The Anatomy of Monsters


A tete-a-tete among sociopaths.

A tete-a-tete among sociopaths.

(2014) Thriller (Artsploitation) Tabitha Bastien, Jesse Lee Keeter, Conner Marx, Keiko Green, Satori Marill, Tori McDonough, Lauren Brooks-Wilson, Andrew Tribolini, Asher Vast, Natalie Miller, Nick Frank, Tammy Miller, Ken Miller, Andre Kirkman, Roxanne Nihiline, E. J. Bastien, Dave Shecter, Simone Leorin, Alex Upton, Meredith Binder. Directed by Byron C. Miller

 

How can you tell who the monsters are? They don’t come with fangs and claws, after all. That handsome, clean-cut guy on the blind date could be a sadistic rapist; the beautiful, sweet girl-next-door sort could take great pleasure in destroying the lives of others. You just never know who is going to turn out to be a sociopath.

Andrew (Keeter) looks like a frat guy at first glance, like the preppy from Connecticut slumming down in the city…or in Seattle, as the case is here. He gets dressed and heads out to the bars to find that just right girl. And it appears he’s found her in Sarah (T. Bastien) who is obviously interested and carries her sexual hunger like a Vera Wang handbag. She even has a pair of handcuffs, which she obligingly puts on in the hotel room she’s rented for the two of them. That’s when he pulls out a wicked-looking knife.

But Sarah has some secrets of her own, starting when she was just a kid who found her jollies in killing her pet kitties, moving through her teen years when she maimed a romantic rival right through when she was an adult when she discovered the joys of taking down bigger prey – the two legged variety. Which one of these two is the predator and which is the prey? Don’t think that the answer is a simple one.

I like this concept immensely and it could have made for a chilling, thrilling good time. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t have the experience to pull this off effectively. The pacing is all over the board; some scenes feel like the writer just couldn’t wait to get to the end of the scene and move on to more weighty matters; other scenes are excruciatingly drawn out. While it’s possible the filmmakers were going for an effect of putting the viewer off-balance, it just came off to this viewer as undisciplined and poorly edited.

Also gaining some negative points is the score; quite frankly, the soundtrack is intrusive and ineffective at establishing a mood. It sounded like the composer was trying too hard to set a mood, using menacing organ riffs to establish tension, and a bouncy soft rock background when Sarah and her boyfriend Nick (Marx) are together. A good soundtrack doesn’t create the mood; it enhances it and that’s something composer Paul Morgan needs to learn.

Tabitha Bastien (not to be confused with E.J. who plays a one-night stand for Sarah) takes control of the movie early on as we realize that the original focus on Andrew has shifted to Sarah. That’s not altogether a bad thing; Tabitha certainly has the screen charisma to carry the film. Although at times she’s given some really florid dialogue to mouth, most of the time the dialogue is well-written and sounds the way people talk, or at least the way I’d think a pair of serial killers might talk if they were to have a conversation; ‘Hey Ted Bundy.’ ‘Hey Jeffrey Dahmer.’ ‘Rough day at the office?’ “It was murder.’

One of the biggest mood killers is that the murders themselves are unconvincing. At one point a baseball bat is taken to a sleeping father, but the blows look like bunts rather than grand slams. There’s no force behind them and it absolutely takes the viewer out of the picture. I get that the filmmakers were operating on a minuscule budget but at least they can get the actors to slam the bat into a pillow and add the sound effects in post. If you want to do a realistic look at serial killers, you had better make everything realistic or else it just won’t fly.

This was a movie that sounds better on the printed page then it unspools on the screen. It’s available free for Amazon Prime users and if you are a lover of all things slasher you might give it a try if you have that service available. Otherwise, you need to be a very patient and understanding viewer, knowing that this is the work of relatively new filmmakers. There is certainly room for improvement but if they can keep the good concepts coming their execution will catch up to their imagination eventually.

WHY RENT THIS: The concept is intriguing. Tabitha Bastien makes a compelling lead.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the murder sequences were unconvincing. The film felt a little bit rushed in places and overly drawn out in others.
FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find some gore, violence, adult themes, sexual content and some profanity here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The working title of the film was The Witching Hour but was dropped in favor of its current title.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
SITES TO SEE: Amazon Prime, Vimeo, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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The Departed


You talkin' to me?

