Catch the Fair One


Kali Reis has the intensity of a caged lion ready to spring.

(2021) Crime Drama (IFC) Kali Reis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Chu, Michael Drayer, Kimberly Guerrero, Lisa Emery, Kevin Dunn, Jonathan Kowalsky, Gerald Webb, Isabelle Chester, Shelly Vincent, Matt Godfrey, Emmett Printup, Jordan Smith, Rae Anna Gott, Wesley Leung, Aaron Kriegler, Sam Seward, Christine Lauer, Sheri Fairchild, Marcus, Elizabeth Manente, Mainaku Borrero. Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka

It is a dirty little secret in modern America that indigenous women are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery at an inordinate rate. Advocacy groups report that about 90% of those taken end up murdered once their “purpose” has been served.

Kaylee “KO” Uppashaw (Reis, a boxing champion making her acting debut) prepares for a championship fight with her trainer, Brick (Vincent, also a fighter), going through the pre-fight rituals of getting taped up, having her gloves slipped on, and waiting in the wings for her introduction. She wakes up in a squalid women’s shelter. Was the championship fight a dream or a memory? We’re never sure which, but likely the former.

Kaylee works as a waitress in a diner. She has fallen into such a state where she takes uneaten food off the plates of her customers and brings it home to eat. She sleeps with a razor blade secreted in her mouth, to defend herself if she needs to protect her possesions or her life. She has fallen far from the spotlight she once occupied, and perhaps understandably so; her kid sister Weeta (Borrero) disappeared after walking home alone after visiting Kaylee who was training at her gym (Kaylee wanted to stay a little longer and work; Weeta needed to get back home). Kaylee’s guilt led to estrangement from her mother (Guerrero), the end of her boxing career, and a descent into substance abuse.

The authorities were of little help. Desperate to find her sister and perhaps find redemption, she decides to go looking for her on her own. Researching the local sex trade (the police were able to discover that Weeta was sold into a sex trafficking ring) she discovers a pair of pimps who specialize in pairing up native American women with clients who wanted them. Kaylee decides to allow herself to get into their stable. From then on, things don’t go exactly as she plans.

Basically, the second half of the movie changes tone and focus, going from an intense, emotional, gut-wrenching drama into a fairly typical action film of the revenge genre. While the fight scenes are outstanding (as you’d expect they would be), the change is jarring and makes it feel like two completely different movies were spliced together.

Reis, who hasn’t acted professionally prior to this, is a revelation. She brings a quiet intensity to her role as Kaylee. Kaylee doesn’t say a whole lot; she does her talking with her fists, her eyes and her body language. There is a confrontation with her mother early on in the movie, where she unloads a little bit: “You have a living daughter right here in front of you,” she cries as her mother, who runs a support group for families with missing children, turns to stone. It’s powerful and I wish there had been more scenes like this, showing the devastating effect Weeta’s disappearance had on her family.

This is not the kind of film you want when you’re looking for a pick-me-up; it’s dark, gritty and suffused with an air of impending tragedy. While Kaylee is hopeful that she’ll reunite with her sister, the odds are stacked against her. The ride is a bumpy one, and at times you’ll be tempted to turn away, especially at some of the more wrenching moments. This isn’t always an easy film to watch, but there’s some important material here about a problem that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. When a character with casual cruelty tells Kaylee “Nobody is looking (for her sister) because nobody cares,” he is stating the reality of the situation overall. That’s a fact that needs changing.

REASONS TO SEE: Reis shows a great deal of grit and intensity as a performer.
REASONS TO AVOID: Becomes more of a revenge action thriller in the second half, a move that doesn’t blend well with the dramatic first half.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Reis was the first person of mixed Native American heritage to win a boxing title. Like her character in the movie, she is of Native American and Cape Verdean descent.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trade
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Dumbo (2019)

Yardie


“D” Fence.

