - or at least a lot to chew on. Even someone as unaware as I am about Von Trier off-screen can see Jack as a stand-in for the film maker constantly frustrated when he tries to make something beautiful and only successful when he does terrible things - his freezer slowly filling up with rotting-corpses/ideas that he takes out once in a while to try again to make more satisfying pictures of in silly poses. Upon reaching the end of the tour of hell - when Virgil shows him the absolute depths and then disappoints Jack by saying "that's not where you're going, I just thought you'd like to see it" it plays as a wink at Von Trier's tendency to self-aggrandize that his stand-in decides to push through deepest hell for an impossible chance out of the pit rather than be obscure and abandoned in a less hellish level. The episodic structure allows the film to play sometimes like a suspense thriller, other times like a horror film, a fantasy and probably most effectively as a comedy. There is a chapter early on that is probably the most effective prolonged sequence of comedic suspense I saw this year. This may or may not be for you. Did it shock me? I definitely audibly engaged once or twice, but it's difficult to be shocked when it is clearly what the provocateur wants to do. Entertained though? Yeah, I enjoyed wondering what the hell was about to happen next.
Hustlers - Lorene Scafaria - Constance Wu plays Destiny, a dancer taken under the wing of Jennifer Lopez's Ramona to learn how to hustle more efficiently in this true story of a very lucrative run made by a group of um hustlers during the great recession. It's the fucking Goodfellas of stripper movies with Wu in the Liotta role and J-Lo as De Niro and I really don't mean that in a reductive sense it's meant to be high praise. This movie has flash and real sex appeal - the hustle and the action are the really sexy bits - as well as heart and a tragic flaw that brings the whole thing crashing down. It's got some of the most immediately iconic lines for Lopez too; "Doesn't money make you horny?," the fur coat, and her perfect summation of American capitalism: "people tossing the money and people doing the dance." I am here for the Jennaissance.
I Saw the Devil - Kim Jee-Woon - Byung-Hun Lee is a federal cop whose fiancee becomes the latest victim of a depraved serial murderer at the beginning of the film. It was a potent, horrible start to the movie and I steeled myself for a procedural that promised grim atmospherics and an unflinching approach to onscreen nastiness, but the mystery didn't last more than a few minutes before our cop has his man (Min-sik Choi). Where had the two and a half hour long movie left to go? Many, deeply unpleasant places. More importantly though, many pleasantly surprising places. I was figuring out the game just about the time the killer was and our reactions were pretty similar too. That wasn't unsettling at all. It's not a mystery, it's not a procedural, it's a revenge story that makes monsters out of all participants. It is a movie full of horrible happenings, nihilism and sport-torture taking place in grungy cement block basements. There's a lot of screaming and awfulness and I recoiled from it immediately. I never quite got away though. I think about I Saw the Devil an awful lot for a film I haven't actually gone back to revisit. I used to say I admired it more than I liked it, but I may have to walk that comment back. I think I liked it. I just don't know that I like that I do. Regardless, it's a hell of a thing.
Inception - Christopher Nolan - Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb is a highly specialized thief who breaks into people's minds to steal their secrets. He's got a crack team of operators and they hire out to high-paying clients. Sometimes they work for governments, but more often they're doing industrial espionage. It's a job that almost nobody in the world even knows of, but apparently among the uber-rich and powerful there are mental defense techniques being taught to guard against these types of attacks. To help the audience understand it all we're introduced to the concepts and rules via Ellen Page's team initiate who has a talent for the work. Which is good because DiCaprio's starting to slip. He's dragging too much of his own baggage into the jobs. He's being dream-stalked by his former wife (Marion Cotillard) and if she catches him it'll have catastrophic consequences for everyone involved. Pretty boss premise pulled off with the kind of popping visuals Nolan's good at. If it weren't such a mammoth hit I'd probably like it more, but for fuck's sake every dummy out there saw this thing and wanted to gush over it for the next five years, just like The Matrix before it. But it is pretty cool. Climactic action sequences go on for three eternities, but it's a small price to pay for watching big talents disappear up their own obsessions - it feels like the work of a personality rather than a blockbuster by committee and yeah, Nolan's more into structure and puzzle boxes than I am, but he sure makes exquisite contraptions.
Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson - When his former girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up out of the blue to enlist his help, hippie detective Doc Sportellow (Joaquin Phoenix) puts every ounce of his will and cunning into the case. Unfortunately Doc's will and cunning are both measured in ounces and keep him running smooth and aloof and slightly untethered from reality. The purple haze that envelops Doc blows him around 1970 L.A. into all the best bits of paranoid conspiracy tales - sex, drugs, celebrity and smuggling. The sooner you ditch the plot the more you'll enjoy the ride. It's so ridiculously Byzantine and looped through its own asshole, you'll get whiplash if you hold on too tight. Deconstruction or parody? Easy target or easy viewing? Not sure I understand its place in Anderson's ouevre and pretty sure I don't care. It's hilarious and sad and just a little bit hopeful in the end with a huge, killer cast, beautiful visuals and a soundtrack to die for. It casts a spell.
Kill List - Ben Wheatley - The structure and pace of this slow-burner may challenge the average action junky's attention span, but I was riveted from frame one (probably partially due to being primed by Wheatley's previous Down Terrace). Begins as a domestic drama, progresses to a workaday hit man procedural and festers into a horrifying personal investigation and retribution. Imagine starting Faces and finishing Rosemary's Baby (if John Cassavetes illustrations help you).
Killer Joe - William Friedkin - I think we want everybody to get what's coming equally in this skid-mark-row murder comedy. Ah, the half-baked plans of low-rent criminals. I feel like the anti-George Peppard here - I love it when a quick money plan goes to shit. God bless playwright Tracy Letts for delivering the director of some of my all-time favorite flicks a new, provocative muse - Joe is the second Letts/Friedkin collaborative after 2006's Bug.
Lawless - John Hillcoat - Had director Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave given us this one before The Proposition, it might've fared better in my eyes. Compared to The Proposition, it's kind of an over-cooked mess (maybe trying to incorporate too much of Matt Bondurant's source novel The Wettest County in the World) but compared to ninety percent of crime dramas out there, it stands tall. Lots of great period detail, several off the action-flick playbooks moments and a continued Hillcoat/Cave tradition of never giving us an instance of casual onscreen violence (you'll feel every physical violation) make it worth catching up with.
Let the Corpses Tan - Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani - another exercise in extremely stylized and sensual violence and mayhem that's a whole lotta gonzo fun from the duo responsible for AMER and others. Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin - Haunting and dreadful, poetic and pleasing, the story of a young woman escaped, and possibly on the run, from a cult led by charismatic creepy old guy scale John Hawkes. Black and white it's not, and the questions raised in the film's final shot are as intriguing and important as any it answered beforehand - ambiguity used well.
Metro Manila - Sean Ellis - Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is a rice farmer who moves his family to the big city when he is no longer able to support them working the fields. The urban jungle is no kinder to them, but both parents are desperate enough to work dangerous and demeaning jobs to support themselves and their family, she as a topless dancer in a sleazy club where prostitution is pretty much a job requirement and he as a driver in an armored car service where he'll be a target for criminals with nothing left to lose and who don't mind shooting it out for a chance at the cash and valuables he's moving them from point-a to point-b (and if you've ever seen another movie, it'll come as no surprise that he faces just as much or more danger from his co-workers who want that money just as much as anybody else). After digging the Filipino export On the Job so hard earlier this year, I was ready to dive into another crime flick from the hard heart of the city and this one delivers, even if it swerves a little hard into the innocents forced to do bad things genre at times. Beautiful and gritty and emotionally engaging - highly recommended. Best moment: Oscar's job interview.
Mission Impossible franchise - Brad Bird, Christopher McQuarrie - Ethan Hunt's Impossible Mission Force is back for more and all the same things keep happening: betrayals, disavowed statuses, failures of sci-fi technology, reckless compromise of national/world stability and a series of heroic efforts resulting in jet-setting breathless chases, narrow margins of victory and me wondering just how the hell this series continues to improve and thrill me. As a franchise it is remarkable for a single stand-out reason though and that is star Tom Cruise's commitment to upping the physical stakes for himself as a performer. In fact the onscreen shenanigans are so ridiculous a casual observer will probably assume that they represent quantum leaps in CGI sophistication rather than noticing that they really do all that stuff in camera. Holy shit. I suspect the deepening pleasures of this series will be careful rewatches - not to parse plot points - but to study how exactly the thrills are constructed.