You talkin’ to me?

(2006) Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, David Patrick O’Hara, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg, Kristen Dalton, Thomas B. Duffy, J.C. MacKenzie, Mary Klug, Peg Saurman Holzemer. Directed by Martin Scorsese

Our identity is often complicated. There’s the person we allow ourselves to be perceived to be, then there’s the person we really are. Often the two are entirely different people.

In Boston, Frank Costello (Nicholson) is king – the king of hoods. He is the most powerful mob boss in the city and he has his corrupting fingers in just about every civic institution. One of his most important pieces is the mole he has in the police department, Colin Sullivan (Damon). Recruited as a youngster, the squeaky-clean choirboy type Sullivan went through the police academy with flying colors and serves under Captain Ellerby (Baldwin) and using his intimate knowledge of ongoing investigations of Costello is able to move Costello’s assets around the city so that the crusty old mob boss doesn’t get caught with his pants down.

Captain Queenan (Sheen) of the BPD wants to catch Costello in the worst way and he knows he needs to send someone deep inside to do it. Billy Costigan (di Caprio) is the perfect undercover; a Southie with a history, and family ties to the Mob, Corrigan turns out to be a perfect fit. However, before long both Queenan and Costello begin to realize that their organizations have been infiltrated. Now begins a cat and mouse game to find the moles; the stakes are life and death for Costigan and Sulliva, as well as for those around them.

The Departed is a fairly faithful remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs and will be remembered if for nothing else but as the movie that won Martin Scorsese his first Oscar for Best Director. There are those that grouse that it is not his best movie (it isn’t) but it was deserving nonetheless; the movie is certainly one of Scorsese’s best works.

Part of what makes it work is that this movie is as tense as any I have ever seen. From the moment that the two opposing forces discover that they have a rat in their midst the race is on to discover who it is and the fact that we end up rooting for both Sullivan and Costigan makes the tension all the more intense.

Another factor in the movie’s success is that the film is chock full of memorable characters, cast with stellar actors who deliver incredible performances. Both Damon and di Caprio are at the top of their game, and Nicholson delivers his best performance since he snarled at Tom Cruise that he couldn’t handle the truth in A Few Good Men.

The supporting cast is just as amazing. I think Mark Wahlberg came into his own with his portrayal of the foul-mouthed Lt. Dignam, Queenan’s right hand man. Ray Winstone is menacing and unforgettable as Costello’s enforcer, Mr. French. Vera Farmiga showed her star power in her role as Madolyn, the police psychologist who enters into relationships with both Costello and Corrigan as well.

There is a ton of violence here (which is a Scorsese trademark), perhaps too much for some. There is also a whole lot of profanity – there are more F bombs (or variations thereof) for any Best Picture winner in Oscar history. Those who are sensitive to such matters, take heed.

Good as this is, the source movie from Hong Kong is just as good. While it can be seen with subtitles, an effective translation program can be helpful as well – if you choose to go that route, I’d recommend Smartling, which is primarily a business translation software. You can find out more about it at the link above.

What makes The Departed so compelling is that Costigan and .Sullivan are so obviously two sides of the same coin, and the cops and the mobs more alike than unalike which is an unsettling thought in and of itself. While the profanity and violence may put some off, they are utilized so beautifully that they become a kind of poetry within the confines of the movie. Given the top-notch performances throughout the movie, this is, like so many of Scorsese’s other films, a must-see for any film buff and it remains to this point my favorite American remake of a foreign film.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing cast. The tension in this movie is delightfully unbearable. One of Scorsese’s best.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too violent for some.
FAMILY VALUES: As is par for the course with Scorsese films, the violence is strong and often brutal and the foul language pervasive. There’s also some sexual content and drug material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scorsese wanted to shoot the film in Boston where it is set, but due to political concerns and cost concerns he was only able to shoot a few weeks in the city. For most of the film, New York City – where Scorsese was able to get tax benefits for filming – doubled for Beantown. After the success of the film, Massachusetts enacted a 25% tax break for movies filming in the state.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition and  2-Disc Special DVD edition have a featurette on real-life gangster Whitey Bulger (who Frank Costello was based on and who is getting a movie of his own this fall) as well as the TCM documentary Scorsese on Scorsese.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $289.9M on a $90M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boondock Saints
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Catch .44