(2018) Crime Drama (Amazon) Ami Ameen, Stephen Graham, Shantol Jackson, Mark Rhino Smith, Fraser James, Calvin Demba, Akin Gazi, Naomi Ackie, Philips Nortey, Antwayne Eccleston, Rayon McLean, Sheldon Shepherd, Christopher Daly, Reshawna Douglas, Alexandra Vaz, Chris-Ann Fletcher, Paul Haughton, Everaldo Creary, Carol Lawes. Directed by Idris Elba

Some of the greatest music ever made came out of the Jamaican reggae scene of the 70s. Some of the most brutal crime lords were also based in Kingston at the time. Dj Jerry Dread (Creary) believes that reggae can bring peace to warring factions, and invites the leaders of those factions to shake hands at a music festival he’s putting together. Instead, he gets gunned down by one of the durg lords for his troubles, witnessed by his little brother Dennis.

Now an adult going by the name D (Ameen), he is working for the other kingpin King Fox (Shepherd) who comes to the realization that D is far too unstable and violent for the island. He sends him to London to deliver a shipment of cocaine to Jamaican-born Rico (Graham), but D, feeling disrespected by Rico, decides to sell the shipment himself. This, as you might imagine, doesn’t go over well.

So D hooks up with his ex-girlfriend Yvonne (Jackson) and reconnects with the daughter that he hadn’t seen since she was a baby. He also means to make something of himself as a DJ (following in his late brother’s footsteps) while becoming a drug lord on his own. Then, when he finds out that the man who pulled the trigger that killed his brother is in London, he has a whole new project to concentrate on.

Ameen delivers a searing performance that will stay with you for quite some time. He’s one to keep an eye out for. In the meantime, he gets to play off of Graham, who doesn’t mind chewing the scenery somewhat. At times, one might be forgiven for wondering if they had tuned in a Guy Ritchie crime boss film by mistake.

The story isn’t particularly inspiring – D is far too volatile and self-destructive to be a protagonist that you’ll want to identify with – and it does drag a little bit in the middle, but it makes up for that with a climax that is bat guano crazy.

REASONS TO SEE: Ameen is charismatic as all hell.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags somewhat in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and violence as well as some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jason has a twin brother Jeremy who is also an actor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/31/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews; Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Peppermint
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Arctic Void

BLONDE. purple


Robbery, assault and battery.

(2021) Crime Drama (1091) Julian Moore-Cook, Ellie Bindman, Adam J. Bernard, Jennifer Lee Moon, Jessica Murrain, Roger Ajogbe, Andy Chaplin, Joe Gallina, Nicholas Grey, Daniel Jordan, Jennifer Lee Moon, Emily Swain, Richard Sandling, Jess Radomska, Stella Taylor, Oliver Silver, Al Gregg, David Ngara-O’Dwyer, Ryan Molloy, Martin Smith, Thomasin Lockwood. Directed by Marcus Flemmings

When things are going well, everybody tends to be generous and kindly. It is when things are exploding in our face that our true characters tend to emerge. Nothing explodes in the face quite like a bank robbery gone sideways.

And that is exactly what’s happened to Wyatt (Moore-Cook), a man who requires an immediate infusion of cash that is talked into doing something he’s never done before – rob a bank. His more experienced partner, Nath (Bernard), has been shot and taken to the hospital. Wyatt is left with a teenage girl Maddison (Bindman) as a hostage and a hostage negotiator (Gray) who might be the least suited for the job in the history of law enforcement.

In the two hours or so of the film’s run time, we get to meet these characters and others in their orbit. We find out that other members of the crew, like the hot-tempered Ant (Sandling), dropped out of the heist before it even began. We meet femme fatale Saida (Moon). And through it all, we see how Wyatt got into a situation that is so far over his head that it might as well be Mt. Everest.

Flemmings, whose last film Six Rounds (which Bernard starred in) showed immense promise, improves on that film here. The dialogue is far better, a quantum leap in fact. There is a noir-ish quality to it that is tantalizing. His eye for casting talented unknowns continues, as Moore-Cook and Bindman both shine. Bernard, who continues to impress, is a scene-stealer in a supporting role that you won’t soon forget. He’s an actor with the presence to carry franchise-level pictures, mark my words.

The drawback here is in the pacing and the editing. The film bounces around with a cornucopia of flashbacks which from time to time interrupt the momentum the film is building. This sort of thing can be frustrating to a viewer and as a critic, I tend to advocate simple storytelling devices to young filmmakers. Too many flashbacks can spoil a film like too much salt can spoil an entrée. Also, the movie is set in America, but the cast is British and it was filmed there. While I get the sense that Flemmings was trying to make a comment on American racial relations (a prologue Montage shows incendiary moments in American racial tension, from the Civil Rights era right up through the marches of Black Lives Matter), but there are too many English accents to make the movie believable as American-set. However, there is a killer soundtrack of classic R&B and retro-soul that is absolutely perfect for the film’s atmosphere.

