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#byNWR Presents TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG. Reviewed; Part I.

Too Old to Die Young
Miles Teller as Martin Jones in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

Amazon Studios has just unleashed a juggernaut, Nicolas Winding Refn’s TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG as a new exclusive to their streaming platform. The series, which runs ten episodes wherein more than not have a feature-length runtime, is moody and stylized, and quite frankly might be the first series that one cannot simply binge. It is not that it is bad; on the contrary. Refn has developed a show that is so dense and exhilarating that some viewers might need to take a break between episodes and get back into the routine of the normalcy of their respective lives because TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is not just dark, it is pitch black.

Much like his previous two pictures, ONLY GOD FORGIVES and THE NEON DEMON, Refn has become a fierce auteur, channeling other filmmakers like David Lynch and Michael Mann, but mostly carving out his own niche within arthouse filmmaking.

Too Old to Die Young William Baldwin
William Baldwin as Theo in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

The first five episodes of the series build a world of degradation and debauchery. There are few likable characters, and the ones that are likable are fundamentally likable for the wrong reasons. The plot is loosely strung together by central events that the characters weave in and out of. Much like TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, the viewer just has to put their trust in Reft and co-creature Ed Brubaker and enjoy the ride that is wonderfully accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score.

The series is anything but formulaic, including its center characters. Miles Teller is Martin Jones, a police officer whose partner is killed in the opening scene of the pilot. He’s also a hitman for a gang, as well as dating a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose father is a beautifully coked out and wealthy investor, William Baldwin.

Too Old to Die Young Mandy
Miles Teller, TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

It absolutely, positively cannot be understated; William Baldwin gives the finest performance of his career. His introduction scene is one where he’s sitting across from Teller. Not really interrogating him, or yelling at him for being a thirty-year-old policeman who is illegally dating his daughter; he is establishing his dominance over his daughter’s older suiter through intense stares and clearing his sinuses that have surely are from an obscene amount of cocaine he did.

The four episodes that follow introduce us to new characters. The second episode is solely focused on the killer of Teller’s partner from the pilot. He’s in Mexico with his Uncle, a Cartel head. The third episode introduces us to Jena Malone who is a caseworker by day and an energy healer who connects with the parents of victims of sex abuse. She sends out a one-eyed John Hawkes who is an off the radar former g-man who is dying. They are lovers, pretty sure.

The worldbuilding is mesmerizingly intense. Themes of murder, deviant sex, self-discovery, and vengeance are all prominent parts of each episode, creating an environment that is apathetic on itself, where our “heroes” of Teller, Malone, and Hawkes are trying to restore the balance in a world that has become total darkness. Halfway through the series, the pendulum swings to and fro the motivations of the characters, leaving so much to be discovered and desired. Amazon Studios deserves all the credit in the world for having the balls to back a project such as this. Regardless of the ambiguity and self-indulgence of Refn, one thing is for certain; TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is a work of beauty and everlasting art.

 

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Blue Streak

Blue Streak is one of those flicks I’ve probably seen a couple dozen times, whether I’m tuning in intently, comforted by it as zany background noise, viewed on a lazy summer afternoon or a cozy rainy day in. It’s just about as fun as action comedies get, blessed with an adorably implausible story, packed with both notable comedians and a legion of genre talent and speckled with charming action sequences, just the right blend of over the top and entertaining. I don’t give a wet shit what anyone thinks, I love Martin Lawrence to bits, I think he’s one of the best comedic actors of his day, and never fails to put a smile on my face with his exasperated, frenzied persona and motor-mouthed cadence. He’s petty thief Miles Logan here, leading a crew of hapless jewel thieves including Dave Chappelle, John Hawkes and reliably villainous Peter Greene, who double crosses the lot of them in attempts to make off with the loot. Forced to stash a big ass diamond in the air ducts of a building undergoing construction before a stint in the slammer, Miles is released from jail, maniacally frustrated to learn the completed structure is now… an LAPD police station. What ensues is one of the silliest gimmicks in film history: Miles fakes a heap of impressive credentials, successfully impersonates a high ranking officer and infiltrates the ranks of LA’s finest in hopes of snagging that rock from the air vent. Of course, a risky shtick like that is never as simple as planned, especially when both tweaked out, hilarious Chappelle and murderous, scary Greene blow back into town looking for him. The real value lies in his interaction with all these cops though, which borders on Mel Brooks style satire it’s so cheeky and unbelievable. Rookie Luke Wilson and salty vet William Forsythe are tasked with babysitting him as he blunders from scene to scene, and via his inherent street smarts, accidentally starts solving cases and making arrests, when he’s not discreetly turning perps loose out the back door of the station. It’s a full blown laugh riot in areas, numbingly juvenile in others, but never short of a blast to sit through. The cast is peppered with wicked supporting turns from Graham Becker, Octavia Spencer, Nicole Ari Parker as an ice queen defence attorney, Frank Medrano, Steve Rankin, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Olek Krupa and more. To take this film seriously is to unwittingly brand yourself a chump, missing the point completely. It’s an asinine, fired up, ADHD riddled ride through farcical action movie territory, and I love every warped minute of it.

