68 Kill


Now here’s a woman who knows how to get what she wants.

(2017) Action (IFC Midnight) Matthew Gray Gubler, AnnaLynne McCord, Alisha Boe, Sheila Vand, Sam Eidson, Michael Beasley, James Moses Black, David Maldonado, Ajay Mehta, Hallie Grace Bradley, Lucy Faust, Peter Jaymes, Eric Podnar, Carlos Antonio, Walker Babington, Kelly Connolly. Directed by Trent Haaga

This year there’s been a spate of heist action films that have been unusually entertaining. One that’s flown under the radar is this gem that made some waves at South by Southwest and also the Florida Film Festival.

This one is a little bit more graphic than most. Chip (Gubler) is a decent guy who has a problem; he just can’t say no to a pretty girl. His girlfriend Liza (McCord) knows all about it and uses it to her advantage. She’s not a very nice girl in a lot of ways but what she is for whatever its worth is practical. Chip wants to bring in as much cash as he can to support Liza who has lavish lifestyle tastes on a trailer park budget. In fact, they do live in a trailer park and when the couple is short on funds when the rent is due – which occurs pretty often – she makes up for it with blow jobs and other sexual favors.

Liza is pretty much done with this sort of life. She’s learned that the landlord (Jaymes) is keeping a stash of cash in his home safe – to the tune of $68,000. Such a haul, she reasons, would be enough to give her and Chip a brand new life in a much better place than the craphole they live in. It’s an easy, smash and grab job – nobody has to get hurt. However, just in case – a couple of guns might come in handy if they need to defend themselves. Nothing to worry about, honey; I’m sure we won’t need to use them. I’m positive of it, in fact. You can guess how that’s going to go.

Two dead people and a hostage named Violet (Boe) later, a sickened Chip and adrenalized Liza show up at her brother Dwayne’s (Eidson) house to sell him Violet; as it turns out, Dwayne likes to torture and mutilate women for sexual pleasure and Violet is plenty pretty. This is way more than Chip signed on for and he decides to cut his losses and get out with Violet. However, Liza doesn’t take well to breaking up with her boyfriend as you can imagine and as weird as things have been, they are about to get weirder.

Haaga, who has some experience in the Troma factory of low budget genre movies, has a phenomenal sense of pacing; this movie starts off with a shot of a fly caught in honey (a heavy-handed but apt metaphor) and then never lets the foot off the gas. The movie careens – sometimes drunkenly but always sure of its destination – from one set piece to the next. We just hang on for dear life and if we’re smart, enjoy the ride.

AnnaLynne McCord is an absolute revelation. I don’t think I’ve seen any actress play a psychotic bitch quite as ably as McCord in ages. This ranks up there with What’s the Matter with Baby Jane territory in my opinion; she’s that good. One moment she can be tender and loving towards Chip and the next she’s a shrieking banshee with a pump action rifle aimed for your skull. Love hurts, fool.

Gubler who plays the seminal science nerd in Criminal Minds gets to stretch his wings a bit here in a role that is very unlike the one he’s known for. Chip is sweet but spineless and not book smart or street smart. As a result he makes some unwise choices and he is way too naive when it comes to women, particularly in that part of the world which seems to be populated by some mean ones.

I like that the movie just keeps getting better and better as it goes along. It’s not a movie that overstays its welcome in the least nor does it start out so slow that by the time it gets going the viewer has already checked out. Rather by the time the climax is in full gear I was fully invested in the story and characters. That doesn’t happen all the time for both of those elements, so kudos to Haaga.

Now, most of the women in this movie (with the exception of Violet) are stone cold crazy, over-the-top bitches, hookers, double crossers, two timers or some combination thereof. ‘Course, most of the men in the movie (with the exception of Chip) aren’t much better but there seem to be more redeemable men in the film than women. Some might find this anti-woman, although I don’t think it is personally. If anything, it’s anti-low life scumbag and that’s a cause that reaches across both sides of the aisle.

There is plenty of humor here to lighten up the gore and violence; it’s a little on the dry side so those who don’t cotton to that kind of funny might be well-served to stay away. The characters here are also the most misbegotten collection of fever dream psychos ever assembled in an indie film. It’s like David Lynch in charge of Deliverance in a trailer park setting and if that log line intrigues you, this is the kind of film you’ve been waiting for all year. This isn’t for everyone but if you like to have fun at the movies, don’t mind a little gore, get revved up by frenetic action sequences and don’t mind some oddball characters in the mix, your ship has come in.