In general, though, this is a movie that has a good deal going for it. Flemmings’ movies tend to be intelligent and thought-provoking which is a commodity that should be encouraged in any filmmaker. The good news is that this movie isn’t a step backwards for Flemmings; he’s moving in the right direction. I wouldn’t be at all surprise if his next movie made a serious impact on the independent movie scene. No pressure, right?

REASONS TO SEE: The soundtrack is essential.
REASONS TO AVOID: The edit could have been a bit tighter (loses steam when it bounces around to various elements).
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to being a film director, the London-born Flemmings has also been a fashion photographer.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/14/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dog Day Afternoon
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Set!

The Many Saints of Newark


Dinner with the Family.

(2021) Crime Drama (New Line) Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Vera Farmiga, Ray Liotta, Michael Gandolfini, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michela De Rossi, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michael Imperioli (voice), Samson Moeakiola, Joey Coco Diaz, Germar Terrell Gardner, Alexandra Intrator, Gabriella Piazza, Mason Bleu, Aaron Joshua, Lesli Margherita. Directed by Alan Taylor

 

There is absolutely no doubt that The Sopranos remains one of the most influential and important television series of all time. It helped establish HBO as a legitimate provider of quality original entertainment and ushered in a new golden age of television which moved away from broadcast and to alternate sources of content providers, from cable and now to streaming. For many of our favorite television shows of the past decade, we can thank show creator David Chase, who co-wrote and produced this prequel to his show, whose storytelling prowess paved the way for shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy.

The movie opens with a startling and effective crane shot that turns into a dolly shot of a graveyard. We hear various voices of the dead until one takes focus; that of Christopher Moltisanti (Imperioli, the sole member of the series cast who appears here), who acts as a kind of narrator as well as Banquo’s ghost. He laments over his own untimely death (one of the most shocking moments in a series replete with them) and focuses in on his father, Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola).

Dickie is welcoming his father, “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti, back from Italy. He brings with him a brand-new bride, Giussepina (De Rossi) from Italy. She speaks little English and is about a third his age. Dickie has been running the numbers operation for the DiMeo crime family, using enforcer Harold McBrayer (Odom) to collect in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods of central Newark. It is 1967, and after the violent arrest of an innocent black taxi driver, riots erupt.

In the meantime, Johnny Soprano (Bernthal) has been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and sent to prison, leaving his son Tony (Ludwig) in the less-than-tender care of Livia (Farmiga), who is already showing signs of being the unstable, manipulative harridan that Nancy Marchand was acclaimed for in the series. Tony admires his uncle Dickie and begins to see him as a mentor and father figure. As Tony grows into his teenage years (Gandolfini, the son of the late James Gandolfini who played Tony in the series), he begins to show a willingness to gravitate towards the criminal life that his Uncle – and father – are part of. In the meantime, McBrayer – seeing the Black power movement and feeling the contempt in which he is held by the Italians – begins to build an empire of his own. Things are going to get mighty ugly in Newark.

I have to admit, I blew a little hot and cold about this one. Da Queen, who is not really a Sopranos fan and has seen little of the show, liked this movie a lot. On the other hand, I’ve watched the show and know how good it could be – and to be frank, the movie doesn’t really measure up in some ways to the original. Few things, to be fair, ever do.

Part of the problem is that the characters who were so indelible – not only Livia, but Paulie Walnuts (Magnusson), Uncle Junior (Stoll), Big Pussy (Moeakola) and Silvio Dante (Magaro) – all faithfully reproduce the look and mannerisms of those who played the characters on the show. It is a bit distracting in a way – it’s like watching a remake of a favorited movie with celebrity impersonators – but one has to give credit where credit is due. All of the things that made us love (or hate) those characters are present here. Farmiga, in particular, and Stoll, both get high marks for inhabiting the parts that Marchand and Dominic Chianese created. However, there isn’t a lot of additional insight to the characters that can’t be gleaned by watching the show – any of them. As a result, the emphasis is mainly on the “new” characters of Dickie, his father and McBrayer.