-Nate Hill

The Nelms Brother’s Small Town Crime

Looking for your annual rural crime/drama/black comedy/character study fix? Well, Three Billboards, which I reviewed the other day, provides that with something more illusory and profound. If you’re after one that’s a bit more old school and straightforward, check out the Nelms Brother’s Small Town Crime, a brutal, breezy thriller starring John Hawkes, an actor I remember from the fringes of the 90’s who seems to have gone newly platinum these days thanks to an Oscar nomination for 2010’s Winter’s Bone. He’s hilariously sympathetic here as a raging alcoholic ex-cop who stumbles right into the middle of a murder ring with the crosshairs latched onto a group of local underage prostitutes. Never one to back down once he gets a few cold ones in him before noon, he’s on the case between sessions at the dive bar and inebriated joyrides in his souped up muscle car. There’s a slightly off kilter, surreal quality to his story and that of those around him, a coming and going sense that these are a cartoonish series of events that aren’t really happening, when one looks at the supporting characters. Robert Forster has never been more deadpan or watchable as the tycoon grandfather of one of the slain hookers, a hands-on gent who isn’t afraid to dust off his giant scoped rifle to help out. He’s joined by outlandish Latino pimp Mood (Clifton Collins Jr., who needs way more roles), both of them assisting Hawkes in his crusade. Even the psychotic hitman (Jeremy Ratchford) dispatched to kill everyone in sight has a distinctly ‘out there’, roadrunner vibe. But Hawkes anchors the whole deal with the mopey, sad-sack realism of his character, a loser who’s dead-end existence has been given a new lease on legacy. His best buddy Anthony Anderson and wife Octavia Spencer give the plot some gravity too, a neat seesaw effect that sits opposite Forster and Collins exaggerated antics. The film has a funny way of both ambling along at it’s own pace and jumping out at you with warp speed jump cuts and brazen, bloody violence. The dialogue is pure poetry in areas and knowing camp in others, neatly balanced. Don Harvey and veteran tough gal Dale Dickey have great bits as salty bartenders, while Daniel Sunjata and haggard looking ex-pretty boy (remember him in Monster In Law with Jane Fonda and J-Lo?) Michael Vartan play two local detectives who are always frustrated to be a step behind Hawkes, who plays off the grid and close to the chest. Small Town Crime is a small time film, but the craft gone into bringing it to our screens couldn’t be bigger or more commendable from all angles. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Martin McDonough’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Irish writing/directing guru Martin McDonough has pulled a miraculous hat-trick with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a pitch perfect follow up to his other two black dramedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He’s an unbelievable talent who specializes in caustic, vigorously sharp dialogue and comic moments organically drawn from real life situations, not to mention a heap of earned emotional moments and narratives that, try as the viewer might, are impossible to predict. This is a near perfect bookend to the trilogy, with a late career encore turn from Frances Mcdormand, who cements an oddly Coen-esque vibe that’s welcome. She plays Mildred Hays here, a fiery single mother whose frustration and rage at the rape and murder of her teen daughter is fuelled into the purchase of three advertising billboards on the outskirts of town, calling out the Sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and his department for their lack of arrests or convictions. Needless to say, this brazen act causes a hailstorm Of events both funny and sad, strange and mundane, but never boring. Harrelson is a blast of potent poignancy as Chief Willoughby, a stern family man who laconically protests the Billboards, but understands the poor woman’s intentions. His arc is one that leaves you puzzled and tugs at the heartstrings unexpectedly, especially when it comes to his relationship with his beautiful wife (Abbie Cornish, most excellent). Sam Rockwell is the height of hilarity as Dixon, a certifiably nuts, volatile man-child of a deputy who violently takes matters into his own hands and exacerbates the whole deal wonderfully with his antics. Rockwell was a dynamo enough in Seven Psychos, and here he takes that loony persona into the stratosphere, a whirling dervish of bizarre, idiosyncratic wonderment. Other standouts include Peter Dinklage as a love-struck dwarf that everyone refers to as a midget, John Hawkes as Mildred’s troubled ex husband, Lucas Hedges as her traumatized son and Caleb Landry Jones as an oddball local advertising mogul. McDonough’s calling card is his defiant refusal to tell a story in Hollywood’s glossy, surface level terms, deliberately punctuating his tales with vagueness, eccentricity and constant reminders that people, emotions, characters and narratives are complex, weird concepts which are seldom black and white or clear cut in any direction. The arcs here are broad, surprising and beautifully drawn, with the same deep set sadness he brought us In Bruges, accented by the acidic, dysfunctional and cheerfully profane writing that showed up in Seven Psychos. This is a film that ducks the pesky limbo bar of standards set by the Hollywood machine in favour of something more unique, a road less travelled when it comes to comedy dramas, but one that anyone seeking fresh, alive and different material would be much rewarded trekking down. One of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Miami Vice


Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is a lot of things. Hypnotic, sedated mood piece. Thrumming, rhythmic action picture. Deeply romantic. More going on underneath it’s surface than what you see onscreen. Masterful crime piece. Showcase for digitally shot film. Restless, nocturnal urban dream. One thing it is decidedly not, however, is anything similar to the bright ‘n sunny, pastel suited 80’s cable TV show of the same name, also pioneered by Mann, at a more constricted and likely very different point in his career. A lot can be said for the show though, it’s instantly iconic and was one among a stable of crimeprimetime™ (The Equalizer and Crime Story did their part as well) to give many actors their break, actors who we take for granted as stars today. Mann’s film version is a different beast entirely, a likely reason for the uneasy audience reception. Let’s be clear: it’s one of the best films of the last few decades. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx make a deliberately moodier, more dangerous Ricardo and Tubbs, and their high stakes undercover work is set against an austerely fatalistic Miami that bares little resemblance to travel brochures, let alone the tv show many were used to. Their story starts one of two ways, depending on whether or not you view the extended director’s cut, which is the version I’d choose as it sets up tone before throwing you into a hectic nightclub sting operation they’ve got going, which is hastily interrupted by the exposure of a CI snitch (John Hawkes in a haunting cameo). This sets them on course to take down a powerful Cuban drug syndicate run by a scarily calm Luis Tosar and hotheaded maverick John Ortiz. Farrell gets involved with a girl from their fold, of course (Gong Li is a vision), a romance that has grown on me over the years, while Foxx is involved with beautiful fellow cop Naomie Harris, yielding heart wrenching moments in the final act. Darting in and out of the story as well are Tom Towles, Justin Theroux, Isaach De Bánkole, Eddie Marsan, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tony Curran and Ciaran Hinds, all vital cogs in a well oiled, momentous machine that doesn’t drop it’s pulse for a second. Composer John Murphy piles on the mood with his mournful score, highlighting evening boat-rides, shadowy shoot outs and outdoor nightclubs with a top tier soundscape, while cinematographer Dion Beebe works tirelessly to get shot after shot looking mint, not an easy task with a film this energetic and particularly lit. From start to finish it’s to the point as well, Mann has no interest in useless exposition, mapped out play by plays or cheesy moments. Everything careens along at a realistic pace and you’re on your own if you can’t keep up or make sense of the off the cuff cop jargon. There’s stillness too though, in a torn up Farrell watching his love disappear on the horizon, Foxx looking on from beside a hospital bed or simply either of them glowering out at the skyline from a rooftop pulpit before things Heat up. Like I said, do the extended version and you’ll get that terrific opener to set you up, instead of being thrown in the deep end right off the bat. Either way though, Miami Vice is one for the ages. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Sand


