Tag Archives: Crime

Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

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.

-Nate Hill

Antonio Campos’s The Devil All The Time

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.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkins’ Judgment Night

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.

-Nate Hill

An offer you can’t refuse by Kent Hill

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I’m guilty of not reading Carl Nicita’s book 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 director Rickey 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.

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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.

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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.

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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”).

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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.

RICKEY BIRD JR.

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CARL NICITA

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Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Arsenal aka Southern Fury

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.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Tokarev aka Rage

Good god this one was depressing, like knowingly, on purpose, almost cheerfully fucking bleak, with no clear theme or message to wring out of it. It’s called Tokarev officially and was renamed Rage for North American distribution (don’t get me started) but it kinda works because the original title is only mentioned once in the film and so fleetingly I couldn’t even surmise who or what a Tokarev was and how it related to the story whatsoever. Nic plays reformed career criminal Paul Maguire here, an upstanding citizen forced to return to violent ways from the past when his teenage daughter is kidnapped and murdered. Assembling his two former buddies (Max Ryan and Michael McGrady, both badass and likeable) he launches a covert quest for revenge and justice that manages to somehow be both high octane and not very focused for… odd results. He’s hassled by a hotshot detective played by Danny Glover who literally is too old for this shit now and just seems disinterested, even in a monologue that’s meant to be introspective but comes across hilariously tone deaf and out of context to the conversation he and Cage are having. Peter Stormare shows up as a crime boss in a wheelchair and at first I didn’t want to admit to myself that any filmmaker would try and cast him as an Irish dude but the character’s name is Francis O’Connell and Peter’s usual brisk, eccentric Swedish twang is harried by a disastrous attempt at brogue and I just couldn’t with that casting decision man, and usually I’ll buy Peter in any role because the guy is an acting genius. Anyways I’ll give credit where it’s due: director Paco Cabezas has undeniable skill with action and there’s a few scenes that are impressively, kinetically staged with a sense of space and dynamics with the camera. The brotherly camaraderie between Cage, Ryan and McGrady feels quite authentic and is both well written and strongly acted by the three. But that’s about it man, this is a dour, punishingly violent film without the kind of impactful story to make any of it earned or worthwhile and a wannabe Mystic River twist ending that feels out of left field and very unconvincing. You’ll just feel shellshocked when all is said and done and get off the couch feeling like a truck hit you for no good reason. Two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: The Trust

Finally a solid Nic Cage B flick!! I needed one and The Trust provides a great time as Nic and Elijah Wood play two sad-sack Vegas cops who decide to rob a mob safe house that’s several zeros above their pay grade. This is such a quirky little recipe, super casually paced yet efficient when it needs to speed things along, darkly comic, dangerous, loopy and easy breezy where it counts despite fizzling out a teensy bit in the last act when it should have turned the dial up to full spicy but we can’t have it all. Cage is the cavalier veteran cop who somehow doesn’t see the impending danger in their plan and does a fairly effective job of luring super nervous Wood into it, and yes it all goes violently wrong at one point but probably not as spectacularly as you’re hoping. They bust into an adjacent apartment, hold a girl (Sky Ferreira, almost unrecognizable and doing a great job with little dialogue) hostage and begin to drill below into the mysterious safe, all the while cracking weird jokes, chomping fast food and bickering like sixth grade buddies. That’s basically it, and while the thing is a brisk ninety minutes it still manages to feel laidback and laconic, probably thanks to a hilarious Cage who seems not to have a care in the world in one of his freewheeling, casually weird turns. Wood is a good choice for a nervous guy but he always freaks me out a bit, he’s 39 now and still somehow just comes across as a teenager in physical appearance and essence but he does a fine job that aside. Ethan Suplee shows up as a bored, shady detective with a penchant for Russian roulette and, curiously, the late great comedian Jerry Lewis randomly makes his final film appearance in a quick cameo as Cage’s father. This isn’t anything explosive or super unique and like I said, much of the film is eccentric buildup to a less than earth shattering resolution but there’s tons of welcome sarcastic humour, a nice jazzy original score and Cage subtly hams it to effect playing Vegas’s laziest and craftiest beat cop. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Josh Trank’s Capone

