Kill Me Three Times


Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

(2014) Action Comedy (Magnet) Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Sullivan Stapleton, Teresa Palmer, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown, Steve Le Marquand, Callan Mulvey, Greg Miles, Brodie Masini, Tony Spencer, Arthur Vaka, Roland van Zwol, Isaac Griffiths, Daniel Berenger, Andrew Bongiovanni, Antonio Barimen, Anna Philip, Rebecca Caldwell, Veronica Wayle. Directed by Kriv Stenders

This whole mess we call life comes with unpleasant situations and even less pleasant people. All of us without exception have to put up with both at some point in our lives. However, there can come a time when you just can’t put up with even one more minute of one or the other.

Told from three different points of view and going back and revisiting events that have already transpired so that the audience supposedly gets a different perspective as to why people are behaving the way they do, the movie is set in a Western Australian resort town. There, Jack (Mulvey) owns a kind of generic hotel and bar on the ocean along with his wife Alice (Braga). He’s an abusive rotter and she has taken refuge in an affair with hunky Dylan (Hemsworth).

Jack gets wind of the affair and hires Charlie Wolfe (Pegg), a private detective and occasional assassin, to take out his wife. When Charlie scopes out the situation, he realizes that he isn’t the only one whose services have been retained. Jack’s sister Lucy (Palmer) has goaded her feckless husband Nathan (Stapleton), the local dentist, to take the job on and, in a complicated plot point, use Alice’s body to fake Lucy’s death so that they can collect on an insurance settlement that will allow Nathan to pay off his substantial gambling debts which a corrupt cop (Brown) has been hired to collect.

Naturally things go off the rails and bullets fly, not always hitting the target they’re intended to. Charlie watches all of this transpire with a bemused grin until we realize that he is far more involved in this than we were originally led to believe.

The comedy here is very broad and exceedingly dark, with people getting killed left and right and not always in nice ways – not that there is a nice way to get killed. There is a good deal of violence involved, some of it fairly brutal so those who tend towards squeamishness should be well-warned.

Pegg is one of those comic actors who is incredibly likable, even when he’s playing an absolute soulless SOB. Even though Charlie is a nasty piece of work, you can’t help but enjoy Pegg’s performance. Definitely this is his movie and like Shaun of the Dead he carries it flawlessly. Unfortunately for Pegg, it’s a pretty light load.

That’s because the movie, despite all its twists and turns and double crosses (and triple crosses) doesn’t really do anything new or different. Most of the turns aren’t terribly clever and the characters are all so irredeemably rotten that you don’t really care what happens to most of them. Palmer is gorgeous as the shrewish wife and Stapleton, who played a very different character in 300: Rise of an Empire, is actually reasonably gifted as a comic actor.

For most the only way to check this out will be on VOD which is how I saw it and for most, that will be just fine. I can’t imagine the big screen will add all that much to the film, although I will say that the cinematography is bright and beautiful, although not breathtaking. The way I essentially view the movie overall can be summed up by a scene in which Pegg’s Charlie Wolfe watches from a distance a car tumble over the side of a cliff, then chuckles smugly to himself. No words I can write will adequately describe the movie as well as that image. If you are planning on a VOD evening, there are many, many choice that are far better uses of your time and fees. This is essentially only for Simon Pegg’s fan club.

REASONS TO GO: Pegg is always worth the effort.
REASONS TO STAY: Derivative and not very funny. A lot like a TV movie, only less clever. May be too violent for some..
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, a fair share of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stapleton and Mulvey both appeared in the Swords and Sandals epic 300: Rise of an Empire.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 9% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Fuzz
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Cheatin’


Ella in silhouette.

Ella in silhouette.

(2013) Animated Feature (Plymptoons) Directed by Bill Plympton

Florida Film Festival 2014

Love is an odd duck. Love turns to hate in the blink of an eye and so much of it is based on the perception of the other person and our perception of their behavior. That perception can easily be altered or fooled, and in that case, is that love and/or hate truly with the person or with the way we think they are?