Sand is about as tasteful and memorable as it’s title, a bland, pointless and inconsequential piece of low grade fluff that starts nowhere and ends up just about the same. Funnily enough, it attracted the attention of some fairly notable actors who show up to loiter around in a boring family melodrama that barely registers past a flatline, and wander off again without bothering to bring their character arcs to a satisfactory close. Michael Vartan is some California stud who returns home to the surfing town he grew up in only to run afoul of his nasty criminal father (Harry Dean Stanton), and two deadbeat half brothers (John Hawkes and some other dude). They’ve shown up to lay low from the cops, but instead have eyes for Vartan’s cutie pie girlfriend (Kari Wuhrur) which is where the vague trouble starts. I do mean vague, as no one really makes an effort to convince us that these characters care, let alone know about what’s going on, and any sense of real danger is stifled by lethargy. Denis Leary usually crackles with witty intensity, but not even he seems to want to play, a sorry excuse for a villain who mopes around looking like he forgot his lines and just wants to go home. Norman Reedus is wasted on a quick bit as Wuhrur’s surfer brother, and there’s equally forgettable cameos from Jon Lovitz, Emilio Estevez and Julie Delpy too, but it all goes nowhere. There isn’t even any kind of adherence to genre, no Mexican standoff, no ramp up to revenge, it just kind of drops off and leaves an absence of anything interesting in the air. Some cool Cali scenery that could be Big Sur if I remember correctly, but even then you’re better off ditching this one and going to the beach for real. 

-Nate Hill

Ridley Scott’s American Gangster: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Ridley Scott’s vast, intricate crime epic American Gangster is one of the director’s finest achievement in film to this day. It’s sprawling in nature, expansive in scope but never chaotic or muddled. It always maintains a laser focus on its characters and story, thumping along at a rhythmic pace which swells and falls to the time of one of the most iconic stories in true crime. It’s Scott’s Heat, a titanic tale of cop vs. criminal in which neither are the villain or hero, but simply men adhering to rigid, ruthless principles moulded by the environments they have grown up in. Both men have an intense set of morals completely different from the other, yet equally as captivating. Russell Crowe is a troubled bruiser as Detective Richie Roberts, a cop so determined to convince himself of his own upstanding nature that he won’t take any illicit payoff in any amount or context. In contrast, every other aspect of his life is a shambling mess. Denzel Washington is quiet fury as Frank Lucas, an enterprising gangster and drug smuggler who rides the tidal wave of capitalism like there’s no tomorrow, flooding the streets of Harlem with pure heroin directly from the southeast Asian source, and rising swiftly to the peak of underworld infamy. The two are on an inevitable collision course, two juggernauts with different empires backing them who will stop at nothing. Lucas believes himself to be untouchable, shirking the flashy, preening nature of his peers and remaining out of the limelight, until cunning Roberts catches onto him. The rough and tumble world of New York in the 60’s and 70’s is lovingly brought to life by Scott, his cast and crew who go to impressive lengths in order to bring us that grit, realism and specific anthropological aura of another time, another setting. Speaking of cast, this has to be one of the most rip roaring collection of actors ever assembled, even to rival that of Heat itself. In Richie’s corner there is senior Detective Lou Toback (a sly Ted Levine, perpetuating the vague Michael Mann vibe even further), a scummy colleague (Yul Vasquez), and an off the books team of gangbusters including John Ortiz, John Hawkes and a mumbling RZA. He also clashes with his bitter ex wife (Carla Gugino) in an ugly custody battle for their young son. Over on Frank’s side of the hill are his huge extended family including Common, TI, Chiwetel Ejfor and Ruby Dee in one of the film’s finest performances as his strong willed, passionate mother, one of the only people who could talk sense into him and keep the animal inside at bay. Lymari Nadal is great as his bombshell Puerto Rican wife as well. His rivals include superfly-esque Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and a brief, hostile turn from Idris Elba. He also deals with the Italian mafia, personified by a hammy Armand Assante, an earnest Jon Polito and a slimy Ritchie Coster. One of the best performances of the film comes from Josh Brolin as positively evil corrupt narcotics detective Trupo, threatening everything that moves with his grease slick hair, porno moustache and silky, dangerous tone. As if that army of talent wasn’t enough, there’s also work from Kevin Corrigan, Joe Morton, Clarence Williams III in a powerful turn as an ageing Bumpy Johnson, and a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Norman Reedus as well. What. A. Cast. The whole thing rests on Crowe and Washington, though, and both are like Olympian titans of crime and conflict, sweeping up everyone around them in a whirlwind of explosive violence, shifting alliances and the booming arrival of capitalism giving the American people in every walk of life a defibrillator jolt of economic change, laying the foundation for the world we live in today, one brick, one bullet, one business deal at a time. Scott achieves legendary heights with this one, a crime film for the ages that one can always revisit to see not how one hero cop took down a villainous drug lord, but how the forces which inexorably bind humans to various fates in accordance with their decisions swept up two extraordinary yet mortal men into historic infamy. In a word: Epic.