New World - Hoon-jung Park - An undercover cop working for years inside a Korean crime syndicate sees the end of his mission approach with the the filling of the power vacuum after the death of the syndicate's head. His mission is to influence the 'election' of the new head. So, the setup is kind of a mash up of gangster pictures from The Godfather to The Departed, but remember, this is contemporary Korean crime cinema - so kindly take your expectations and stick em in your ear. It's no non-stop thriller like The Chaser or The Yellow Sea and it's not the twisty-De Palma-esque fare of Oldboy or Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, but it is distinctly other from its Hollywood counterparts. It is solid. It is brutal. It is - holy shit, did you see that? - remember what I'd said about the uniqueness of Korean crime flicks and the general absence of guns? Well, that absence pays off beautifully, amazingly, stunningly, in the climactic confrontation. It is the Best moment: The hit sequence. Holee shit. The elevator fight at the end of said hit sequence. Amazeballs.
Pain & Gain - Michael Bay - A trio of over-muscled, dim-witted body builders hatch and unfortunately execute an illll-conceived kidnapping and extortion plan that leads to murder and (worse) betrayal and (worse yet) maybe not believing in themselves. Did you see what just happened there? While we weren't looking, Michael fucking Bay made one of my favorite crime flicks of the year, and he hid it in plain sight beneath the pumped-uppedness of Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson and the over-long, bloated tradition of his Transformers and Bad Boys franchises. No, this is not a perfect film. It is too long, and in love with itself, and it does get pulled in a half-dozen too many directions, but the meat is well worth the fat surrounding it, and mercifully, unlike a more uh, arty? treatment of the material, P&G keeps it funny and resists a pull toward third act preachiness that so many treatments of this type of fare tend toward. The cast is mostly great including Wahlberg in full Dirk Diggler dimbulb mode (so many great lines delivered via voiceover - revealing the character's bottomless well of stupid as well as his con-man's gift for sincerity - I'd buy a car from him), Tony Shalhoub in fourth asshole gear and Johnson who showed me his most complex and nuanced performance yet as a verrrrry dumb, but totally sincere ex-con with a jailhouse Christian conversion, desperate for acceptance, guilt-ridden over his trespasses and walking the line between sobriety and coke-addled with about as much success as you'd guess. This flick is funny, smart and even satirical in its excess. It ain't Fargo, but it's probably a lot closer than you'd guess. Best moment: Johnson has to kill a man he's kidnapped and whom he's befriended over weeks of captivity and bonded with over their sobriety and Jesus. I'd really like to go on about how the scene goes on and on, piling indignity upon cruelty and reaches a climax so emotionally complex and over the top awful, it may be the greatest snuff sequence of the year... taking on, The Counselor.
Paris By Night - Philippe Lefebvre - One shift on the beat of a Parisian vice cop Weiss (Roschdy Zem) and his driver/partner for the night Deray (Sara Forestier). Over the course of the night Weiss deals with an encroaching internal affairs corruption investigation, tying his loose ends up and putting ducks in a row while keeping up his underworld overlord status by rattling cages and jerking chains as needed. It's a tour of seedy clubs and neighborhoods lit entirely by neon and strobe - it's one of the best looking films I've seen in a long while and I could have enjoyed the running time's worth of simply following Weiss through the bowels of Paris, but low, a satisfying story emerges - a mystery if you will - and whaddyaknow it doesn't suck.
Pimp - Christine Crokos - This slice of street life crime picture has tendrils in so many competing styles without ever committing to one that it takes an especially strong central element to hold it all together. I don't mean that as a criticism of the script, but as testament to the strength, commitment and charisma of Keke Palmer's performance as Wednesday, a pimp like her daddy before her. Part urban-exploitation, part hardcore crime thriller, part romantic melodrama and part morality fable it delivers the genre thrills and occasionally knocks you around emotionally when you've left yourself vulnerable. This one tackles sensitive material with all the nuance and sober subtlety "a Lee Daniels production" is famous for (infamous for?), but there's no denying the raw power of Crokos' engine and Palmer's fuel. Escape to New York? Side note: pretty sure that Keke Palmer is the only actor to show up on this list twice (she's also part of the Hustlers ensemble).