It should also be mentioned that Gandolfini acquits himself very nicely in the role that made his father famous. The movie really isn’t about Tony; he’s a bit player in his own prequel. For some, that is going to be annoying. I think, though, that it’s a smart move; Tony Soprano is a character that was perhaps one of the most well-developed in television history. While other characters in the show that are portrayed here don’t really get to add much insight to their characters, I don’t think there’s really a lot that can be added to Tony that we don’t already know

So there are a couple of questions to be answered here. First of all, if you’re not familiar with the show, you can still see The Many Saints of Newark without feeling lost. Familiarity with the show adds a certain amount of flavor, but for many of the characters who met untimely ends, we’re fully aware of their (sometimes) grisly demises that occurred in the series and that does color our perceptions somewhat. Does it add anything for fans of the show? Not really a lot. You get a little more background into the relationship between Tony and his mentor, but it doesn’t really make for any startling revelations. While there are plenty of Easter Eggs for super fans to glom onto, for the most part this doesn’t really sit atop the pantheon of mobster movies as much as the show does. If you’re anything like me, however, you will be inspired to re-watch the show once again and that really isn’t a bad thing at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Strong performances throughout. Plenty of Easter Eggs for fans of the show.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really add a lot of additional insight into the show and characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence (some of it gruesome), profanity and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The amusement park scenes were filmed at Rye Playland in Westchester, NY. The amusement park scenes for Big were also filmed there.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through November 1)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews; Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goodfellas
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Pharma Bro

The Little Things


The darkness and the dimly lit.

(2021) Crime (Warner Brothers) Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales, Isabel Arraiza, Joris Jarsky, Glenn Morshower, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason James Richter, John Harlan Kim, Frederick Koehler, Judith Scott, Maya Kazan, Tiffany Gonzalez, Anna McKitrick, Sheila Houlahan, Ebony M. Mayo. Directed by John Lee Hancock

 

Any good homicide detective will tell you that the secret to catching a killer isn’t rocket science. It’s good hard work and paying particular attention to the little things. The devil is, after all, in the details.

This crime thriller, set in the 1990s (director John Lee Hancock wrote it back in 1993 but was unable to get it made until recently) and features no less than three Oscar-winning actors. You’d think that would bring the quality level up a notch, but keep in mind that Warners chose to release this in January – never a good sign.

A serial killer is targeting women in the Los Angeles area (what else is new?) and detective Jim Baxter (Malek) is stumped. One of Los Angeles’ most successful police detectives, he utters platitudes at press conferences but is no closer to solving the crimes than when he came on the case. Meanwhile, over in Kern County to the northeast of the City of Angels, former L.A. police detective (and current Kern County deputy sheriff) Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) has been assigned by his boss to collect some evidence held in Los Angeles critical to a case in Bakersfield. Deacon, who left  L.A. under less-than-ideal circumstances, eventually gets sucked into Baxter’s case (to be honest, Deacon doesn’t resist very hard) which may have a link to a case that Deacon worked on years before that was never solved.

With Deacon on board as an unofficial advisor, the two at-first reluctant partners zero in on a suspect – Albert Sparma (Leto) – a serial killer’s name if I ever heard one – who seems to be a slam dunk at first. He taunts the detectives and is creepy enough to set off any cop’s radar. But is he the killer? And can the two mismatched detectives stop him before he kills again?

Considering the calibre of talent both behind and in front of the camera, it’s a bit surprising that the end result of this movie is less than stirring. Certainly it’s no fault of Washington or Leto, both of whom deliver scintillating performances. For Washington, this kind of role is old hat yet still he manages to bring a certain amount of freshness to the part. Leto may be one of the best actors at playing creepy, brings a braggadocio to his role that is refreshing.

Of the three main cast members, only Malek feels out of place. His sunken-eyed thousand-yard stare bespeaks someone with PTSD, not the well-adjusted family man his character is made out to be. The murky cinematography doesn’t do him any favors other than to highlight his ghoulish pallor. We know he’s capable of great performances, but his character is so underwritten that it’s almost criminal. If you’re going to cast someone like Malek in your film, you should better utilize him.