Tom Hardy and Josh Trank have some big collective nuts in pulling off a stunt like this, but they’ve crafted a bold, original and ghoulish piece of work with Capone, aka The Man With The Golden Tommy Gun or Zombie Tom Hardy Putrefied In Florida. This is a fucking bonkers film like no other, approaching the historical character study from an angle few would dare to try but the borderline experimental process and beyond weird stylistic choices combined with Hardy’s positively extraterrestrial performance as Al Capone and references to everything from Twin Peaks to The Shining make this a winner and my favourite film of the year so far.

Most filmic chronicles of real world crime figures focus on the up and coming rise to power of any given person, it’s a safe-bet, tried and true Hollywood formula that always raises pulses. Trank diverts from that route, instead showing us Capone in the last few miles of his twilight years, slowly rotting away both physically and mentally from neurosyphilis in his drafty Florida mansion while his family looks on in exasperation. Not once in the film do we see Capone as a younger man, at the height of his power and only for one brief moment is he anything that resembles sane, delivering a peppy anecdotal barb to his granddaughter at thanksgiving dinner before passing out of coherence and into a surreal, purgatorial twilight zone of his own wrought. His loyal wife (Linda Cardellini is fantastic as always) stays by his side but is increasingly more upset by the drooling spectre her husband has become. His twitchy doctor (Kyle Maclachlan, terrific as well) grasps at straws to plug the leaks in the once sharp gangster turned ghost and Al’s old friend Johnny (Matt Dillon) appears to him on elliptical vignettes. His son (Noel Fisher) struggle with the reality of his condition and everyone is pretty much there to bear witness to the deeply troubling unravel of a once iron fisted patriarch.

Hardy’s performance must be given special note; since his inception as a minted Hollywood star his performances have gradually edged off the face of what may be considered ‘normal’ in some circles, his portrayals getting more eccentric, each new vocal character choice becoming more bizarre. He’s barely human here as Al, a shambling, defecating, mumbling, scaly, bloodshot eyed phantasm who wanders about in a delirium, haunting his own house and trapped in a horrific, kaleidoscopic nightmare of his own violent past. He shits himself (twice), chews his cigars harder than the scenery, rants and raves at nothing in particular and has now patented the ‘Tom Hardy dialect’ that consists of grunts, guttural utterances, half formed syllables and rumbly noises so odd that it’s tough to tell what sounds are being made by his vocal chords and what ones are from his voiding bowels. You’re either onboard for this very disturbing character or not, but there’s no copping out by calling it a gimmick. Capone really did die a dishevelled mess and I’m pretty sure that nothing Hardy does here is too far from the grisly truth of a soul near death, which Hollywood nearly always shies away from showing in full splendour, or squalor.

Many people are going to hate this film with a passion, and I get it. It’s very different, frequently uncomfortable to watch and oh so terminally weird. Trank plays around with distorted reality and hip hop artist El-P composes a strange, otherworldly score that places Capone in a twisted, freaky haunted house of his own mind and there’s no baseline narrative to easily return to from the madness. What I took from this was an unflinching look at how a life of crime, violence, lies and fear ultimately leads to an anticlimactic, sadly ironic, deteriorated final episode of misery. The feds are on Al’s case but he barely knows what fucking planet he’s on anymore and his poor family, relegated from collateral damage to picking up his pieces must now deal with them as well as looming destitution. Ultimately a life of crime as prolific as his leads to dead ends, demons of torment and the slow, inevitable encroach of mortality like the alligators Al screams at as they unnervingly approach from the swamps surrounding his broke-down palace. This is a spectacular film and whether or not it’s ultimately your thing, there’s no denying the craft and vision put to work here.