Jake is a muscle-bound gas station attendant who has no problem attracting the attention of the ladies. Ella is a beautiful and statuesque single gal who has no problem attracting the attention of the gentlemen. When she is persuaded to go on a bumper car ride that she is at first reluctant to try her hand at, she finds herself in a freak situation in which the gallant Jake comes to her rescue, saving Ella’s life and pissing off his date.

The two fall instantly and madly in love and get married. At first, Jake is crazy about Ella and when he’s not pounding the sheets with her, he’s bringing her flowers and otherwise doting on her. When a jealous admirer doctors up a photo to make it appear that Ella has been cheating on him, the big lug is heartbroken and decides that what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. He finds a seedy hotel in the center of town and begins to have at it with every woman he can find – and he can find plenty.

At first Ella doesn’t understand the distance that has become her and Jake. When she discovers the truth, her reaction is a bit more extreme than Jake’s – she hires a contract killer to snuff him. Hell hath no fury and all that. However, by chance she stumbles upon a disgraced stage magician’s signature invention – a soul switching machine. In that way, she is able to switch bodies with the ladies who are dallying with her husband before switching back with Jake none the wiser. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s about to get a whole lot less ideal.

Plympton is one of the most marvelous and original animators of our time. He utilizes a good deal of grotesquerie in his style, which began as a print cartoonist for such publications as Playboy and the National Lampoon. While he is primarily known for his shorts, this is actually his sixth feature and his first to utilize Kickstarter as a means of raising funds.

He sets this tale in an indeterminate time but looks to be post-World War Two America, with big cars prowling the endless roadways, rubes wearing fedoras at the county fair and the attitude towards and between the sexes.

What I like most about Plympton is his ability to see the outrageous and the grotesque about everyday things. He has a wicked sense of humor and this new feature was no exception to that style. Plympton also rarely uses dialogue and once again, the dialogue consists of grunts, moans, squeals and sobs. I imagine he would side on the “pictures” side of thing in the Words and Pictures debate but with Bill Plympton, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.

He draws each of the approximately 20,000 animation cells by hand which is a laborious and time-consuming process and while that necessitates a somewhat spare style, he still uses it to great effect. There are even sequences where he gives homage to fine art and utilizes a variety of drawing styles throughout.

The plot is a little thin which even for a movie that barely scrapes over an hour could have used some punching up. Considering this is his first feature in five years, you’d think he’d have had time to flesh out his story some but then he has also been continuing to create his hand-drawn shorts in that time, and let’s face it everything that he cranks out is a gift.

There’s plenty of sex and violence, as well as subversive humor so don’t think about bringing the kiddies to this one – most of it will sail over their heads and some of it is inappropriate for the DisneyToons set. At the moment this is out and about on the Festival circuit and as with most of his features, I’m sure that a home video release is in the cards. While this isn’t his best feature ever, it is still better than most of the stuff cranked out by the big studios and more fun for us big people by half.

REASONS TO GO: Plympton’s trademark humor.  Varies his style enough to be interesting.

REASONS TO STAY: Thin plotline.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some semi-disturbing images and adult themes. Definitely not for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Plympton has been nominated for two Oscars for his animated shorts Guard Dog and Your Face.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Persepolis

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: 88 Minutes

3 Days to Kill


Kevin Costner isn't going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

Kevin Costner isn’t going to let anyone stop his career re-invention.

(2014) Thriller (Relativity) Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Lemarquis, Richard Sammel, Marc Andreoni, Bruno Ricci, Jonas Bloquet, Eriq Ebouaney, Joakhim Sigue, Alison Valence, Big John, Michael Vander-Meiren, Paolo Calia, Eric Naggar, Alexis Jacquin, Frederick Malahieude, Patty Hannock, Marie Guillard, Mai Anh Le. Directed by McG

The ties that bind are often stretched, if not severed, by the needs of our careers. Success requires a certain amount of attention that is usually stolen from that which we turn on our homes and families. It is from there that we rob Peter to pay Paul.

Ethan Renner (Costner) has been living that life longer than he can count. It has cost him his wife Christine (Nielsen) and his daughter Zoe (Steinfeld) who live in Paris and rarely speak to him and find no real reason to seek that kind of thing out. Of course, Ethan has a somewhat unusual career – he’s an assassin for the United States government.

