Fascinating on a historical level, riveting when it comes to the sport being discussed, and compelling in a deeply humanistic fashion, Gabe Polsky’s terrific documentary Red Army examines the intense Cold War relationship between Russia and America, and the various hockey players that were caught up in an international saga of greed, hubris, and outright dictatorship. Literally kept as slaves by their country, Russian hockey players back in that time period were revered by all and had to adhere to an intense training schedule that kept them away from their families for long periods of time. All of their insane treatment is detailed in this sad and scary film that highlights just how difficult it would have been to be playing under the Russian coaching regime back in the 80’s. Red Army primarily focuses on legendary defenseman Slava Fetisov and how he and his various teammates navigated the politically charged waters of worldwide sport during a time of immense uncertainty and volatility. Fetisov is quite the character, and while he provides tons of amazing information and anecdotes, on more than one occasion someone should have reminded him that he was there to make a documentary, not just to have his ass kissed; there are NO off limits questions when you’re the front and center focus of someone’s film. That being said, the exciting hockey footage that Polsky intercuts with his intelligent question and answer sessions with some of the era’s biggest stars commands the audience’s attention, and this is easily one of those movies where if you’re not a fan of the milieu, you’ll still enjoy the film because of how well-crafted it is on a formal level, and how interesting it is as a history lesson. And for any hockey fan or current or player (I was lucky enough to lace up for 15 years), this will be a fabulous way to spend 80 minutes. And if you’re of a certain age, the names and faces on display will bring back waves of emotion and nostalgia. I know it did for me. Mike Vernon POWER in there, too.
Eric Red’s glorious late 80’s actioner Cohen & Tate, which served as his directorial debut, is a pulpy, bloody blast which features enough child endangerment to choke a full grown horse. Written by Red with his usual brand of genre smarts and directed with lots of grit and sturdy proficiency, the film stars Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin as deranged assassins who are tasked with kidnapping a 9 year old boy who had previously witnessed a mob killing, and which proves to be their potential undoing. After an absolutely wild and grippingly staged opening sequence where the kid’s parents are gunned down while under witness protection by the FBI, intrepid little Travis Ross (a priceless Harley Cross) attempts to elude his captors, but is eventually nabbed by the two psychopathic killers, but not after being thrown into all manner of distress and turmoil that would leave any child utterly scarred for life. There is a bracing, casual sense of evil glee that permeates the fringes of this film, with Red clearly getting a kick out of seeing so much violent and visceral insanity unfolding in front of a prepubescent protagonist. Because make no mistake, while Scheider and Baldwin are top billed, they are most definitely bad guys, one more than the other, and the true hero of his cult classic is the child. And in the realm of the R-rated action movie, I can think of only a few where a kid is put through the ringer the way Cross was here. And then there’s the hilarity that comes with the overall ineptitude of Cohen and Tate themselves as professional killers; they’re constantly getting lost and are frequently outsmarted by a child who would probably give Kevin MacCallister a run for his money in the shenanigans department. Red’s usual sense of cinematic nihilism is on full display, and Scheider clearly had a ball with his no-bull-shit character which afforded him the chance to add yet another extremely memorable tough guy to his arsenal of legendary screen performances. There’s a Walter Hill vibe during certain stretched of Cohen & Tate, and while it doesn’t hit the existential notes that Hill so often explored, there’s a crisp and effective brittleness to the entire picture that hints at the hardscrabble nature of a low-budget effort such as this one. Bill Conti’s terrific and weird and extra suspenseful score punctuates the entire film with perfectly timed jolts of excitement, and Victor J. Kemper’s nighttime dominated cinematography looks extra crisp and slick via Shout! Factory’s special feature loaded Blu-ray release. This is film that’s ripe for rediscovery and reconsideration for fans of this sort of ass-kicking entertainment.
Podcasting Them Softly is honored to present a chat with actor Jake Macapagal, the break-out star of Sean Ellis’ hard-hitting action drama METRO MANILA. A British Independent Film Award nominee for his work in this ambitious and searing film, Jake brought an intense magnetism to his role of a father and husband willing to go the extra mile for love and the possibility of a better future for his family. METRO MANILA is available to stream on Netflix and for rental/purchase via Amazon, Vudu, and Region 2 Blu-ray and DVD. It’s one of the best films that’s received next to no buzz in the United States over the last few years, and we can’t wait to see where this smashing success takes Macapagal in the future! Thanks for your time, Jake — and good luck with all future projects!