The Watcher


Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

(2000) Thriller (Universal) James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson, Chris Ellis, Robert Cicchini, Yvonne Niami, Jennifer McShane, Gina Alexander, Rebekah Louise Smith, Joseph Sikora, Jillian Peterson, Michelle Dimaso, Andrew Rothenberg, David Pasquesi, Dana Kozlov, Butch Jerinic, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Rebekah Arthur. Directed by Joe Charbanic

Sometimes, in searching for deeper meanings in a motion picture, we lose sight of the fact that most movies are meant to be just plain fun, and have no ambitions further than that. Of course, there are also the movies that don’t even achieve those modest yet not inconsequential goals.

In this film, Joel Campbell (Spader) is a burned out FBI agent suffering from horrible migraines and worse nightmares. He was chasing a serial killer in Los Angeles, two years prior to when the main plot of this movie commences, getting very close. But as a result of his single-minded pursuit, a woman was burned to death. Haunted by those memories, he is gradually shutting himself away from the world, taking refuge in a squalid apartment in a new city (Chicago), existing on pills and bad Vietnamese food.

But his old pal from Los Angeles (]Reeves) has tracked him down and is up to his old tricks, namely murdering young women. Just to entice Campbell back into the game, he is sending the ex-agent photographs of his potential victims and giving him 24 hours to keep the murder from occurring. A rather predictable cat and mouse game ensues.

Spader was in the midst of taking an abrupt u-turn in his career, going from roles that are rather callow and awkward (Sex, Lies and Videotape) to becoming a surly action hero, in movies like this one and Supernova. Quite frankly, the roles don’t suit him. The soft-spoken Spader comes off nearly as messed up as the killer he’s chasing. Instead of being hard-bitten, he seems merely neurotic. Since then he’s found himself a niche playing the delightfully arch criminal mastermind Red Reddington on the new TV show The Blacklist. Villainy seems to be more his thing.

Then there’s Keanu. A scene early on (which is repeated near the movie’s conclusion) shows oh-so-cool Keanu dancing, gun in hand, to a throbbing industrial beat. It’s quite a pose, and really sums up everything I don’t like about the guy. Not only is his range limited, but he comes off as shallow and self-serving, which roles like this only amplify. Sadly, his limitations haven’t improved much over the years.

Going for The Watcher are some genuinely tense moments when Keanu’s prey is being stalked (and Keanu, mercifully, is off-screen) as time runs out. Also the presence of two of my favorite actors: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinnie) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) help matters though neither one is given nearly enough to do. Fortunately, both of them make regular appearances both on the big and small screens and in much better productions.

The Watcher has moments, but not many. Stylish rather than substantive, the film settles for trying to look hip and appealing to a less-than-discerning audience. If you have higher standards than the average slack-jawed hipster, you should have the sense to skip this one as most did. If you run into it in your Netflix queue, just keep on running.

WHY RENT THIS: You don’t have anything better to do and you’re really, really high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Keanu. Reeves.

FAMILY MATTERS: Violence, some of it grisly, and a fair amount of cussing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Initially the movie was titled Driven but the studio changed it after Sylvester Stallone announced he was making an auto racing movie of the same name.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.3M on a $30M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Manhunter

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Little Accidents

The Killing Jar


Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

(2010) Suspense (New Films International) Michael Madsen, Harold Perrineau, Amber Benson, Danny Trejo, Jake Busey, Kevin Gage, Lew Temple, Lindsey Axelsson, Talan Torriero, Patrick Durham, Jonathan Sachar, Emily Catherine Young, Mark H. Young (voice), Todd Davis. Directed by Mark Young

There is something intimate about a late night diner. Few customers, each with their own story, their own drama, their own tragedy. Why are they there? For some, it’s just a way station, a temporary stop on the journey between here and there. Others have nowhere else to go. A few, a very few, are waiting for something…anything.