The Place Beyond the Pines - Derek Cianfrance - This is exactly the kind of film I wanted it to be - a heartbreaker about the desperate things people will do to build a life and the ways they cope with the the life they've made (and the things they did to make it). It's got a wonderful and familiar blue-collar setting that could be cozy if you've got a loving family around you or terribly depressing if you feel trapped and limited by it. It has an ambitious structure that will hopefully keep you just a little off-balance and heighten the emotional stakes, a talented director with his feet set firmly in character and crime (how about that early tracking shot that follows Ryan Gosling through the fair and into the cage? Not too showy, but wow - like to see McG try and deliver something that technically sophisticated, but rooted in, and in support of, character and place, as opposed to simply calling attention to itself), and a cast eager to appear in a solid, small-scale drama. The end of the film asks for a level of 'just go with me here' that you may not be willing grant it, but I found the climax to be thematically compelling and a just heightened enough reality to deliver the big emotional pay-off. Will you accept the delivery? I'll be curious to hear what you think. And, for all the talent involved, the film was never more alive than when Ben Mendelsohn or Bruce Greenwood were onscreen. Best moment: Gosling waits on the front porch to be arrested after fucking up.
Rampart - Oren Moverman - Moverman's take on James Ellroy's original script is to scale back the overly familiar thriller aspects, cop talk and social commentary in favor of presenting a character piece and bringing us into conflict with our own wishes while we watch a bad man on his way down. Date Rape Dave Brown has all the classic Ellroy cop qualities - fucked-up, but earnestly invested-in family life (his ex-wives, the excellent pairing of Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, whom he has one daughter apiece from and still occasionally sleeps with, are sisters - making his daughters half sisters as well as first cousins - and live together), un-apologetically, outspoken un-PC jive that seems less a reflection of any honest convictions than it is a tool he employs to put everyone on the defensive when dealing with him - he's a button pusher, relentlessly digging under your skin so that you won't get under his. And that's the thing - he's terribly vulnerable. Those most adept at handling his bullshit, (his ex-wives, his children, Ned Beatty's fatherly underworld contact and Robin Wright's romantically conflicted attorney) are capable of rendering him into an exposed nerve of sputtering fear, insecurity and self-loathing. When a video camera catches Brown employing a little too much enthusiasm in the execution of his duties he finds that he's up for the role of departmental scape-goat, but Brown isn't about to go down meekly. As each of the plates he's somehow kept spinning for years begin to wobble and he jumps about frantically attentive to each in crisis mode his behavior and decision making devolve and disintegrate quickly. There's a fantastic sequence near the end of the film depicting Brown pushing his appetites till he's literally sick. He trolls through an underground sex club, shovels copious amounts of food into the gaping void of his face with two greasy hands and washes it down with whiskey for its short stay on the inside before vomiting in an alley and stumbling along the sidewalk among other denizens of the night. Couple Woody Harrelson's physical similarity to Ellroy, (not to mention Moverman - wtf?) with Ellroy's descriptions of his own unstoppable binge episodes and you've got... I dunno exactly what you've got. It's searing, personal and bullshit too, but Rampart would make a great second half to a double feature with one of the more plot-driven thriller pieces made from Ellroy's words.
The Robber - Benjamin Heisenberg - Terrific crime drama based on the novel On the Run by Martin Prinz which was inspired by the exploits of Austrian desperado Johann Kastenberger who, pre-Point Break, robbed banks wearing a Ronald Reagan mask and sporting a shotgun... which is pretty badass. But there's more to it than that. The film wisely chooses not to get much into the character's past and, like him, focus on nothing but constantly moving forward. The fictionalized Johann (Andreas Lust) is in prison at the beginning of the film, about to be paroled. We watch him train obsessively in his cell and in the yard for marathon running. His parole officer asks him, what his plans are after his release and is concerned by the reply he gets - to run - noting that it's extremely difficult to make a living that way, but failing to understand that Johann will use his long-distance running as his preferred getaway mode on bank jobs. And he appears perfectly capable of making that work for him... but it's never really about the money for him and he pushes himself relentlessly toward disaster or glory. The fusion of an intelligent, crafty operator and a compulsive self-destructive personality makes for a great crime flick with solid drama and legit thrills. Best moment: two-fer chase sequence.
