Tag Archives: jon bernthal

Steve McQueen’s Widows

Ever heard the expression ‘trip over your own ambitions’ ? That applies in full force to Steve McQueen’s Widows, a film that doesn’t have half the time needed to nurture, juggle or resolve the nebula of plots, twists, sub plots and sub-twists it tries to throw out there. That’s not to say that it isn’t a valiant effort; this is a film that tries a lot of things, is very innovative and engages often, but ultimately it’s just not enough and feels more like a running start without the follow through of flight. In the opener we see a heist that goes about as incredibly wrong as it could: cops hunt down a crew of high stakes robbers led by career criminal Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson), gunning them all down. Viola Davis is his wife Veronica, left to pick up the pieces when thuggish wannabe politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree James) and his sociopathic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya is a beast) come looking for money he owed them before he died. That’s when she gets the idea to carry out the plans for his would-be next heist, joined by the other widowed women of his crew. There’s also an overarching subplot involving corrupt electoral candidate Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell), his racist, old-money prick of a father (Robert Duvall with fire n’ brimstone mode activated) and others in both low income and Ivy League Chicago, which aren’t as far apart as you think, as McQueen shows us in an all too obvious extended shot of a car ride. There are aspects I loved; the opening heist, shot mostly POV from the back of the van, is a whiz banger, taut and packed with adrenaline. The performances are excellent all round, from Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki as other wives of the fallen robbers to memorable supporting turns from Jacki Weaver, Garrett Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Kevin J. O’Connor, a quietly scene stealing Lukas Haas, the most excellent Cynthia Erivo and many more. The narrative encapsulates the heists themselves with ongoing conflict including racism, urban politics, interracial romance, low income versus filthy rich, nepotism and everything in between, and this ambition to explore many avenues in one go is where the film fatally falters. The widow’s heist, when we finally come around to it, is brazen and impactful but blares by too quick for the payoff leading up to it. Hans Zimmer’s score echoes stuff like Heat but seems to only really show up now and again instead of being a prominent presence. At two hours and nine minutes, McQueen just didn’t leave himself enough time to properly cultivate relationships, build enough tension, explain his narrative fluidly or develop the characters that he clearly loves. It’s unfortunate because the guy is one hell of a director, both with his actors and his camera, he knows how to tell a story and make it feel fresh, unpredictable and just spontaneously offbeat enough to seem like real life as opposed to a story that obviously works within the parameters of script. He’s a thoroughbred, but he didn’t leave enough track to run on with this one, and I almost feel like he would have been better off going the episodic route here, as it would have had way more space to breathe and audiences far more time to ruminate on the events. Worth watching to see everything cascade by like a parade in fast forward, but don’t expect to be satisfied with wrap ups or conclusions.

-Nate Hill

Shawn Levy’s Date Night

Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.

-Nate Hill

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River


“I knew this girl, and she was a fighter. However far you think she ran, I can promise you she ran farther…”
I couldn’t find an exact verbatim quote, but that’s the kind of affecting, succinctly written dialogue to be found in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, a deeply moving knockout of a film. The third in a so far brilliant stateside saga dubbed the ‘frontier trilogy’ (following Sicario and Hell Or Highwater), River is the beast of the bunch, a surprisingly emotional, fully engaging murder mystery set in yet another harsh, weather beaten vista where life struggles to survive, namely a desolate Indian reservation in the heart of Wyoming. We open with life in jeopardy right out of the gate: as Nick Cave’s haunting original score howls across the snowy plain, a terrified young girl flees through the landscape, alone and injured. She doesn’t make it through the night. This sparks an investigation from the scant law enforcement the area has to offer (Graham Greene is wonderfully world weary as the tribal Sheriff), a rookie FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner in hands down the best work he’s ever done) who’s rocked by his own personal tragedy. Their task is anything but easy, stalled on all sides by criminal activity, uncooperative suspects and that ever present, ruthless winter climate. The mystery, although not quite as elaborate as one might imagine going in, is an unfortunate and infuriating situation that fires up the blood, as well as Renner’s dogged hunting instinct and need for retribution, an act he solemnly promises to the girl’s broken father, played by Gil Birmingham in the kind of show stopping, heartbreaking performance that pretty much demands a best supporting nod. Renner is just… so good, and it’s jarring to see him out of that glossy Hawkeye getup and in a role with some real heft, but he carries himself with grave charisma, especially in a monologue that will have eyes, ears and hearts rooted to the screen. This is Sheridan’s first time in the director’s chair and the guy proves he’s just as uncannily gifted as he is with writing, especially when it comes to action, his rendition of the classic Mexican standoff/shootout is queasily suspenseful and the best sequence of it’s kind that I’ve seen in years. He’s also got a knack for finding just the right musical talent for his pictures as well. Sicario saw Jóhann Jóhannsson whip up an audible nightmare of a score, and Hell Or Highwater also had the benefit of Cave and Warren Ellis, whose compositions here echo out through the desolation like laments for those lost, dead and buried under the snow. Tightly paced, emotionally rich, suffocating in it’s scenes of tension, cathartically invigorating when it needs to be, all of the best things a story should be are on display here. If Sheridan’s output continues to ascend the way we’ve seen so far, he’ll singlehandedly save ol’ Hollywood. 