The plot feels like a pastiche of a fair number of era-specific crime thrillers; back in the Nineties, these sorts of movies were commonplace and often boasted A-list actors. As those types of films have largely fallen out of favor, we don’t see this kind of turbocharged cast in a thriller these days. I just wish they had a better film to work with.

REASONS TO SEE: Denzel is riveting (as usual) and Leto turns in a marvelous performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little on the sitcom-y side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, disturbing images and graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leto was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance here.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through 2/2821)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/5/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seven
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Go-Gos
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Narco Soldiers


(2019) Crime (GravitasRafael Amaya, Carolina Guerra, Octavio Pizano, Ricardo Chavira, Ivo Canelas, Cody Kasch, Roger Cross, Carlos Naveo, Hector Anibal, Omar Patin, Axel Mansilla, Iban Marrero, Anika Lehmann. Directed by Felix Limardo

 

The world is often a strange place, particularly now. Movies reflect that, particularly now. How else do you explain Narco Soldiers? It is, in fact, a movie about how drug cartels can contribute to national pride.

Danny (Amaya) is a hired killer for a cartel run out of Puerto Rico by The Sarge (Cross). Now a free agent, he hooks up with Don Toribio (Chavira) to become a middle man in the Mexican and Colombian cartels. But Danny’s buddy Teo (Pizano), has a different idea; to create a cartel right there in the Dominican Republic. As his high-end girlfriend Marisela (Guerra) puts it, the Dominican has long been a place where other nations came to exploit with no benefit at all to the Dominicans. The cartels are just the latest in the long line.

As it turns out, Marisela is the brains behind the operation and she’s as ruthless as they come. Together, Teo, Marisela and Danny become a force to be reckoned with and build a cartel of their own. However, along the way they make enemies and you know what they say; the bigger you are, the harder you fall.

I like the Latin point of view here; most times, we get a more European look at the cartels, an American infiltrator or some such. Here, we see the bosses at the top. The problem is that they don’t really give them characters so much as roles; one is the muscle, one is the brains, one is the heart. We never get a sense of complete human beings behind the parts.

The script is also deeply predictable and even the action scenes don’t really add very much. That’s not to say that the action is done badly – it’s not – but there just isn’t anything that stands out. The plot is somewhat convoluted, but again, there’s a very “been there, done that” feeling to it. In fact, that could be the film’s epitaph; it’s okay, but nothing special. And it could have been.

REASONS TO SEE: Comes with a Latin point of view that is refreshing.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very basic and workmanlike.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence and profanity, drug references, sex and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Amaya is best known for his work in the Mexican TV show Lord of the Skies.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scarface (1983)
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Mothman Legacy

Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (2019)


Thick as thieves.

 (2019) Crime Drama (1091Jesse Janzen, Dustin Miller, Tommy Koponen, David J. Espinosa, Jillian Rohrbach, Brett Rickaby, Atim Udoffia, D. Brad St. Cyr, Jeanne Young, Bobby Real, Courtney Conklin, Stacey Hall, Tyler McDaniel, Doug O’Neill, DeeDee Avert, Brian Barnes, Robyn Colburn, David Jon Foster, Christa Hewitt, Michelle Kuret, Melinda Rayne, Bunny Stewart. Directed by Josh Pierson

 

They say crime doesn’t pay, but you couldn’t prove that from the movies. For every Dog Day Afternoon there’s a The Sting. No, if you are a movie buff, the message you’re likely to get is that when in need of quick cash your most effective option is a criminal act.

Jeff (Janzen) finds himself in just that position. He owes the local crime boss – incongruously named Bunny (Udoffia) – more than 100 grand, and having just gotten out of the joint, he doesn’t have that kind of scratch on him. However, he’s been boinking the sexy blonde wife (Rohrbach) of a crooked land developer named Bob (Espinosa, the poor man’s Dennis Farina) and the two are in the process of divorcing. Tracy (the said sexy blonde soon-to-be ex-wife) is positive that Bob has hidden some of his assets – a half a million dollars’ worth – in the house in cash so that he doesn’t have to pay it to Tracy. Jeff hits upon the idea of robbing Bob and paying off his debt.