This diner in particular is in the middle of nowhere special. The cook, Jimmy (Trejo) isn’t cooking food to write home about but it ain’t bad either. The waitress Noreen (Benson) probably deserves better than this but still here she is, just trying to make ends meet and not always succeeding. Lonnie (Temple) is a cop who stops here regularly; there aren’t many dining choices late at night in this small town. Billy (Torriero) and Starr (Axelsson) are eloping; they’re excited and in love, but also hungry. There’s also Smith (Perrineau), a salesman heading out into his territory to ply his trade, stopping for a quick meal before finding some place to hole up for the night. Then there’s Hank (Gage) whose story nobody really knows.

On the radio is fearful news; a family one county over has been massacred. Everyone’s a bit uneasy over this; that’s not the sort of thing that happens in a place like this. Then Doe (Madsen) comes in. He’s twitchy, dressed in black leather and angry that he can’t get the steak he wants. Noreen, thinking he might be the miscreant responsible for the multiple murder, spills coffee on him. After she discusses her suspicions with Lonnie (who is skeptical) and Hank (who thinks she might be onto something), Lonnie attempts to question Doe who proves uncooperative. The radio report had specified that the killer had gotten away in a black truck; it becomes clear that Doe is driving a red one. Lonnie apologizes, Doe pays and walks out.

But not for long. He comes back in with a shotgun and handgun and takes the room hostage. Turns out that he’s a veteran and he is fed up. When Greene (Busey) comes in, he’s also taken hostage but it turns out that Greene is involved with that massacre – and that the real killer was supposed to meet him there for payment. Doe isn’t the killer. That means that someone in that diner is and is even more dangerous than the guy with the guns. Things have gone from bad to worse.

This is in my mind a pretty decent premise. It isn’t necessarily a new one, but the claustrophobic environment of the diner, knowing that the people herein are locked up with at least two killers makes for a pretty tense situation. Sadly, Young doesn’t really make the most of it. The dialogue ranges from unnecessary to downright cringeworthy. The movie comes off as too talky which in a movie like this is a bad thing. Dialogue is necessary for a movie like this to be successful.

It doesn’t help that for the most part the actors here seem disinterested in what’s going on other than Madsen, Perrineau and Trejo, but Madsen in particular shines. His intensity as an actor is tailor-made for a role like this and he executes it to perfection. Perrineau and Trejo are both terrific character actors and they at least make an effort to appear like they’re invested. Benson, who has shown some real talent in previous roles, phones this one in.

That’s sad because this is a situation tailor-made for indie budgets. Under a surer, firmer hand this might have been a pretty decent thriller. Unfortunately, it’s a suspense movie that lacks suspense although it gets points for a whopper of a twist ending that I appreciated. Still, even with that the film’s deficiencies are such that I can’t recommend it other than with faint praise. Be warned.

WHY RENT THIS: Madsen is always intense. Interesting premise with a nice twist at the end.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Does nothing with the good ideas it does have. Lacks tension.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, some of it fairly bloody with a goodly amount of rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The voice of the radio announcer is director Young.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Suspect Zero

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: About Time

Love Crime (Crime d’amour)


All the showers in the world won't wash out the stains left by a love crime.

All the showers in the world won’t wash out the stains left by a love crime.

(2010) Thriller (Sundance Select) Ludovine Sagnier, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Patrick Mills, Guillaume Marquet, Gerald Laroche, Julien Rochefort, Olivier Rabourdin, Marie Guillard, Stephane Roquet, Frederic Venant, Jean-Marie Juan, Suzanne Renaud. Directed by Alain Corneau

Power is intoxicating. You can’t get enough of it, particularly in the corporate world. Women are often thought to be above those power games that men play, but that’s not always particularly true.

Christine (Scott-Thomas) is a high-ranking executive with a multi-national American company. She sometimes brings her work home with her as well as her hard-working assistant Isabelle Guerin (Sagnier). The two women seem to be on very friendly terms, with Christine giving her protégé a scarf and Isabelle working long into the night for her boss.

But the affection is just a ploy. Christine takes credit for Isabelle’s ideas and in retaliation Isabelle sleeps with Christine’s boyfriend. Things start to escalate and soon it becomes apparent that Isabelle is far from the sweet, shy thing that she makes herself out to be. Something’s got to give and when it does it’s going to be extreme.

I’m keeping the plot points pretty minimal as I want you to be deliciously surprised by them as I was. This is the kind of thriller I dig on; taking unexpected twists but not coming from out of left field – you realize by the time the movie ends that all the clues and signs were there in plain sight . You just weren’t paying attention. At least I wasn’t.