Sicario franchise - Denis Villeneuve, Stefano Sollima - Like many people I know I had mixed reactions to the first film which had undeniably great cinematography and sound design and editing and a swell cast working with good dialogue from a script that...What the fuck exactly did that script think it was doing? It was advertised as an issue-movie; a serious dramatic examination of the war on violence and corruption of big narco business inching its way under the panty-line of the all-mighty, innocent complicity of American (I mean US) policy, but instead delivered a thriller that also worked as a horror film of tooth-grindingly effective suspense sequences only to be hi-jacked in the final act by a long-lost macho revenge pulp of yore. The inarguable competence and even excellence of every other area of the production spoke to this not being a fluke - way too dark to be the product of studio notes derailing a project to make it more commercially digestible - so this... this was the plan the whole time. I needed to watch it again (and again) to chew on the choices. Sicario under-performed at the domestic box office so it was a big surprise when a sequel was green-lit. Finally, a sequel that would actually help me decide how I felt about the original. So... Day of the Soldado begins with a couple of sequences that plays like FOX News jerk-off material tying drug cartels to international Islamic terrorism and giving the Washington suits all the excuse they need to get super awful. They enlist Josh Brolin's ever committed to comfortable footwear spook to "get dirty." Brolin is first seen using missile strikes against civilians and private residences as leverage against a detainee he's questioning - a threat he makes good on, by the way. And the prisoner? Isn't a jihadist or even a cartel gangster. He's a pirate, a smuggler (he's Han Solo in the movie of his life) and it's clear that we are the fucking evil empire in this situation. The state department's strategy is to get the cartels so embroiled in fighting each other that the last ones standing are relatively easy pickings for the alphabet soup of US agencies to control. "Winning" isn't the goal. The goal is stability. Brolin's plan? Kidnap the teenaged daughter of one of the cartel leaders and make it look like it was done by a rival cartel. True, this was all written and shot before the 'wait, are we really comfortable with being the country who uses the threat of separating brown children from their families as leverage to deter immigrant hopefuls and asylum seekers from coming here?' conversation was so hotly and publicly discussed, but holy shit - this is super dark. Later, when the operation goes pear-shaped and Brolin bro Benicio Del Toro is out on his own with the abducted girl, the word comes down to abort and wipe it all down - kill Del Toro and the girl and cover up anything that could lead back to US involvement in her disappearance. At this point we're invited to treat Brolin and Del Toro as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid type anti-heroes: folks we've been happy to be entertained by watching their criminal adventures who then see the only strand of moral code thus far unbroken tested. That being their personal bond. And understanding their utter insignificance in the big picture and slavish attitudes toward their empirical vocations, the two stoically agree to become enemies. And all of that I've no problem with. I don't need morally admirable characters to follow in order to be entertained and invested. I really appreciate in fact the treatment of the US government as just one more gang set against the others in a power struggle. Where Sicario didn't scream 'first in a franchise' Day of the Soldado ends in a clear 'we're not finished with these characters' epilogue. Both films feint at being issue-driven, but they get into absurd pulpy material pretty quick, and their politics seem confused only if you're looking for politics in them. At the end of the day they're both just super slick, glossy adventure pulps. Gangster shit, but with governments. What separates them from otherwise similar fare that devolves into flag-waving pablum is the complete absence of heroes as well as the complete disinterest in presenting anyone as such. These are pretty fucking nihilistic films. And I'd be happy to get another one. I just hope we stop basing policy on them.
A Single Shot - David M. Rosenthal - There is so much to root for in Sam Rockwell's protagonist John Moon, his earnestness and vulnerability, his self-reliance and personal integrity, but the movie being the movie and the world being the world, it's best not to get your hopes up too high for a happy ending. Moon is a man living in obscurity deep into the margins of society, surviving off the land and part time odd-jobs. The problem is, his wife can no longer handle the hand almost to mouth style of existence and has left him, taking their infant son with her. Moon is determined to win her back and is willing to make some compromises, even perhaps a steady soul-killing job, if she'll reconsider. Fortune intervenes in awful fashion by placing a young woman in the path of one of Moon's bullets intended for deer (which he poaches to survive). Among the young woman's personal affects he finds a shit load of cash money, and he makes the decision to choke down the guilt, hide the body in the woods and take the money. If you've ever seen a movie (or read the source novel by Matthew F. Jones - which you certainly should) than you're a half-mile ahead of Moon down the track. Other people are looking for that girl and for the money, and once he starts trying to funnel it to his estranged family, he's painted a big day-glo target on his ass. This is a beautifully shot, immersively atmospheric tragedy in a pond stocked with great characters and terrific performances (including highly watchable turns by William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly and Joe Anderson - plus appearances by Ted Levine, Jason Isaacs and W. Earl Brown are never a bad thing.