He has been sent to take out the Albino (Lemarquis), the right hand of a German arms dealer nicknamed the Wolf (Sammel). However, the meticulously set up hit goes sideway when the Albino recognizes one of the agents (Le), dispatching her in a particularly gruesome fashion. Ethan himself gives chase and has the Albino in his sights but collapses, nose bleeding and barely able to breathe. He manages to put a bullet in the leg of the Albino before passing out.

It turns out that Ethan isn’t well at all. He has a brain tumor that has spread into his lungs because, you know, the brain and the lungs are connected. He doesn’t have much time left to him; a few months at most. Faced with his own mortality, Ethan decides that killing for his country doesn’t have the same appeal and decides to spend what time he has left reconnecting with his wife and daughter.

While he tells his wife about his condition, he keeps that information from his daughter. Zoe is a typical teenage girl; sneaks out to go party with friends, check. Underage drinking, check. Argues with her mom like cats and dogs, check. Dresses inappropriately, check. Subject to wild mood swings that defy logic and reason, check. Yup, typical teenager girl.

Ethan is doing his best but it’s not a smooth integration into their lives. However, when Vivi Delay (Heard), a fellow assassin, shows up with an offer of an experimental drug that might give him a significantly longer life span in exchange for finishing his job and taking out the Wolf and the Albino, he leaps at the chance. He goes after the Albino’s driver Mitat (Andreoni) and finds him to be a family man who commiserates with Ethan’s dilemma with Zoe.  Through the hapless Mitat Ethan looks to work his way up the chain until he gets his man.

Unfortunately, the miracle cure has a few side effects that always seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moments. Ethan, who’d distanced himself from his own family so that the ugliness of his job doesn’t touch them, finds that they are being drawn in anyway. The whole point of taking this cure was so that he could have more time with Christine and Zoe but it only takes one well-placed bullet from one of the Wolf’s men. A bullet through the brain still has no cure.

This is fairly pedestrian espionage stuff. We’ve seen similar things with Jackie Chan, Vin Diesel and the Rock in the lead and with similarly mixed results. Costner isn’t really known for being an action star, although he has done a few films in his career that have required that element and to be honest, he can be quite good in that kind of role.

In fact, Costner is really the best thing this movie has going for it. He’s likable and down to earth, so we get a spy/killer who isn’t suave, who isn’t refined but is kind of rough around the edges. He’s had to reinvent his career to a certain extent, becoming more of a character actor as of late rather than a leading man but make no mistake, he’s still one of the most likable leading men in Hollywood history and he remains so here. His relationship with Steinfeld as Zoe is one of the movie’s high points – it’s genuine and most parents of once and present teenagers will tell you holds some of the same ups and downs that real life parents of teens are all-too-familiar with.

Heard is a terrific actress who is thrown into a part that is just misconceived from the get-go. She appears periodically in different wigs and looking like she just got off the runway at Milan, chain-smoking with a sardonic grin and far too young to be a master spy yet here she is. In fact, she oozes competence so much that one wonders that with her skills why does she need Ethan at all (the answer is that Ethan is the only one who’s actually seen the Wolf and might recognize him). Still, while I get the sense she had fun with the role, it’s just so badly laid out that it becomes distracting for all the wrong reasons.

The hallmark of a Luc Besson movie is well-done action sequences and there are several here that will keep action fans if not happy, at least not walking out of the theater. There’s nothing here that’s overly imaginative or challenging but it at least is professionally done so there is entertainment value throughout. The Wolf and the Albino, while having nifty monikers, lack any sort of menace. They both scowl a lot and other than the one scene where the Albino executes a female agent, you don’t get a sense that they pose any threat to Ethan or anyone else in the movie. They’re more or less just goals for Ethan to achieve and it’s more of a game of hide and seek rather than spy versus spy.

REASONS TO GO: Costner and Steinfeld are solid. Some decent action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Heard fares poorly. Villains not menacing enough.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming in Belgrade, Costner was given an audience with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: From Paris With Love

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Non-Stop

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

The Iceman


Michael Shannon has a unique way of firing his agents.

Michael Shannon has a unique way of firing his agents.