-Nate Hill

Walter Hill’s Bullet To The Head

The last time Walter Hill made an ultraviolent crime flick set in New Orleans it starred Mickey Rourke and was a lot better than this one, but I’ll take all the Hill I can get and his Bullet In The Head is a bit of B grade fun in its own way. Sylvester Stallone is Jimmy, an angry mob hitman who goes postal when he’s set up and his partner (Jon Seda, short lived) is murdered following the dispatch of a troublesome corrupt cop (Holt McCallany in sleaze mode). The cop, it turns out, has a partner (Sung Kang) who is a lot less corrupt but still seems vaguely interested in why his former colleague was killed and comes gunning for him, putting them both squarely in ‘attempted buddy movie’ territory, a shtick that Hill also did way better in another one with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. Anyways the two of them are on the run from a nasty African war criminal turned real estate developer (Killer Croc from Suicide Squad, because I’m too lazy to look up the spelling of his unpronounceable name) who dispatches impossibly badass mercenary Keegan (Jason Momoa) to kill basically anyone who looks at him wrong. If it seems like I’m explaining this sloppily or without my usual elegant vernacular its because the film itself barely rises to the occasion in terms of plot and feels hasty, ragged and rushed. Stallone is actually kind of awesome as the pissed off antihero, sporting dope Yakuza style tattoos that even top the ink he had in The Expendables. Christian Slater shows up randomly as a wise-ass gang boss who finds himself on the wrong end of Stallone’s temper while Momoa is genuinely threatening as the whack-job ex warlord who just wants to fuck shit up, he and Stallone literally showdown in an axe fight that provides the last five minutes of the film with more energy and imagination than the rest of the eighty nine minutes of it combined. It’s a souped up B movie with little thought or innovation put forth, and it works well enough but I honestly expected more from a guy like Hill making a Stallone flick. At least it lives up to its title as multiple people do indeed get bullets to their heads, which was satisfying enough.

-Nate Hill

John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Ever drive past a dusty one horse town on the edge of some forgotten interstate in the middle of nowhere and wonder what kind of crazy shit the shady locals get up to with too much time on their hands? So does John Dahl and his terrific neo-noir/Western hybrid Red Rock West is a diabolical good time at the movies. It’s one of those deliciously twisted narratives where everyone is out to kill each other, they all are angling for the Money McGuffin buried somewhere out there (in this case a graveyard) and everyone is a deeeitful, sociopathic piece of work. This differs from other such similar noirs out there because Nicolas Cage’s forlorn, weather beaten protagonist is a fundamentally decent guy, a righteous dude who has a terrible case of ‘wrong place wrong time’ syndrome. After meandering around looking for work to no avail he wanders into the town of Red Rock and more specifically into the local bar owned by Wayne (J.T. Walsh), a man who looks perpetually suspicious and nervous at the same time. Wayne has called in a contract killer from Dallas to murder his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) and inadvertently assumes that Cage is the guy before, you know, checking his ID or something but in a town that sees like one drifter or newcomer a year we can forgive his oversight. Cage becomes hopelessly embroiled with Wayne, his wife, the rest of the local police force and even the actual hitman who shows up a week late like a tornado in the form of Dennis Hopper, having a scene stealing blast in Frank Booth Lite mode. There’s double crosses, murders, hidden identities, shootouts, sexy seductions and all manner of naughty fun as only a noir can provide, given low key yet somehow terrifically pithy verve by Dahl and his wonderful quartet of actors who are all clearly having a party. Cage smoulders yet ultimately is a force of conscience and reason amongst such wanton bad behaviour, Boyle does the same slinky, sly sexpot thing she’s done in other hard boiled flicks, Walsh was just so damn good at playing contemptible scumbags and Hopper is off the chain as ‘Lyle from Dallas.’ I enjoyed how he and Cage are two of the many, many US veterans scattered to the wind following any given war, left to their own devices and somewhat abandoned by the system, and they both have tread very different paths that have somehow led them into each other’s orbit once more. Cage is decent, low profile and hard working, Hopper is a rowdy, morally bankrupt assassin and it’s quite fascinating to see the two clash royally. If you like your short, sweet and offbeat, this is the ticket, one of the most fun crime films the 90’s has to offer.

-Nate Hill