The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodovar - Let us speak clearly. Almodovar is a film maker of vision and talent to rival anyone else working today. His control is absolute and his aim is true. He always makes exactly the picture he intends to. He just rarely makes one that I'm terribly attracted to. But watch out, when his sensibilities align with my own tastes and preferences, it's a mind-blowing experience. Dear Human Centipede, fuck off. This is the picture you never could be, this is The Count of Monte Cristo as medical horror. It gets beneath the er, skin of the thing and violates countless boundaries of good taste with such an exquisite sense of decorum and sumptuous visuals that a repeat viewing would blur the line between hedonist and masochist for me - a line I'll gladly cross for the sheer sensual fuckery going on. Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet.
Sleepless Night - Frederic Jardin - After riding the raw sugar rush, last year, of Fred Cavaye's Point Blank, I was, perhaps, less surprised by the jagged adrenaline trip that Sleepless Night turned out to be, but even more excited afterward to think that Point Blank and Sleepless Night may not be flukes. Perhaps the French have got a something floating in their collective consciousness that thriller film makers are tapping into and producing these stick-lean and ampheta-mean action flicks. 'Cause, wow, just wow, they start like a shot and end like a runaway train. These are some tightly controlled, solidly structured, excitingly executed movie-stuffs conveniently distilled into potent shots of kinetic-cinematic impact. Best moment: Kitchen fight. Brutal bout betwixt dog-tired pro-an-tagonists just clobbering the shit outta each other with anything they can lay their hands upon.
Small Crimes - Evan Katz - Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a bent cop just out of prison for the attempted murder of a local prosecutor at the behest of the gangster in whose pocket he was quite comfortable before jail. Now out, he finds the world has moved on without him. His wife and kids have disappeared and want nothing to do with him, his parents let him sleep in their basement, but clearly do not trust him and keep civil faces stretched over deep wells of pain and resentment. The surviving victim of his attack is now horribly scarred and dead set on sending Joe back to prison for the rest of his life and there's no hiding in anonymity in the small community he's returned to - it seems everywhere he goes somebody openly hates him. Lastly, the gangster whose name he never spoke during his incarceration is on his deathbed and in sudden fear for the state of his immortal soul may be about to confess all of his sins including those that implicate Joe and another kept cop, the scene-stealing Gary Cole. To keep from going back to prison Joe's got to kill the gangster before he can confess while the hating eyes of the whole community are on him. If that sounds like a lot of plot to keep track of, don't worry, coming off his pitch perfect debut, Cheap Thrills, director Katz continues to demonstrate a deft touch with exposition, a knack for clearly defining character relationships and for maximizing the situational potential scene to scene. Of course the film is an adaptation of the excellent novel by Dave Zeltserman, so don't forget to check that one out too.
Snowman's Land - Tomasz Thomson - The Carpathians, land of dread, home of house Dracul, children of the night and such. What better place to set an isolation horror flick, or a claustrophobia-inducing crime thriller or jeez, a black comedy against the white snow. Take a sad-sack, tired out hit man and send him there for a mysterious task, shackle him with a dangerously fuck-up prone partner(?) target(?) and tell them to stay put in this scary fucking mansion in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dark woods inhabited by unseen menace until their dread-lord appears and tells them their mission. Of course, things have plenty of time to go badly before their boss shows up, and things are bound to get exponentially worse after he arrives and ooooh shit, they do. Love love love not being able to see around corners in a film and love even more when my expectations are exceeded like they were here. Really strongly recommend this one. Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Best moment: what happens when they break out the uzis.