(2012) True Crime Drama (Millennium) Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi James Franco, Stephen Dorff, Danny Abeckaser, John Ventimiglia, Ryan O’Nan, McKaley Miller, Megan Sherrill, Hector Hank, Zoran Radanovich, Shira Vilensky, Kelly Lind, Erin Cumings, Ashlynn Ross, Weronika Rosati, Christa Campbell. Directed by Ariel Vromen

It’s always the quiet ones, the ones who lose it and go on a killing spree. Contract killers are another case altogether. These are men with ice in their veins, able to kill without remorse or emotion. It’s a job for them, no less upsetting than someone who sells cars for a living.

Richie Kuklinski (Shannon) is a family man, married to the beautiful but volatile Deborah (Ryder). He works dubbing films – cartoons he tells his wife but porn films in reality. The mobster who runs the porn operation Richie is working for – Roy DeMeo (Liotta) – is impressed by Richie’s coolness under fire, so he decides to take Richie on as a contract killer. Roy and his buddy Josh Rosenthal (Schwimmer) take Richie out and order him to kill some random homeless guy which he does.

This is the start for a whole new career for Richie as he ices guys on Roy’s say-so. When a coke deal is botched by Josh who kills the dealers involved, Roy is forced to lay low for awhile, leaving Richie unemployed. As money gets tighter and Richie’s temper gets more volatile, Richie hooks up with Mr. Freezy (Evans), a freelance contract killer who works out of an ice cream truck. He teaches Richie the proper use of cyanide and the trick of freezing bodies and then thawing them before dumping them, throwing police off on the correct time of death. It is for the latter practice that Richie is given the nickname “The Iceman.”

When DeMeo finds out about Richie’s new freelancing scheme, he goes ballistic which doesn’t bode well for Richie’s future state of health. When Roy brings in Leonard Marks (Davi) from one of the big crime families in New York, it looks like Richie’s days are numbered but Roy and Marks have forgotten one prime directive – never ever piss off a contract killer.

This is pretty standard stuff for the true mob killer movie. Yes, Richie Kuklinski was a real person who claims to have killed between 100-250 people during his heyday from 1948 to 1986. He was also a family man who’s arrest stunned his neighborhood.

While the story remains pretty typical, the acting here is superb. Shannon, an Oscar nominee, shows that there are many more of those on the way (and likely a statuette somewhere down the line) with a powerful performance here which is doubly commendable because he doesn’t have a lot to work with. The real Richie was by all accounts a strong, silent type who wasn’t much of a communicator. He was more or less a psychopath who was paid for crimes he probably would have committed eventually in any case. Shannon gives Richie at least some personality, with cold eyes that erupt into volcanic fury when pushed. It’s a marvelous juxtaposition that gives the character depth that the real Richie probably didn’t have.

Ryder, who has been an infrequent screen presence of late, is absolutely amazing as the willfully oblivious Deborah. She knows that her husband is hiding something horrible, but chooses to ignore it. There’s nothing wrong if she doesn’t know there’s anything wrong, so she chooses to ignore it until it’s right in her face.

Schwimmer is the anti-Ross here, stocky with a hippie ponytail, a 70s porn star moustache and a mean streak, although there is a bit of Ross-like nebbishness as he begins to realize he is in far over his head. Liotta gets a standard Ray Liotta crime figure and does with it what he usually does, which also adds to the overall quality of the picture.

In fact the performances are what makes the movie. This is strongly acted throughout, from the barely-recognizable Evans to Franco in a brief cameo. It’s Shannon however who carries the movie and he does so with ease. He may well be this generation’s De Niro – not a traditional leading man sort but who elevates every movie he’s in. While Vromen is no Scorsese and this no Goodfellas it nonetheless doesn’t disgrace the genre created by that film. In fact, it’s a solid follower in it’s footsteps.

REASONS TO GO: A strong performance by Michael Shannon.

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really add much to the true life mob movie genre.

FAMILY VALUES:  A good deal of violence and a bit of gore, lots and lots of foul language and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Franco was originally cast as Kuklinski but had to take the smaller role as Marty Freeman instead; Maggie Gyllenhaal was likewise cast as Deborah Pellicotti but had to drop out due to her pregnancy and Winona Ryder got the part.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; solid good reviews here.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill the Irishman

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The History of Future Folk