Any fans of deep southern gothic potboilers with shamelessly lurid trappings, hectic, labyrinthine mysteries spanning decades acted wonderfully by a massive cast of character versions both old and young should greatly appreciate Dark Places as much as I did. It’s based on a book by Gillian Flynn who also penned the source material for David Fincher’s Gone Girl but for me this was a much, much stronger and more rewarding film. Fincher approached the material with his custom clinical, cynical tunnel vision detachment and meticulously calibrated style while director Gilles Paquet-Brenn adopts a much more sprawling, scattered, rough around the edges vernacular that is more narratively oblong and hazy yet no less compelling and even throws in the faintest glimmer of humanity. Charlize Theron is excellent as ever as Libby, the lone survivor of a farmhouse massacre that left her entire family dead when she was a kid, the killer never found and her left wandering as a broken adult trying to cope. The film intersperses dense, overlapping flashbacks to her difficult childhood life, a troubled brother (Tye Sheridan and Corey Stoll in present day scenes) who was ultimately blamed for the crimes, a desperate mother (Christina Hendricks) and aggressive deadbeat father (Sean Bridgers) who all may have had some hand in the events, although nothing is made clear until you are well beyond neck deep in this tragic, increasingly bizarre small town family saga. Chloe Grace Moretz gives a terrifically creepy performance as her brother’s unstable, untrustworthy teen girlfriend and there’s lots of solid supporting work from great folks like Glenn Moreshower, Andrea Roth, Jeff Chase, Laura Cayouette and Drea de Matteo as a shady stripper with ties to Libby’s past. You know this is a film for true crime fans (even if the story itself is fictitious) when a subplot literally features a club of true crime aficionados led by a twitchy Nicholas Hoult who reach out to Libby in attempts to help her bring the case to a close. There is a *lot* going on in this film, and while not all of it gels into an ultimately cohesive tapestry, the resulting patchwork quilt is beautifully scrappy, full of jagged loose threads and is just an awesome, inky black, deliberately overcooked, chokingly sleazy pit of depravity, hidden half truths, deplorable human beings and even some very well buried pathos that sneaks up out of the slime to surprise you in the back end of the final act. Theron anchors it with her haunted, pensive aura as a fiercely guarded woman who is likely a lot more vulnerable and damaged than she’d care to admit, and the messy, bloody trajectory she must descend down to solve an infamous murder she was unwittingly at the centre of. Absolutely great film.
Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move contradicts its own title by showing up out of nowhere all of a sudden, with an ensemble cast for the ages, a snazzy 50’s production design vibe and one of those deliriously convoluted marble maze narratives where things make just as much sense as they don’t. The film is honestly a lot more low key, subdued and laconic than you might expect from all of these moving parts, let’s more Out Of Sight than Ocean’s 11, more burnished, modest caper games than ritzy, tongue in cheek sizzle. Don Cheadle plays an aimless Detroit ex-con who is hired by a shady mob figure (Brendan Fraser) to babysit the family of a twitchy executive (David Harbour) while he retrieves something of great McGuffin-esque importance from a safe at his work. Alongside him are two less level headed operatives played by a greasy Benicio Del Toro and Rory Culkin, who collectively escalate the proceedings into a dangerous powder keg of betrayals, backstabbing and hopeless incompetence. Others orbit their situation including Ray Liotta as an appropriately volatile mobster, Julia Fox as his philandering wife, Jon Hamm as a keen federal agent, Amy Seimetz as Harbour’s stressed out wife, Bill Duke as an all powerful underworld kingpin and a sly cameo from an A lister (that I won’t spoil) as a cheerfully corrupt automobile industry magnate. The cast are all exceptional with everyone really keeping it on a low, laconic burn save for perhaps Liotta who has to get fired up at least once in every movie per his contract and Harbour who is cast pricelessly against type as a spineless fuck up. The narrative is a shifting puzzle box that requires adderall level attentiveness to fully absorb which I wasn’t giving it and as such was a bit fuzzy on some of the particulars but it was nonetheless lots of fun to watch these quaint, colourful characters mosey around old Detroit and have some good old fashioned noir fun.