He enlists the help of his brother Barry (Miller) and best friend Tim (Koponen), convincing them that the job will be an easy one, in and out and nobody getting hurt. Of course, you know that’s not going to happen. Bob turns out to be home unexpectedly and the cash? Nowhere to be found. Now it turns into a test of will; how badly does Jeff want the money and how far is he willing to go to get it. For Bob, it’s how much is he willing to take to keep it. Which one will emerge on top?

This is one of those movies where the director wears his heart on his sleeve. You can tell what kind of movie he wants to make – a smart, sexy caper comedy with snappy dialogue and humor that doesn’t lie in one-liners but in bizarre and outlandish situations. He wants this to be high octane with not much time spent on exposition, so much of that is done via flashback.

The problem with inserting flashbacks into a film is flow. Caper comedies, particularly, need good flow and that’s not easy to achieve. The problem here could be in editing, but I don’t think it was – I think it was in preparation. You need to know what your film looks like before you shoot it and if you’re ambitious enough to want to do a movie that relies as heavily on timing as this kind of movie does, you’d better know the timing down to the second. Unfortunately, we end up with a movie that’s rather choppy and goes into a flashback just as we’re getting into the story.

The performances are mainly okay although not dazzling. Janzen, who reminds me of a young Kevin Bacon crossed with an Entourage-era Kevin Dillon, shows the most potential as the sad-sack loser who is not nearly as brilliant a criminal mastermind as he thinks. He alone gets the sense of pacing in the dialogue.

There are a few plot holes – if this was supposed to be an “in and out job” where nobody gets hurt, why bring guns? Also, it’s never clear why Tracy tells Jeff about the cash stash. Still, those are minor issues that more experience behind the typewriter will help eliminate.

You get a sense that this film could have been better than it was. Hopefully, we can chalk it up to being a learning experience for Pierson because he does show some potential here. I think with a little more seasoning, he is certainly capable of making some memorable films. Unfortunately, this isn’t one.

REASONS TO SEE: Janzen reminds me of a cross between Kevin Bacon and C. Thomas Howell.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film has the pacing of an engine in need of a tune-up.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of profanity, violence (some of it unintentional) and sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature-length film for writer-director Pierson after having made eight short films.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
What Men Want

Outlaws (2017)


Ba da bing.

(2017) Crime Drama (A24) Ryan Corr, Abbey Lee, Simone Kessell, Josh McConville, Matt Noble, Aaron Pedersen, Sam Parsonson, Eddie Baroo, Aaron Fa’aoso, Jacqui Williams, Adam T. Perkins, Soa Pelelei, Daniel Pantovic, Moodi Dennaoui, Alex Arco, Gary Owens, George Houvardas, Gemma Sharpe. Directed by Stephen McCallum

 

Outlaws is the debut feature from Aussie Stephen McCallum, and it is equal parts Sons of Anarchy and grindhouse biker flick from the 60s and 70s. It features the Copperhead Motorcycle Club, whose president Knuck (Noble) has just been released from prison. His right-hand man Paddo (Corr) has been running things in his absence, and doing a good job of it as well; in fact, Paddo’s girl Katrina (Lee) would like to see the temporary in charge situation made permanent.

But Knuck’s wife Hayley (Kessell) doesn’t trust Paddo to step down quietly, and with the two women pushing their men towards it, conflict is inevitable. And with Paddo’s mentally and emotionally challenged brother Skink (McConville) providing the catalyst, things are just about to blow.

There’s plenty of violence and loud rock and roll, which is to be expected in a movie like this. While the acting is merely adequate, I suspect that the fundamental problem here is the script, which is a bit vapid and at times, riddled by logical holes. It also feels like we’ve seen all this before (we have, but on TV in the aforementioned Sons of Anarchy which is a much better viewing choice). While there are elements of Lady Macbeth in the two biker chicks and the plot is vaguely Shakespearean, the characters are mostly various degrees of deplorable and don’t inspire a whole lot of audience identification, unless beating up other people is your thing.

REASONS TO SEE: Nice pacing and fine tension level maintained.
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is not very original.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Matt Noble, who plays Knuck, wrote the script.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews, Metacritic: 24/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Animal Kingdom
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Here Awhile

Destroyer


Here’s a face that’s seen a lot of miles down a hard road.