Spring Breakers - Harmony Korine - Spring break, that moment of carefree sexual abandon and privileged libidinous innocence before the onslaught of college finals, is now a rite of passage - almost a microcosm of the entire collegiate experience before the onset of adult responsibility - so generationally recognized, that for four friends trapped in the duldrums of midwestern small-town life, it is owed to them and they feel entitled to claim their slice of the American Dream by any means necessary. In their case, it's a goal they have been saving for all year, but have come up woefully short of being able to afford. So, forced by fate to become desperadoes, the girls rob a restaurant to finance their lifestyle (hey, the stockbrokers do it). Once on the beach, the ends have clearly justified the means - schlong and thong abound, titties bounce and wits are trounced as oblivion beckons unburden yourself... Until things get a bit too loud one night and the girls end up arrested for disturbing the peace. They cool their heels in a jail cell until they're bailed out by a complete strangest - Alien, the great white (hip-)hope (the transcendent James Franco) - who recognizes kindred spirits when he sees them. He whisks them away from the institutionalized and contained middle-class debauchery they think they want and introduces them to 'Spring Break Forever' - the 24-7 lifestyle that comes with the secret ingredient they didn't know they'd been missing - rage. These (ahem) fierce bitches find their calling knocking over tourists - mostly college kids like they used to be before they went pro - and engaging in gun battles over turf with a rival drug dealer's crew. It's a trashily beautiful film (shot in an almost Terence Malick style - lush visuals with voice-over from fragmented, non-linear scenes laid out in an impressionistic, mosaic), and is in conversation with many others - especially the old beach movies of the 60's like How to Stuff a Wild Bikini or Beach Blanket Bingo, that also starred ex-Disney ingenues (Annette Funicello in the past, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens today). The beach movies of the 60's were exploitation flicks so square and confoundedly innocent unless you think of them as 'your dad's exploitation movies,' they seem to have been made much more for adult audiences looking to revel in a little young, buoyant flesh and teeter near the wild-side without ever going over the edge. The edge seems to have moved a bit further over since then, but it's clearly recognizable when our protagonists cross it. Which brings us to another film Spring Breakers is borrowing context from. The timing of the release of Sam Raimi's Oz the Great & Powerful, with Franco as the titular wizard, is a benefit to Alien's role as the shyster leading our midwestern heroines over the rainbow. Best moment: Alien leads a sing-along around the piano. Seriously, if nobody in Britney Spears camp cuts a video to this footage, the ball has been dropped big time.
The Town - Ben Affleck - Affleck stars with Jeremy Renner as Bank robbing Southie kids in Boston who've been running a slick crew for years, but their partnership doesn't look like it's going to survive the strain of a deciding what to do with Rebecca Hall's bank teller they took hostage. Affleck's supposed to be checking her out to see if she knows anything that can help Jon Hamm's FBI agent identify her abductors, but things get romantic pretty quickly and Renner wants to jump to the murder option rather than take a chance. Things get tense and way out of hand and there are bank robberies, strong-arm shit, big shootouts and all that good stuff. Based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, this is fastball down the middle big production Hollywood crowd-pleaser crime fare that's about as good as that kind of thing can be. It's no Heat, but it's not a bad shadow.
The Tribe - Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi - A new kid at a school for deaf/mute students in Ukraine falls in with a ruthless criminal element among them. This one makes the cut for the sheer audacity of its vision and execution as well as for the devastating impact of the violent finale. Oof. It stuck with me. Check the IMDb page and you'll find that the characters have names, but that doesn't help discussing it because none of those names are ever uttered aloud. In fact there is no spoken dialogue in the film - the characters communicate through actions and sign language and, without the benefit of subtitles, it is the viewers who find themselves on the outside looking in and forced to interpret for themselves the events on screen. The film is composed of a series of scenes captured in single shots - sometimes static and wide focus, other times fluid and complex tracking shots that follow characters room to room or through locations like a truck stop where they run a prostitution ring. Did I mention this thing was dark? Holy shit is it. The level of criminality engaged in is no ordinary juvenile hijinks. Nope. The waters tread are dark, dangerous and infested with teenaged nihilists whose antics should impress even the most misanthropic viewer and induce cringes of real humanity. This one is challenging viewing, but pays off with images of visceral violence caught in a haunting vacuum of sound.
The Trust - Alex Brewer, Benjamin Brewer - Nicolas Cage and Elijah Woods play a couple of Las Vegas cops who decide to capitalize on their position to rip off a drug dealer. Chief among the pleasures of this feature debut from brothers Alex and Benjamin Brewer are their sense of scale and control of tone that balances humor, suspense and dark drama in a mix that keeps you guessing and unsure of where we're headed. Cage's volatile presence is utilized to great affect and Woods never lets us quite pin him down either. They're not particularly evil police, neither are they desperate or disillusioned former idealists, instead they're bored professionals who happen to be cops casual enough about their corruptibility to play like people rather than stock characters and thus keep us off balance unsure of what kind of film we're watching. Is it a buddy comedy? A thriller? Yes. It works on all the levels it plays at, but it's the film's final moments that really drive home what a well-crafted experience it is. Looking forward to more from the brothers Brewer for sure. Here's hoping they keep crime in mind.