So here’s a fun idea (I hope)… I have hundreds of unwatched, obscure VHS tapes ive collected over the years and I’ve recently organized them, fired up the VCR and begun to explore the darkest corners of Z-Grade 70’s, 80’s and 90’s analog nirvana, so I’ll do a series of intermittent reviews based on these random, unheard of treasures with a snapshot of the tape itself, just for fun. First up is one called Frame By Frame, which I guess is officially called Conundrum on IMDb. It stars Michael Biehn and Marg Helgenberger as two inner city cops who begin to have a fiery affair amidst the aftermath of gangland killings stirred up by a Chinese crime syndicate. His family is murdered to set an example, this event brings them closer as she comforts him but before you know it other nasty secrets are unleashed and the classic obligatory ‘web of deceit, betrayal, twists and kinky obsession’ of the essential 80’s B movie potboiler is set into motion. Biehn and Helgenberger are perfect for each other, and on top of being two of the absolute sexiest cult icons of their day, they actually turn this run of the mill script into something fun thanks to their vivid characterizations. He’s as wild eyed and frantic as he was in Terminator and even gets one sly ‘big emotion’ scene that takes on new meaning once all the twists unfold, and she does this tough girl tomboy thing with her accent and mannerisms that’s fun too. The story kind of goes wildly all over the place and I didn’t quite follow every hairpin turn or believe in this brand of convolution but hey, it’s an ancient DTV flick and half the fun is watching these two stars rip snort their way through the hard boiled narrative anyways. I’m fairly sure I may be the only person to have ever seen this film because the tape I have is one of those promotional screeners that aren’t for resale (but they always are anyways), there are positively zero user reviews on IMDb or even critics reviews out there elsewhere on the interwebs and one can barely find traces of its existence at all beyond the tape I have. Good times though, especially if you love Biehn and Marg as much as this viewer.
I’ve seen some ill advised plans in my day and even orchestrated a few of them myself but I’ve never seen quite an ethically fucked, totally stupid, domed to fail miserably scheme as the one dreamed up by two dysfunctional middle aged NYC blue collar brothers in Sydney Lumet’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, a bleak, depressing, pitch dark, anxiety inducing morality play that although admittedly is an excellent film on all fronts, is *NOT* a pleasant viewing experience and I shan’t be revisiting any time soon. Ethan Hawke is the lower middle class, very aloof, perpetual screw-up brother whose marriage is a disaster, relationship with his daughter depressing and he needs cash for alimony quick. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the older, wiser (HA!) and more successful sibling with a sleek corporate career but has his own issues including backdoor corruption, a failing marriage of his own to Marisa Tomei (really? Those two?) and a crippling heroin habit. They’re both financially fucked, so big bro hatches a plan to rob a mall jewelry store on a low-key Saturday when the cash drop is in house. That’s already a bad enough idea, but get this: the store in question is owned by their own parents, who are elderly no less. Now, Hoffman has his own complicated reasons for justifying such a terrible act that stem back into their childhoods, as these kinds of inexplicably dour familial tragedies usually do, while Hawke sort of tags along in befuddled, brainless complicity. Naturally the heist itself goes just about as wrong as it can go and results in (this isn’t a spoiler it’s in the trailer) the gunshot wounding of their mother (Rosemary Harris) thanks to the incompetence of a hapless small time hoodlum (Brian F. O’Byrne) that Hawke hires to do his dirty work in an act of despicable cowardice. Their father (Albert Finney in a towering performance and the finest work of the film) is very clearly still in love with her and starts to unravel, and it becomes clear he always loved her over his own children, a gnawing thorn in the side of their overall dynamic that was just waiting for a traumatic event to rear its head in. The film skips around in time as we see the events leading up to the heist itself, each character’s desperate situation reaching a breaking point that leads to such an extreme decision, spearheaded by Hoffman’s impossibly bitter character, a fellow who is so uncomfortable in his own skin he even makes a seemingly lighthearted sex scene with Tomei come across as uncomfortable. The actors are all terrific with Finney being the standout as the furious, heartbroken and vengeful father who seems like he never wanted to be a father to begin with, just a husband. The supporting cast has some excellent cameos including Leonardo Cimino, Amy Ryan and Michael Shannon as a violent ex-con who muscles in on their lives. This is a great film with terrifically developed character dynamics, a crisp, well oiled storytelling vernacular and a refreshingly earthen portrait of lower middle class shenanigans that few films capture with authenticity, and naturally Lumet’s by now second nature knack for expressing the spirit of NYC, this time in deglamorized boroughs not usually focused on in cinema. It’s a great film, it’s just not a nice one and you’ll feel like shit after, there’s no other way to slice it.