(2018) Crime Drama (Annapurna) Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, Toby Huss, James Jordan, Beau Knapp, Jade Pettyjohn, Shamier Anderson, Zach Villa, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Colby French, Kelvin Han Yee, Joseph Fatu, Cuete Yeska, Doug Simpson, Kate Clauson, Jan Hoag, Cecily Breaux. Directed by Karyn Kusama

 

One of the first things we see in this gritty L.A.-set crime drama is the face of Nicole Kidman, but it’s not the glamorous beauty that we have come to know; her face is aging, careworn and dead-eyed, the face of someone who has had the shit kicked out of her by life and is just going through the motions until she dies.

This is L.A.P.D.’s finest Erin Bell, and she is damaged goods. An incident back in the 90s when she and her partner Chris (Stan) had infiltrated the gang of a charismatic bank robber named Silas (Kebbell) has changed her forever. Now, Silas is back and Erin knows that there can be no justice for one such as he unless she metes it out herself, and this is what she intends to do.

This is not the Nicole Kidman you’ve ever seen before. Erin Bell is a piece of work, as they like to say in cop shows. She bends the system until it breaks, has not a single relationship with anyone that can be termed even remotely healthy. She walks with a shuffle like an old lady going to the corner store to buy latkes but it is her eyes that generate the most hideous visage of all, the eyes of a woman who has seen Hell and understands that’s where she belongs. You won’t like Erin Bell much, but you’ll love the job Kidman does playing her.

You’ll also like the rest of the impressive cast, all of whom do sterling work. This is a sun-drenched film which is fitting; most noir films are more comfortable in nighttime settings, but this one demands the lurid, unflinching light of day. This is one of Kidman’s best performances ever and it ill serve as one of the talented Kusama’s better films.

REASONS TO SEE: Kidman is an absolute force. The supporting cast is pretty strong, too.
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is a little bit diffuse.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole mess o’ profanity, a lot of violence, some sexual material and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sebastian Stan originally auditioned for the role of Silas, but Kusama felt he’d make a better love interest for Kidman.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/19/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews, Metacritic: 62/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brick Mansions
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Social Ones

Widows (2018)


Dangerous deeds discussed in dark places.

(2018) Crime (20th Century) Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo, Lukas Haas, Coburn Goss, Alejandro Verdin, Molly Kunz, James Vincent Meredith, Patrese McClain. Directed by Steve McQueen

Viola Davis is one of America’s most underrated actresses and that considering that she has been nominated for an Oscar three times and won once (for Fences). So when I tell you that this might be the best performance of her career, and it wasn’t even one of the three nominated films on her resume, that might speak volumes about how the system

She plays Veronica, the widow of Harry (Neeson) who was butchered along with his crew after a job. As it turns out though, he stole two million bucks from a ruthless gangster (Henry) who happens to be running for Chicago alderman as the opponent of Jack Mulligan (Farrell), the son of a politician who together have been essentially running the Ward for decades. Now, with the gangster’s psychopathic brother (Kaluuya) hot on her trail, she knows she must resort tto literally using her husband’s playbook to pull off a much larger heist that will pay his debts in full and set her up for life, but she’ll need help. She figures the widows of Harry’s crew have both the motivation and the skills.

Oscar-winning director McQueen has assembled a cast that is without parallel. In fact, he might have done his job too well; the film is crammed full of interesting characters who all need more screen time than they got, so we end up with scenes that run too long and characters that overstay their record. A little less focus on the other characters would have made this a better film.

McQueen uses the city of Chicago perfect effect, whether in the mansion of Jack’s dad (Duvall) or in Veronica’s beautiful apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, or in the poorest corners of the largely African-American Ward, the movie is always interesting in a visual sense. The movie doesn’t have the humor that is usually found in heist films nor does it have that clever “we outsmarted you” gotcha that most heist films possess. This is far more brutal and direct. It works as a heist film, but it works even better as  a commentary on how wide the gulf between haves and have-nots has become.

REASONS TO SEE: A tremendous cast with Davis standing out particularly. McQueen has a great visual sense.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long and a few too many characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity throughout, a fair amount of violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Olivia the dog, who is heavily featured in the film, also appeared in Game Night.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews, Metacritic: 84/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Kitchen
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Himalayan Ice