REASONS TO GO: The film gets better as it goes along. The humor is bone dry in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may find this a little misogynistic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, just as much violence, some gore and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won the audience award in the Midnighters category at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/3/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Logan Lucky
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Win It All

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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore


Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey are out looking for trouble.

(2016) Crime Comedy (Netflix) Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Gary Anthony Williams, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet, Derek Mears, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Dagoberto Rodriguez, Dana Millican, Myron Natwick, Robin Blair, Buck Eddy-Blair, Marilyn Faith-Hickey, Jared Roylance, Michelle Moreno, Cristi Miles, Lee Eddy, Jana Lee Hamblin. Directed by Macon Blair

 

There comes a point in life where you just have to say “enough.” You can’t take another jerk in your life, you can’t bear to just swallow the selfishness of people and be polite. What triggers that feeling may vary from person to person.

For Ruth (Lynskey) it starts with a very bad day. A nurse’s assistant, her day begins with a most unpleasant patient, an elderly woman with racist thoughts, suddenly dies. It ends with Ruth coming home to a house which has been broken into. Her laptop is gone as is her grandmother’s silver set. The police in the person of Detective William Bendix (Williams) seem fairly indifferent to her plight.

With the aid of her martial arts-loving devout Christian neighbor Tony (Wood), Ruth endeavors to find her grandma’s silverware which has a sentimental value to her. Utilizing a tracking program on her laptop, she does recover her computer and discovers that the stoners using it picked up the device at a dicey pawn shop.

This will lead her into the world of incompetent, petty criminals, wealthy douchebag lawyers and home invasions. The journey there will be dark and twisted; will she come out all right on the other end?

This made a lot of noise at this year’s Sundance, winning the Grand Jury prize for dramatic presentation. Blair, a childhood friend of director Jeremy (The Green Room) Saulnier, is making his feature film directorial debut and I must say he has a really bright future if he chooses to pursue that aspect of filmmaking; Blair has appeared in front of the camera in several of Saulnier’s films as well as this one in a cameo as an annoying bar patron.  He has a great eye for shot composition which makes the film pleasing from a strictly visual point of view.

He also had the good sense to cast Lynskey in this. She’s an actress who simply doesn’t get her due; I can’t remember a performance of hers that was anything but compelling and here, in a rare opportunity to carry a movie herself, she knocks it out of the park. Ruth is an essentially mousy character who has been pushed too far. There’s a great scene where she stands up to Bendix at the police station, a confrontation that leads to an unexpected revelation. She also has great chemistry with Wood, who has morphed into an actor with a very broad range of styles. He may be one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood today.

Ruth’s journey is a fascinating one. Even though she’s dealing with a sort of darker side of humanity not of her own doing, she keeps up her optimism pretty much throughout and although her naiveté gets her into situations that are somewhat precarious, she manages to prevail even though logic tells you that she shouldn’t.

The tone is a little bit off-kilter which can work in its favor, but also discourage more traditional moviegoers from wanting to see it. I admit, there were times when I was a little bit put off by the somewhat unconventional atmosphere. It’s not that there are a lot of eccentric indie trope characters in the movie, although there are a few; it’s just the situations can get a little bit wonky.

This is a good metaphor for life in 2017. Most of us feel the way Ruth does; there are a few too many assholes in the world and all we want is to live life as asshole-free as possible. Our society has in general become far more self-centered; there is little thought given about others, whether they are part of our circles or not. It is ironic that with communication so much easier we understand so much less than we once did. The world is indeed full of assholes; to counteract them, we need more people like Ruth.

REASONS TO GO: Lynskey is a much underrated actress who has become one of my favorites. The shot composition is terrific.
REASONS TO STAY: The vibe may be a little too out there for some. The film is a little preachy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Blair used his own experience of having his apartment broken into and his laptop stolen plus a perceived lack of police follow-up to inspire the story; the title comes from a line in a gospel song sung near the end of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Holden
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: A Stray

The Town


The Town

Jon Hamm confronts Ben Affleck over which one looks best unshaven.

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Dennis McLaughlin, Corena Chase, Brian Scannell, Isaac Bordoy. Directed by Ben Affleck

Before the credits start rolling, we are informed that Charlestown, a suburb of Boston near the city center and populated by a predominantly working class Irish demographic, has more bank robbers per capita than anyplace in America. I don’t know that it’s true, but it certainly makes for an interesting concept.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) lives in Charlestown and is one of the aforementioned excess of criminals. He and his crew Jem (Renner), Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Burke) are robbing a bank wearing ghoulish masks and so far the caper is going like clockwork. However, things go a little sideways; it’s discovered that one of the employees set off the silent alarm and Jem, a hothead, reacts by viciously beating the assistant manager whom he thinks did it. He also forces them to take pretty bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall) hostage as insurance. However, once they’re satisfied the cops didn’t follow them they let the blindfolded woman loose feeling fairly comfortable that she didn’t see anything.