Usually television shows employ ‘gun for hire’ directors who are expected to not so much have their own vision, but carry on the style, spirit and elemental energy of the show overall for tonal consistency. Every once in a while they’ll deviate though and hire a renowned artist for an episode’s departure into their own specific style, or a melding of both for something that feels fresh, exciting and unmistakably ‘that director.’ This allows for my periodic enjoyment of a particular show’s window of escape into something creative beyond the weekly slog of predictable monotony and let me tell you, CSI:Miami was the worst show monotony. Thankfully Rob Zombie not only peppered his unique, pop-art retro baroque elements into the scheme but the the network also decided to shift the episode’s action from Miami over to LA, flying in David Caruso’s Caine and his term of regulars to interact with a host of fresh new characters, all casted from the Zombie pool of underused cult and character actor icons. Caine & Co have travelled to LA on the trail of a shady pornographer (Paul Blackthorne) who was tried and acquitted of killing his wife and an additional girl back in Miami, prompting them to join forces with a no nonsense LAPD Captain (the great William Forsythe) and interrogate various sideshow suspects who range from cooperative to obstinate. Michael Madsen is in slick tough guy mode as the amoral former football star turned bodyguard for the porn kingpin, Sheri Moon Zombie is relaxed and down to earth as ever playing a good natured photographer with key intel on the case, and other Zombie troupe regulars briefly show up including Kristina Klebe and Jeff Daniel Philips. Perhaps the least cooperative person involved is a nasty, scumbag defends attorney played to the absolute scene stealing hilt by the unmistakable Malcom McDowell at his devilish best. It’s terrific seeing these kind of underground, Midnite Movie type faces all together in the same episode of a glossy, otherwise blandly routine piece of cable TV fluff, and I wish they’d gone this route more often and hired distinct, auteur talents to augment the proceedings. This is a terrific episode laced with dark humour (thanks to McDowell), moral ambiguity (Madsen is a real snake in disguise) and genuine pathos for the victims (Forsythe’s cop shows striking empathy and compassion in his actions). This episode (which almost feels like a standalone mini-film) also reinforces what some people refuse to admit about Zombie: he’s a smart, versatile, adaptable artist who is more than capable of calibrating his toolset beyond the raucous, rowdy and raunchy aesthetic sandbox he’s used to playing in and doing something different with his boundless creative spirit, which admittedly he doesn’t often do, but this is a terrific example of.
Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.
I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.
Who remembers Judgment Night? I do, and I’m only randomly bringing it up because I had a dream about it last night where I was a character in the movie, and if you’ve seen this thing you’ll know just how nerve wracking any dream about it would be. It’s one of those greasy 90’s ‘all in one urban night from hell’ thrillers that’s pulpy, over the top, formulaic yet absolutely captivating, in this case because of the villains. So basically there’s four dysfunctional yuppie bros headed from the burbs into darkest downtown Chicago for the basketball game. They’re played by Cuba Gooding Jr, Emilio Estevez, Jeremy Piven and Stephen Dorff, four varied and interesting personalities who clash even before conflict finds them. On their way home through an especially gross part of town they accidentally witness a gang of criminals full on execute a disloyal homie, and from there the thugs make like jackals and hunt our boys through the nightmarish urban jungle with plans on slaughtering them one by one. Now, the top dog thug is played by Denis Leary, who is a solid choice because even when he’s playing good guys you still get the sense you can’t really trust him. He’s a verbose, sociopathic animal here and he’s backed up by perennial badass Peter Greene as his second in command, the two of them making genuinely memorable villains. Director Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost & The Darkness, Predator 2, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3) has real talent in evoking thick, tangible atmosphere be it jungle, urban sprawl or dreamscape and he makes the slums of Chicago look like a fiery vision of hellish alienation and hidden danger around any cluttered, garbage strewn alley or rooftop. The script mostly follows the breathless, brutal pursuit motif but there’s also some clever bits of social satire thrown in, particularly in Leary’s scenery chewing dialogue and rants. The fun lies in watching him and Greene stalk, terrorize and try to kill the four bros though, and it’s all executed very well. Good times.