-Nate Hill

“Your name’s Baby? B-A-B-Y Baby?” – A Review of Baby Driver by Josh Hains

“You’ve never seen anything like Baby Driver before”, the major critics say, and everywhere you look online the average movie goer agrees to the tune of a $30 million dollar opening weekend haul. They’re right you know, you really haven’t seen *anything* (and I do mean a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g) like Baby Driver before. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Sure, we’ve all seen countless of westerns and crime thrillers where the main protagonist claims they’re done with that brutal life after the fateful “one last job”, only to get sucked back into that world like Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. “Just when I thought I was out…they PULL me back in.” That storyline seems to have been done to near death, hell, even Logan used it earlier this year, and yet here it is once again in a totally refreshed way.

We’ve seen intricate car chases before, like Frank Bullitt roaring down the streets of San Francisco with sly hitmen on his tail, or “Popeye” Doyle weaving through chaotic traffic trying to keep up with a a sniper aboard an elevated train (The French Connection), or Ryan O’Neal’s the Driver outrunning cops in hot pursuit of the thieves in the back seat of his getaway vehicle (The Driver). Don’t worry, I may not mention about a dozen other worthy titles, but they’re here in spirit. We’ve seen plenty of amazing car chases, but have you ever seen one synchronized to a song before? I didn’t think so.

And we’ve seen many an A-list cast deliver snappy dialogue that Quentin Tarantino could bathe in, and the kinds of edgy, tongue planted firmly in cheek performances one might expect from a pulpy neo-noir fantasy conjured up by Tarantino himself. But just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone like Edgar Wright shows us we haven’t. baby_driver_ver15_xxlgBaby Driver follows the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a debt he owes him for trying to steal his car years ago. Baby lives in a crappy apartment with his deaf-mute foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) while Doc makes a pretty penny using different crews to rob banks and post offices, including the unpredictable psycho Bats (Jamie Foxx), sexy couple Darling and Buddy (Eiza González and Jon Hamm), and Griff (Jon Bernthal), and Baby is always his lucky charm getaway driver. Baby has severe tinnitus from a childhood car accident which gave him a hum in the drum that he drowns out with an endless barrage of ear-worm inducing catchy songs, from The Commodores’ Easy, Barry White’s Never, Never Gone Give Ya’ Up, to Queen’s Brighton Rock, and yes, even a song or two with Baby in the title. I happen to have no less than six of the songs stuck in my head including Tequila by The Button Down Brass and Golden Earring’s Radar Love, thanks to a viewing of Baby Driver last night. I’m not complaining. Baby meets Deborah (Lily James), a sweet waitress working a cozy diner he frequents, and of course falls head over heels in love with the girl and vice versa. Baby wants out and fast, but alas, dirty work calls and he goes, but before he knows it things have gone south and fast, thrusting Baby into a desperate race to get outta dodge before things go from bad to way, way worse.

To say anything more about the plot would be downright stupid of me for obvious reasons, but especially because Baby Driver is definitely one of those “the less you know, the better” type movies, though not because of plot twists (though there are quite a few, and you probably won’t see all of them coming from a mile away), but because of the way Wright lets the entire movie unfold completely synchronized to that catchy, finger snapping, foot tapping soundtrack. Yes, the visuals timed with the music and how that affects you as a viewer overall is best left to the imagination, the surprise well worth the admission cost. The film opens quite magnificently with a heist that moves to the eclectic beat of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bell Bottoms (Spencer himself has a brief cameo), with Baby singing and wildly groovin’ along in the car to the stellar tune before he pedals to the metal for the next several minutes to evade a rather large entourage of cops. It’s a fine example of the synchronicity I’m talking about, the masterfully blended fusion of stylish visuals, raw 100% practical stunts, and perfectly picked songs. It sounds good on paper, but it plays as wonderfully as any musical number in La La Land, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. A foot and car chase later in the film nearly had my jaw on the floor as I tried to wrap my mind around how Wright had so perfectly choreographed the entire thing. Of course, simply talking about this stuff doesn’t do it any justice, you truly have to see it to believe it. 