Sagnier is a pixie-like French actress with one of those faces that will look almost childlike when she’s an old woman and certainly now while she’s 30-ish she looks considerably younger and innocent which is part of why she is perfectly cast here. She is sexy and competent, but she seems vulnerable and naive which is quite complimentary. It’s a complete and confident performance; she’s a major star in France and has done a few movies out here but has yet to really make an impact on the radar of American film audiences.

Scott-Thomas has actually become a big star in France although she continues to do English-language films from time to time. She is pushing 50, but that doesn’t prevent Gallic audiences to see her as sexy and seductive. American audiences seem to have a harder time with women of that age coming off as sexual; our age bias is a little disappointing because Scott-Thomas certainly is an attractive and sensual woman at any age.

The French excel at sexy; erotic thrillers have been pumped out by American directors for decades now (mostly on direct to home video) but they tend to push the overt sex scenes over seduction, using well-worn clichés to advance the story line  rather than coming up with clever twists of their own. The cat and mouse game between Christine and Isabelle takes a sudden turn that comes as a surprise unless you are very observant early on (or read a dumbass review spoiling the twist) but that’s not the really great part of the film – what happens afterwards and how one of the characters handles the situation they are left in is simply brilliant.

The title can be taken a couple of different ways which I’m not sure that Corneau intended – I’m not sure that the French title which this is directly taken from translates in the same way but I love that it can be interpreted as a crime of love, or someone who loves crime. That’s the kind of thing you roll over in your head in a movie like this. To put it bluntly, this is a movie that requires a little bit of brainpower to truly enjoy properly and not everyone wants to put in that kind of effort, which I can understand. However those who like their thrillers smart and sexy should seek this one out.

WHY RENT THIS: Sagnier is stellar. Really well-written story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Requires a good deal of attention to pick up on the film’s subtle clues and hints – some viewers may not want to invest the effort.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some sudden and brutal violence, and adult situations not to mention a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Corneau’s last film and was released posthumously after his death from cancer on August 30, 2010; the film also was remade by director Brian dePalma as Passion.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.6M on a $9.1M production budget; the movie was a box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Deathtrap

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Rabbit-Proof Fence

I Saw the Devil (Akmareul Boatda)


I Saw the Devil

Going on a date with Min-sik Choi is a drag.

(2010) Suspense (Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim, San-ha Oh. Directed by Jee-woon Kim

There is justice; then there is vengeance. Often when in deep grief, the difference between the two gets blurred and indistinct. Sometimes that line disappears completely.

Ju-yeon (Oh) is driving on a rural snowy road one night when she gets a flat tire. She gets on the phone with her fiancée, an elite secret police agent Soo-hyeon Kim (Lee). Suddenly there’s a knock on her window – a Samaritan offers to take a look at her tire but she politely refuses – a tow truck is on the way and she’s a little concerned with letting a stranger get access to her car while she’s alone on a dark lonely road. She has good reason to be concerned; the stranger picks up a tire iron and smashes in her window and rapes her in the car, pummeling her with the iron.

After that, he drags her to an industrial building. He chains the bloody and battered semi-conscious woman to a pole while she begs for her life. Then he somewhat calmly dismembers her while she’s still alive.

Ju-yeon is also the daughter of the section chief (Ho-jin Jeon); the discovery of her dismembered body (including her head, floating serenely with a stark and disturbing beauty in a nearby pond) simply destroys the chief and his future son-in-law Soo-hyeon.

Soo-hyeon determines to find the killer himself and give him not so much a hint of justice but the ultimate vengeance. He vows to make the killer suffer as much as his fiancée did in the final moments of her life. His prospective father-in-law is all for it and gives him complicit consent and assistance, providing the police files of the investigation.

After plowing through several suspects (hurting them so badly in the interrogation that they turn themselves into the police) he finds one, Kyung-Chul (Choi, from Oldboy) who turns out to be the one he’s looking for. He has the opportunity to capture the man – and in fact does – but chooses to release him in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, allowing the officer of the law to inflict as much torture as humanly possible on the man who destroyed his future.