What they didn’t take into account is that Claire lives in the same neighborhood as the four of them, so Doug decides to keep an eye on her to make sure that she really didn’t see anything. He arranges to “bump into her” at a local Laundromat and the two begin to like each other, and maybe something more than that.

In the meantime Agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) of the FBI is hot on the tail of the crew, even if he’s at least two steps behind him. One advantage he has is that his partner is Dino Ciampa (Welliver), who grew up in Charlestown and knows most of the guys involved. Even with that, he’s no closer to figuring out who this mysterious crew is until he figures out that one of them worked for a specific electronic security company.

Despite the heat, the crew continues to pull jobs which turn more and more violent. Doug wants nothing more than to get out, preferably with Claire as company. However, Fergus “The Florist” Colm (Postlethwaite), who sets up their jobs and gets a cut of what they pull, wants him right where he is. Doug doesn’t want to end up like his jailbird dad (Cooper) but as The Florist tightens the screws and Frawley inching closer to pinching him, he knows that something’s got to give and it might be his relationship with Claire – who is still ignorant of his identity as one of the robbers who kidnapped her and is to his mind his only way out of Charlestown.

This is Affleck’s second directorial effort and like the 2007 crime thriller Gone Baby Gone it makes excellent use of the city of Boston. There’s a car chase through the narrow alleyways of Boston that is absolutely outstanding, one of the better ones you’ll see this year. Affleck also captures the gritty flavor of Boston’s working class neighborhoods.

He has assembled an excellent cast. Renner shines as the hair-trigger Jem, who served a stretch of nine years for taking out a guy who wanted to take out Doug. His relationship with Doug is strong, but he needs Doug far more than Doug needs him, and he knows it. Lively also turned my head with a performance as Jem’s drug-addled floozy of a sister, a role as far from her “Gossip Girls” character as it’s possible to get, and serves notice that Lively is an outstanding actress in her own right. Veterans Cooper and Postlethwaite have miniscule parts, but make the most of them.

Affleck has been on a roll lately albeit mostly in supporting parts, from Hollywoodland to Extract; taking a lead role since Surviving Christmas (2004) he is very strong, although he could have used a little more flavor. He is supposed to be the brains behind the operation but never comes off as excessively clever, and we get the sense that he’s more meticulous than smart.

Affleck’s best moment as both an actor and a director comes during a scene where Doug and Claire are sitting at an outdoor cafe when Jem strolls up. Throughout the scene there’s a great deal of tension; I won’t reveal exactly the source but suffice to say that there is real jeopardy that Claire will discover that Jem is part of the gang that robbed her bank and took her hostage. Affleck the director keeps the tension at a high level, while Affleck the director sells it with his body language, trying to hide his concern from both Claire and Jem. It’s a masterfully done scene and Affleck the actor makes it work.

The movie has done surprisingly well at the box office thus far and looks to be a hit, which is good news for Affleck’s career both as a director and as a lead actor. Hopefully his work in Company Men later this month will continue that trend; after the fallout from Gigli I always thought he was unfairly stigmatized as a terrible actor, which he obviously is not and I generally look forward to seeing his movies. Here, he’s crafted a satisfying crime thriller as a director that oddly doesn’t showcase his best skills as an actor, but still shows enough of him to make the movie worth seeing and Affleck’s role memorable. It’s enough that I look forward to seeing Affleck in both capacities in the future.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty nifty acting performances and a terrific car chase sequence make this a gritty crime thriller worth checking out.

REASONS TO STAY: The thick Boston accents can be difficult to understand from time to time and the material may be a bit too gritty for some.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is extremely rough, particularly if the F-Bomb disturbs you. There’s some sudden and brutal violence, as well as a little bit of sexuality. Mature teens can probably handle this, but I wouldn’t go much past that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rob Reiner founded Castle Rock, the production company behind Flipped but later sold it to Warner Brothers; this is the first time he’s worked with them since 1999.

HOME OR THEATER: The car chase is certainly worth checking out on the big screen, but otherwise the home video option is just as viable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Final Destination