Jake Macapagal is the heart and soul of Sean Ellis’s blistering and propulsive crime thriller Metro Manila. In a riveting performance, Macapagal stars as Oscar Ramirez, devoted husband and father, a man looking to better his life and the life of his family at all costs. Working as a poor farmer isn’t making ends meet, so Oscar and his family pack up whatever belongings they can before heading off into the dangerous, exotic, and totally unpredictable mega-city that is Manila. Upon arrival, the harsh realities facing Oscar and his wife and children are apparent from the outset, and it’s the way that Macapagal brings the perfect amount of confidence and vulnerability to the role that makes Oscar as compelling as he is. This is a first-rate piece of acting, most of it deeply internalized, with burrowed emotion popping out in explosive moments of visceral intensity, especially during the positively engrossing final act, which finds Oscar making one desperate decision after another in order to set up his family for life. The chemistry he demonstrates with his on-screen wife, Althea Vega, is palpable and complex; he knows that both he AND she need to “do what they have to do” in order to help their familial unit, so it’s even more heartrending when Macapagal registers the realization of what his wife has been up too during her work hours (I’ll leave this plot development for the audience to discover). This is one of those out of the blue performances that showcased an actor that I was not familiar with, and the way that Macapagal brought this character to life is something I’ll never forget. I only hope that Hollywood casting agents take note of his fierce drive and dedication, as it’s obvious that while watching Macapagal in action during the increasingly hardcore events of Metro Manila, he’s a talent to pay attention too and to hope to see more of in the future. Metro Manila is available to stream via Amazon HD, and a Region 2 Blu-ray and DVD have been made available for the international market and those of us with Region Free Blu-ray players.
TRUE DETECTIVE EPISODE 2.2 NIGHT FINDS YOU
Dir. Justin Lin
“It’s my strong suspicion, we get the world we deserve.” – Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell)
There’s been so much backlash and disdain for the new season of TRUE DETECTIVE. Vince Vaughn isn’t delivering his performance well enough, Justin Lin’s direction is misguided, the dialogue is not lyrically poetic like it was in the first season.
No one had higher expectations than I did when it came to the new season. I have watched the first season in full at least five times, and watched select episodes much more than that. This season I’ve watched the first episode four times and the second episode that aired last night, three times.
This new season is absolutely excellent. It is exactly what the second season should be, a distinct and sharp contrast from the first, while keeping the same themes and upping the darkness of the new leads.
Vince Vaughn is brilliant in the show. He’s an under educated streetwise thug that speaks in double negatives and his physical persona fleshes out the towering and domineering Frank Semyon incredibly well. The character of Frank Semyon is brilliantly constructed, and at this point in the series, Semyon is really the only sympathetic character, but we have yet to be fully exposed to his shadow world where the other three leads clearly live.
Lin’s direction has been outstanding thus far, from the overhead shots of the LA highway system, to the creeping close up to Vaughn’s face in his opening monologue to the extreme close up of McAdams’ eye as she is viewing the darkly salacious videos on her laptop. Lin is obviously influenced by Michael Mann. The gorgeous industrial complexes, the overhead shots of infrastructure and the blue toned shots of Semyon’s home, to me, are clearly influenced by Mann, and in particular his seminal film, MANHUTNER.
And yes, holy Rick Springfield showing up as the eerie doctor who clearly has a much bigger role in the arc of the series than his brief scene in the most recent episode. He was great as himself in CALIFORNICATION.
And no, I don’t think who got shot is dead. While it would be quite audacious of killing that character off so soon, they’ll be back in next week’s episode. I don’t want to trek into spoilers, but I do not believe for a second that the character is dead.
Creator Nic Pizzolatto continues to absolutely amaze me with his writing. His dialogue is just as fierce in this season; especially without coding it in poetry. He transitioned to pulp dialogue for this season, and it works incredibly well. This season seems to be a nightmarish merging of CHINATOWN and THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. I cannot wait for next week’s episode.