Revenge is a theme that seems to resonate with the Koreans; some of their best movies have had it as a subject matter. Here Kim (The Good The Bad The Weird) ratchets it up to a new level of violence and extreme. While the film is unrated here, I would guess it would certainly get an R at the very least and an NC-17 at worst. The gore is extreme, the violence is extreme and the images can be pretty brutal. There are also several rapes that take place, although none of them are really that graphic.

Min-sik Choi, who was the victim in Oldboy, plays a much different role here. He is the demented killer and one gets a sense of diabolical cleverness from him, not to mention the horrible sense that he may explode into violence at any given moment. While he doesn’t have matinee idol looks, he is a consummate actor who would be getting Oscar potential roles were he here in the States.

Byung-hun Lee has a good deal of screen presence and matinee idol looks. His dogged determination is evident; he even gets emotional at times but for the most part he’s icy cool. He could potentially be a major action star over here; I would love to see a few studios take a chance on him.

There are some standard action movie elements but all of them are turned on their ear. The movie has been labeled by some as misogynistic and torture porn. As to the former, I didn’t see it. Yes, there was violence done to women, but that was the nature of the killer – a rapist-murderer. Sometimes, serial killers are not equal opportunity maniacs. As to torture porn while there were elements of that, the plot was much more defined and intricate to relegate to that particular genre – this isn’t a Saw movie gang – but it’s got that kind of brutality and in some cases, even more extreme.

I have said it before, I’m saying it now and I’m going to say it again – this isn’t a movie for the squeamish or the sensitive. It is, however, a movie for those who like extreme movies that are well acted, decently plotted and unafraid to go there, wherever there is.

REASONS TO GO: Insanely over-the-top violence occasionally lightened by a sense of sly humor. Choi makes a wonderful serial killer and Lee is a fine hero.

REASONS TO STAY: Too violent for some. Sometimes things get so insane you’re not exactly sure what’s happening.

FAMILY VALUES: If you bring your kids to this one, someone is going to call child protective services. This is ultra-violent, sadistic, and chock full of scenes of violence, torture, rape and peppered with bad words just to make things interesting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ironically the movie is so violent the Korean Media Rating Board made Kim recut the movie or face a Restricted rating which would have prevented the film being released in its native land. The version available in the United States has never been seen in Korea and unlikely that she ever will.

HOME OR THEATER: I saw this on a big screen and while I can honestly say that seeing it at home is perfectly acceptable, nonetheless I’m recommending the theater just for the visceral effects.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Red Riding Hood

Killshot


Killshot

Diane Lane wonders why she doesn't get more roles in romantic comedies, while Thomas Jane ponders why their names both rhyme.

(Weinstein) Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke, Thomas Jane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Hal Holbrook, Don McManus, Aldred Wesley Montoya. Directed by John Madden

One of the most notable writers of “hard-boiled” fiction in the history of the genre is Elmore Leonard. He’s right up there with guys like Dash Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Among the novels written by Leonard that have been adapted for the screen are Get Shorty and Out of Sight. He’s also written a number of westerns, as well as screenplays of his own. He’s considered one of the better writers of the latter half of the 20th century to come out of the United States, and even today, well into his 80s, continues to write at a respectable clip.

For awhile, it was fashionable to option his material by the various studios and one of those snatched up by them was this novel, which at one time had names like John Travolta, Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen attached to the property. However, as Leonard’s work which is full of colorful characters, vicious violence and complex plots, many studios found it was very difficult and sometimes impossible to translate his work to the screen.

After nearly a decade in development hell and more than four years after filming wrapped on the project, the movie has finally seen the light of day. Usually that’s a pretty sure sign that the movie is nigh on unwatchable. So is that the case here?

Blackbird (Rourke) is a Native American hitman for the Toronto mob who apparently couldn’t find any Native Canadians. He has survived due to his coolness in chaotic situations, and because he never ever leaves a witness who can identify him. During a routine hit on a rival Mafiosi, he is forced to cap the girlfriend of the victim because she has seen his face. This doesn’t sit well with his employers and Blackbird is forced on the lam, returning to his native Michigan to perhaps get out of the game for good (since his erstwhile employers know nothing about who Blackbird really is).