I’m guilty of not reading Carl Nicita’sbook which kicked this whole thing off…but I plan to remedy that as soon as humanly possible. Because, from the campaign art (pictured above), I thought I might be in for the stock standard gangster offering. I’d already swallowed the hook, ’cause like directorRickey Bird Jr. told me, “That’s a great title,” and indeed it is. Still, as is often the case with the gigantic strides being taken in the field of low budget film-making nowadays, like Transformers, they are increasingly becoming more than meets the eye.
What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas. So when Jack King (Joe Raffa, “Portal”, “Dark Harbor”) decides to try his luck at a blackjack tournament – with a little somethin’ on the side to handle for his mob boss Uncle Vinny, Vincent Pastore(HBO’s “The Sopranos”) , this tale transforms into a vodka martini shaken by an earthquake and stirred by a maelstrom. Jack’s Vegas weekend descends from one hell to the next when he is targeted by the mob after his girlfriend witnesses a murder
“Booze, Broads and Blackjack,” received a release on Amazon Prime Video on July 24th, 2020 in the United States and United Kingdom after racking up several awards despite being sidelined by COVID-19. The mob thriller, nominated for Best Picture in both the Los Angeles and New York Film Awards, won Best Crime Film in both festivals. In the Actors Awards Los Angeles 2020 competition – Pastore was nominated as Best in the ‘Fest and garnered Best Actor in a Crime Film. Co-star Sarah French (“Rootwood”) won Best Actress in a Crime Film.
The film was produced by a joint venture between Film Regions International (FRI) the company behind the acclaimed groundbreaking documentary “My Amityville Horror” Hectic Films Productions, best known for “Machine Gun Baby” and Good Knight Productions.
In addition to Pastore, Raffa and French, the film also stars Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), Vincent M. Ward (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) and James Duval (“Independence Day”, “Donnie Darko”).
The film is available on Amazon Prime Video for rental or purchase and will also receive subsequent VOD platforms to follow in the near future.
Colour me very pleasantly surprised with Arsenal, a spectacularly gory, engrossing and quite effective rural New Orleans crime saga that delivers the goods and then some. Nic Cage plays the bad guy here and I really mean a fucking *BAD* guy. The frantic, heavily character based and supremely entertaining story shows fierce momentum and follows construction entrepreneur JP (always nice to see Vinnie Chase get some decent work) as his fuckup criminal brother Mikey (Jonathan Schaech, always great) is kidnapped and held for ransom by the local crime boss, a twitchy, psychotic piece of work named Eddie King, played by Cage in a delightfully offbeat piece of character work that is the kind of funny/scary antagonist who makes a lasting impression. JP and Mikey grew up poor and rough and while their lives were never easy they always had each other, there’s a fierce love and bond of brotherhood that is written quite well, acted believably by the two and stands as the emotional core of the film. JP enlists the help of several underworld buddies to go up against Eddie including plainclothes vice cop Sal, played by a low key and terrific John Cusack who stands as moral conscious, sidekick and badass when he needs to be. This is a gruesomely violent film, the carnage filmed in broad sunny daylight and often in scrutinizing, Zach Snyder-esque slow motion, with multiple bloody gunfights, vicious bone splintering beatdowns and brutal fights, all shot competently and enthusiastically by director Steven C. Miller, and despite being cheekily gratuitous in areas it somehow just gets away with being that over the top by making the violence a lot of fun, the way Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah cheekily pull off. Cage is a mad dog off the leash as Eddie King, this guy is a monster and just in case he wasn’t scary enough already the makeup department decided to slap a terrifying, knobby prosthetic nose on his face, an unsettling Pinocchio schnoz that makes him look like something Jim Henson dreamed up. He makes Eddie nuts but not in the “oh look Nic Cage is being nuts again” type way but legit puts work into the character until I believed I was watching ‘rural crime boss Eddie King freaking’ out and not ‘cash strapped Nic Cage monkey dancing for a paycheque freaking out.’ The brotherhood between our two leads is excellent and affecting, the action exciting and well staged, the setting specific and visually stimulating and the story well told. Oh and I might add that in some areas this is called ‘Southern Fury’ instead of ‘Arsenal’ which is another case of them taking a fucking amazing, perfect title and rebranding it with something way less impactful.. what the hell is up with that? Four Cages out of Five.