Podcasting Them Softly was honored to chat with Sean Mullin, the writer and director of this year’s independent romance AMIRA & SAM. The film is a charming romantic dramedy that’s set in New York, and focuses on an Iraq-war vet named Sam (Martin Starr), and how Sam meets the charming Amira (Dina Shihabi), an illegal immigrant from Iraq who happens to be the niece of his wartime translator. Before you can say “meet-cute,” the two of them form an unlikely friendship which quickly blossoms into a romance, which the leads them both down some unexpected emotional paths. After screening on the festival circuit, Drafthouse Films nabbed the distribution rights, and after a limited theatrical release earlier this year, the film is streaming on Amazon and will be available for Prime members July 5th, is now available for purchase on DVD, available on disc via Netflix, and through various On Demand platforms. It’s one of those short and sweet little films that never overstays its welcome and tells an emotionally pointed story with excellent characters. Check it out!
Sean Mullin’s sweet yet cuttingly cynical romantic dramedy Amira & Sam hits all the right notes. I love that this film went with its heart in the final act. Martin Starr kills it here – if you’re a fan of his deadpan comedy stylings from HBO’s Silicon Valley then you owe it to yourself to see him all cleaned up and looking crisp and buff in this funny, touching, sad, and finally hopeful little gem that knows exactly what to do during its 85 minute run time. Mullin brings his well-earned real life experiences to the film, so it’s no surprise that the narrative stings with truth and believability despite the mis-matched romance at its center. That the film believes in the power of love is its greatest virtue, as Mullin has created two fully fleshed out characters in a relatively short amount of time, lending credence to the notion that great chemistry can propel any cinematic relationship forward even in the briefest amount of time. It’s also an awesome “New York” movie, with a terrific sense of place and atmosphere, which brings a welcome verisimilitude to the project which might feel unexpected considering the low budget. If you’re not familiar with this movie, please seek it out.
The story hinges on Sam (Starr), an Iraq war veteran who by chance meets Amira (Dina Shihabi), the beautiful niece, and illegal immigrant, of his wartime translator who has relocated to New York. Through a series of potentially life altering circumstances, Sam is asked to hide Amira after a run-in with the NYPD, while an unexpected romance blossoms between the two lost souls. Their “meet-cute” is wonderful, the chemistry that Starr has with Shihabi is palpable, playful, and sexy, and I loved how Mullin threw in pointed jabs about the messed up immigration system that continually plagues America. This is a film that wants to say something about our current social and political landscape, and that it does, with smarts, clarity, and force. And Mullin’s sensitivity towards veterans is noticeable from the outset, and while never condescending, he paints a portrait of Sam as a man who is still reeling from his experiences and who hopes to overcome any psychological turmoil that me might be expecting. Paul Wesley’s scummy supporting performance (he was also excellent in Before I Disappear) acts as a comment on young greed run amok in our post 9/11 landscape, and I love how Mullin seemingly isn’t afraid of mixing the topical with the tried-and-true conventions of the romantic comedy. And while the film is funny, there’s a dramatic center to the entire picture that lends it credibility. Laith Nakli (perfectly pensive) and David Rasche (perfectly to the point) also offer strong supporting performances.
Feeling like a cousin in some respects to Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor, this is a film that operates on a few levels, with comedy masking some rather upsetting notions of estrangement, and while what happens in the final moments might strike some as unlikely, I believed it because of how well defined the central relationship was and because Mullin clearly has an affinity for his characters (he also wrote the original screenplay, which seemingly feels based on some of his life experiences to go off the Wikipedia page). But when you cut to it, the bleeding heart of this movie rests in the two wonderful performances from Starr and Shihabi, who both inhabit real people in an increasingly stressful yet hopeful situation, one with no easy answers and no pat resolutions by the time the narrative has come to a conclusion. Without spoiling anything, the final moments of this small gem are absolutely perfect, encapsulating all of the ideas and themes that Mullin has worked to convey throughout his story, and while their road might be fraught with uncertainty, you’re always rooting for Amira & Sam, which is a pleasure for the audience. This is one of those small, under the radar movies that deserves to find an audience!