There, he falls in with a small-time crook named Johnny Nix (Gordon-Levitt), a brash and arrogant sort with a real anger management problem, coupled with an impulse control issue which makes life around him rather interesting. Johnny also has a sexually frustrated girlfriend named Donna (Dawson) who, while suspicious of Blackbird, also takes a bit of a liking to him. Nix plans to blackmail a wealthy real estate agent Nelson Davies (McManus) and takes Blackbird along as intimidation.

Working for Davies is Carmen Colson (Lane), whose marriage to her husband Wayne (Jane) is disintegrating. Wayne is actually dropping some paperwork off for Carmen at her office when Nix and Blackbird come to pay Davies a visit; Davies, aware of what’s happening, has arranged to be far away and neglected to tell Carmen to do the same. The somewhat dim Nix mistakes Wayne for a wealthy real-estate agent, but Wayne doesn’t take kindly to being threatened and tosses Nix out of a plate glass window. Carmen manages to alert the authorities, but not before catching a full glimpse of Blackbird’s face through the window, which Blackbird is fully aware of.

Now things are really in a mess. Nix wants nothing more than to make Wayne pay for all his humiliation and suffering, but Blackbird has bigger fish to fry. Not only can Carmen identify him, she can also bring the Toronto mob right to his doorstep. They will need to eliminate the couple, but on their first attempt they botch the job, which captures the FBI’s attention. The two are promptly put in a witness relocation program and flee to Missouri and, with only each other to rely on, actually begin to make progress in repairing their marriage. However, Blackbird cleverly fakes his own death, bringing the two of them back home where he and Nix plan to finish what they started.

As I mentioned earlier on, the movie has had a checkered past of shelf time, pushed-back release dates and much re-cutting and re-shooting. Director Madden, who previously helmed Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin hasn’t had a lot of experience with this kind of pulp novel background (although he’s done some TV mysteries in his native England) and it shows here. The violence needed to be notched up a level or two; it would have suited the material better.

As you would expect with a movie that has been reshot and re-edited several times, the flow of the film doesn’t always work. At times the pacing is stodgy and slow, at other times it moves at breakneck speed. It’s like a sportscar whose transmission needs work; you expect something a little faster out of a sleek little number like this.

The casting is pretty marvelous, with Rourke doing a nice turn as the regretful and world-weary Blackbird, who is simultaneously cold and pragmatic. Rourke is ideally cast here; he excels with roles that are multi-faceted and thoughtful but with a hard edge on the outside. His work alone is worth the price of a rental here.

Surprisingly, Lane and Jane elevate the movie further. Jane, who has taken a lot of critical heat for his post-Punisher performances, plays Wayne as a man who has made a mess of his marriage and knows it, but still has deep feelings for his wife. He plays a man who is lost without his wife, but not paralyzed; when push comes to shove he is willing to fight not only for his life and that of his wife, but also for his marriage as well. Lane, who has settled into a series of roles of dissatisfied middle-aged wives, is always an interesting actress, even if her part here is somewhat cliché.  

Unfortunately, this property has been mismanaged and it shows in the final product. The studio never seemed to have much faith in it, which is surprising considering the level of talent both before and behind the camera. This is one of Leonard’s more simple plotlines which would have made it easier to adapt but for whatever reason it didn’t turn out the way it should have. Chalk it up as one more failed adaptation, but at least there is enough about it that’s compelling to make it worth a look if you want to watch something different.

WHY RENT THIS: Rourke does a terrific job as he has been lately. The chemistry between Jane and Lane is genuine and their difficulties with their marriage elevate this from the run-of-the-mill thriller.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s been edited and re-edited several times and you can tell; the movie is a bit of a pastiche that at times doesn’t flow real well.

FAMILY VALUES: If “adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel” isn’t enough for you, try lots of violence, a great deal of foul language and a bit of nudity, all hallmarks of Elmore Leonard novels.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It took nearly four years from the completion of shooting until a meager five-screen release by the studio, which originally inherited the property as one of those that they received when the Weinsteins sold their interest in Miramax to Disney (1408 and Lucky Number Slevin were other movies that Weinstein also received). In the meantime, the role of a corrupt cop played by Johnny Knoxville was completely cut from the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.9M on an unreported production budget that I’d estimate to be about $10M; either way the movie is a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Brothers at War