War On Everyone - John Michael McDonagh -Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård are probably (hopefully) the worst cops in Albequerque - gleefully corrupt, sloppy and fascist - and they'd easy to hate if they weren't clearly enjoying every moment of it so much. When we first encounter them they're in pursuit of a mime with a briefcase full of cocaine. They run down the fleeing suspect with their car and steal the drugs. Next we see them tailing a pair of bad news prison escapees whom they're not interested in catching, but rather following to whatever their next score is and ripping them off. To that end they extort the cooperation of Malcolm Barrett's Reggie X getting him a spot in the heist by violently creating an opening for him. When most of the crew end up murdered Reggie absconds with all the money and they track him down only to discover that it's not them Reggie's afraid of, rather the psychopathic crime boss with the poncy name Lord James Mangan - played with maximum sadistic sleaze by Theo James. It all comes down to a bloody showdown between bad cops accidentally on the right side of things and worse criminals just doing what they do. It feints at heart, it steps on guts and trips over balls to ultimately become a fast and loose, violent and profane, absurd and episodic comedy that succeeds and fails scene to scene on the strength of the script and the chemistry between the cast including Caleb Landry Jones, Tessa Thompson, David Wilmot and Paul Reiser.
Widows - Steve McQueen - When a tightly knit heist crew is taken down in a shootout with Chicago police their widows are left holding their debts to banks, politicians and gangsters. The women come from disparate backgrounds and have no connection to each other outside of varying degrees of and reasons for desperation and decide to use the blueprints left behind for their late husbands' next score to settle scores and free themselves for deciding their own futures. The talent assembled on and behind the camera is considerable, but there is no one more in command of the proceedings than Viola Davis whose natural born leadership is apparent and solid enough to carry the production. Based on the novel by Lynda La Plante which already inspired a mini-series thirty years ago, it's easy to see how the story could support many more hours of onscreen exploration and it's easy to forgive McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn for indulging story lines that don't keep the focus squarely on the central crew, still, I wanted more time with the women as they evolved as a unit. The opening five minutes is a testimony to the power of sharp production values and terrific editing to make an intense short feature as emotionally moving as anything that follows. Looking forward to revisiting this one in years to come and appreciating that Davis and especially Michelle Rodriguez got their chance to flex their chops in a project of this caliber.
Winter's Bone - Debra Granik - Jennifer Lawrence first grabbed attention as Ree Dolly, a modern day Mattie Ross type Ozark girl with true grit who already shoulders more responsibility around the household than a sixteen year old ought to. When her no-good father goes missing along with the family's only means to eke out a living emissaries from the bank give notice that her family (she, her unwell mother and two younger brothers) will be kicked out of their house and off the land in a matter of days unless accounts are settled, and she takes it upon herself to track her errant, criminally-inclined father down in order to save the family. It's a mission that means poking her nose into all kinds of dangerous places and asking questions whose answers will doubtless displease dangerous people. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell it was a scrappy little project that ended up snagging some Academy Award nominations, launching Lawrence's career, boosting John Hawkes' profile and inspiring countless lesser low-budget films to ape its aesthetics and tone with mostly poor results. This one still stands out from the bulk of the rural noir films of the decade for what it holds back, what it leaves unsaid and inferred rather than explicitly shown.
The World is Yours -Romain Gavras - This story of a dreamer (Karim Leklou) who just wants to open a franchise of frozen desert shops along the African Mediterranean coast and is committed enough to realizing that dream that he will engage in dangerous criminal activities to achieve it sounds stupid on the surface. And it is. Stupid. Utterly stupid. Stupid enough to feel real. Populated by a cast of none too bright characters all looking for shortcuts to their dream lives that they will recklessly plunge into dangerous waters and find that the very thickness of their wits and their inability to imagine outcomes that don't favor them are nearly super powers, this works equally and simultaneously as a thriller and a comedy whose twists and turns aren't entirely seen coming nor are they anything different than the numerous crime movies the characters have apparently seen and treated as tutorials for the way crime really works. This one deserves favorable comparison to Michael Bay's Pain and Gain or Guy Ritchie's comic caper pictures. Please seek it out.