landscape-1491917013-screen-shot-2017-04-11-at-142420

By now you’ve noticed I haven’t critiqued Baby Driver in any way, and there’s a good reason for that: I can’t think of a single thing worth complaining about. I’ve run over the entire movie in my mind and there’s not one thing I saw in the movie that would register as a flaw of some magnitude. Nothing, not a single thing. A death sequence felt just a tad bit too silly, but is that a big enough complaint to warrant my bitching about it? Hell no, I forgot that ultra minor quibble while writing this review, so that can’t be that important to me. Does that mean Baby Driver is what you might call a perfect movie? Not necessarily, I know some people wish it allowed a deeper look into the psyche of the totem pole-esque Baby, some dislike the brief screen time of a beloved actor, and I’m sure others have nitpicks I don’t even want to think about…but from where I’m standing I don’t see why it couldn’t be classified “perfect”.  

Support original film making and go see Baby Driver the first chance you get, and don’t forget to buckle up, it’s one helluva wild ride from the very first second until the final frame snaps to black. baby-driver-movie-5.png

David Ayer’s Fury: A Review by Nate Hill

  

David Ayer’s Fury is the most fearsome, unrelenting war film of the decade and quite the experience to sit through. One stumbles out of the theatre as shell shocked as the brave soldiers we’ve just witnessed onscreen, needing time to wind down from the horror, after which we realize that among the thunderous bravura and non stop, head shattering combat are moments of tender humanity and ponderous reflection, just enough to contrast the madness. Logan Lerman has the pretty boy look, which is quickly stripped away and replaced by frenzied terror and confusion, playing a young army clerk who hasn’t seen one second of combat, suddenly tasked with joining the ranks of a tank warfare crew. They are each hardened in their own way by what they’ve seen and done. Brad Pitt is Wardaddy, their iron jawed commander in a gritty, unstable and altogether brilliant performance. Jon Bernthal is the obligatory redneck Neanderthal, a big lug whose brutish ways mask a childlike yearning beneath. Shia Leboeuf is the restrained one, a bible reader and thinker whose resentment of the war radiates from his eyes like sad and sick beams of sympathy. Michael Pena, reliably excellent, is the closest to neutral of the group. Ayer airdrops us right into the action without pretext, warning or proclaimed intention. This isn’t a ‘men on a mission’ war flick, this is a single harrowing day in the lives of men at the end of the world as well as their ropes, an intimate study of the horror inflicted on both body and soul, both soldier and civilian, the collective horrific impact of the war refracted through the prism of a small period of time. Such a tactic has huge potential, and here it works wonders in brining us closer to these characters, as well as anyone they meet along their way. Pitt leads this ragtag band with the indifferent sentiment of a hardened, brittle man who has been in one too many a tight spot and seen one too many a comrade fall under his care to waste time with compassion for the enemy. Time and tide have turned killing into a purely instinctual, second nature business for him, and we see this unfold in a kicker of a scene where he forces Lerman to murder an unarmed German private who begs for his life. Such is war, and such is Ayer’s film, free from Hallmark moments and structured escapism. Midway through, the film stops dead in its tracks for a beautiful, tension filled sequence in which the band finds temporary refuge in crumbling abode with two German girls. The culture shock is numbed out by the extremity of the war, and these two groups are forced to coexist, if only for an hour or so. The youngest of the girls (Alicia Von Rittberg) is stunning, a baleful example of the corrupts of innocence, her character arc a testament to the senselessness of war. The combat scenes within the tank clank with clammy, claustrophobic dread and desperation, helped by the fact that for the most part they filmed inside real replicas. Jason Isaacs shows up in yet another war movie role as a grizzled commander who briefly assists them, and (of course) steals his two quick scenes in the process. War films often struggle to find humanity amongst the ugliness by trying a little too hard, and by being a little too obvious. This one is frank, unrelenting and assaults you with a deafening roar of chaos, with a few extremely subtle moments of introspect and emotion. It may just have cracked the formula for finding the comfort in such turmoil: less is more. One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen.