Sinners And Saints is a very adeptly made New Orleans set cop thriller that pays homage to tough archetypes of yore such as Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry and Bad Boys. It’s far more serious and sinewy than those movies though, sucking the humour off its own bones and leaving a grim tale of one man ditching the force and going rogue in an attempt to hunt down some extremely bad people. Johnny Strong, a formidable, mscular guy, plays Detective Sean Riley, trying to sort through the post-Katrina chaos of the city whilst internally dealing with the loss of his wife and infant son. Strong is known for The Fast And The Furious as well as Black Hawk Down, quickly making it his calling card to play tough outsiders who get shit done with a fiery knack for not always playing by the rules. As it turns out, New Orleans is rife with psychopathic criminals up to no good, starting with evil mercenary Raymond Crowe (a badass, hateable Costas Mandylor), leading a crew of paramilitary scumbags into some very nefarious deeds. Riley discovers that his old army buddy Colin (the blonde half of the Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery, getting some nice, quiet moments of introspect before the firefights) is involved somehow, spurring him further into action. His commanding officer Trahan (Tom Berenger, stoically reminiscing about the youthful days in which he headlined flicks like these), worries that the path he’s headed down is too dark and similar to the men he is hunting. He’s paired with an unseasoned rookie (Kevin Philips), and an inevitable bond is forged in between and during bouts of gunfire. The action is wickedly staged, rising above the ineptitude that usually brands direct to video efforts like this. No, these filmmakers know exactly what they are doing and how to raise a pulse, demonstrating care and passion in creating their battle scenes. The cast is stacked high as can be as well. A boisterous Kim Coates has a fleeting scene to kick off the film. Resident baddie Jurgen Prochnow shows up a few times as malicious arch villain Mr. Rhykin, pulling strings which we are never fully privy to (I’ve heard rumblings about a sequel, hopefully with answers regarding his character). The other Mandylor brother Louis plays a bleach blond Australian mercenary and is beyond priceless. UFC legend Bas Rutten plays Dekker, a frightengingly nasty dude who proves a tough obstacle for Riley. Rapper Method Man even rears his head as a bad tempered, disfigured street thug who has his part to play in the whole cluster fuck. I watch countless direct to video action flicks that try their absolute adorable best to emulate the films they admire, often very lazily and without adding any new flavors. Can’t say that about this one. It fires up such a wicked, visceral punch while maintaining it’s own solid gold originality that it can scarcely even be called a B movie save for the fact that it wasn’t released theatrically. It’s pure, first class action, and demands a watch from anyone who says they’re a completist of the genre, before that claim can be validated.
Matthieu Kassovitz’s underrated chiller Gothika is thick with a horror atmosphere that goes straight for the jugular in terms of scares, a psychological ghost story that actually raises hairs a frightens, or at least did for me. It sometimes sacrifices logic for style, but what style it’s got! Any horror flick set in an asylum just has to to be cloaked in workable atmosphere to be effective, and this one is positively dripping with it, hence the evocative title. Halle Berry plays a laid back psychiatrist who wakes up one day in the asylum she works at, only now a patient. She’s told she brutally murdered her husband (Charles S. Dutton) yet has no memory of the act. As if that weren’t a terrifying enough situation for her to be in, she starts having waking nightmares, haunted by a gnarly ghost of a girl (Kathleen Mackey) with mysterious ties to the facility’s past. Her colleague and friend (Robert Downey Jr. gives the dour proceedings his usual chipper pep) seems unable to help her. A guard (John Carroll Lynch) is hostile towards her, angry at the loss of her husband who was his friend. An erratic fellow patient (a de-glammed Penelope Cruz) seems to know more than her vacuous babbling would suggest. The asylum Director (Bernard Hill, excellent) is perplexed by the whole situation. It’s a twisty funhouse of a plot that probably piles on one stark plot turn too many, they’re nevertheless fun to be left aghast by as the rattle by with little regard for plausibility. Berry is convincing in her tormenting position, radiating desperation and resilience that claws at the cobwebs of insanity. Kassovitz piles on the gothic atmosphere relentlessly, and it really works, until we have a visual palette that looks like the dark underside of Tim Burton’s unconscious mind. The ghostly scenes have a threatening, intense edge to them and feel unnervingly realistic, putting us right in the hot seat with wide eyed Berry. Style over substance? Maybe. Okay, probably. But I care not. If the style, composition and palette are enough to draw me into a story, I can roll with it. This one imprints troubling negatives on the celluloid which latch themselves onto your psyche. Maybe it works well because it’s got a European director, and they’re more in tune with the supernatural in general. Maybe it just does a nice job at being effective horror. Either way, I enjoyed.
Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout is pure stylistic grime, an exercise in early 90’s action with the blackest of humour. The tone is set with a square jaw early on: a star quarterback for a hotshot NFL team is under a lot of underground pressure to make that perfect play and in turn please the loan sharks. He buckles under the heat, ends up pulling a gun on the field and murdering a score of opponents before turning the gun on himself. Now horrifying as that is, if you have a sick sense of humor like me it conjures a dark chuckle of the most guilty variety, because.. well, it’s funny! Albeit in the darkest way possible, which is the arena this one skates in, love it or leave it. Upon closer examination of the script we discover it’s penned by that wonderful man Shane Black, who gave us Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the upcoming The Nice Guys. No one can produce such heinous mayhem with a cavalier attitude and actually get away with it as well as Black does. The guy is a prodigy of dark humour, and who better to embody his protagonist here than a sheepish Bruce Willis as Joe Hallenbeck, a jaded ex detective who is so sullen and cynical he’s almost comatose. He’s paired with equally slummy former quarterback Jimmy Six (Damon Wayons), lazily trying g to solve a case involving the murderous quarterback and some shady politicians. Along the way that’s paved with many a sarcastic, beleaguered exchange they cross seedy paths with shady villains (Taylor Negron, RIP, and a youthful Kim Coates), a beautiful working girl with ties to the case (Halle Berry) and Willis’s spitfire of a dysfunctional daughter (Danielle Harris). There’s a wonderfully bloated supporting cast including Noble Willingham, Chelsea Field, Joe Santos, Bruce McGill and more. It’s got a bite that stings, mainly thanks to Black’s frighteningly stinging screenplay which give the film it’s sardonic, put – upon aesthetic. This meshes together nicely with Scott’s trademark sun soaked, pulpy, picturesque tone and provides one hell of an action movie rode. Nasty in all the right places, funny when the story begs for it, and build to last.
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Wow. Where to even start. What a symphony of scorched earth heroics, a two and a half hour maelstrom of thundering action, introspective gloom and very current vibes of apocalyptic dread. I’m not sure if I was watching an entirely different film from some of these bitter bottomed critics who are maiming it with inaccurately nasty reviews. Balls to them. Zach Snyder should be proud of this achievment, for in the face of both ruthless odds and rabid fans who would make any one of us piss down our legs at the thought of ‘getting it right’, he has mounted a titanic epic of a superhero flick, hitting all the right notes and fuelling both casual moviegoers and salivating super fans with a rekindled love for comic book films. A much welcomed grit and violent edge creeps into the proceedings here, a tone which Snyder has a passion for and is incredibly deft with. We begin with a visually arresting opening credit sequence, which Snyder previously perfected to hair raising brilliance in Watchmen, a ten minute opus set to Bob Dylan. Here he inter cuts shots of young Bruce Wayne, both discovering the prophetic swarm of bats and on the fateful night of his parents murder, a sequence done over a thousand times in film, but never quite with the inventive flair used here. We then arrive with adult Bruce (Ben Affleck) in Metropolis right as it’s being ripped to shreds by the Def Jam smackdown match of Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon). There’s eerie shades of 9/11 as Bruce darts through the ashen rubble, attempting to save the employees in one of his towers. One senses the fear and rage in Wayne right off the bat (pun intended). He glowers in seething fury at the man of steel, primally threatened and haunted all over again by loved ones he couldn’t save a second time around. This film addresses the ludicrous amount of destruction that Superman wrought upon Metropolis in several ways. Political nerve endings are fried as Senate and State alike get hostile towards the god in the red cape. No one is more aggressive than Batman, though. This brings me to Affleck as Batman. Without a doubt my favourite cinematic incarnation of the caped crusader, and his debonair counterpart to date. Yes, even more so than Bale. Nolan’s The Dark Knight is still tops for me, but the portrayal of Batman by Bale didn’t strike as harmonious a chord with me as Affleck. It just didn’t feel like pure Batman, it was real world Batman. Affleck feels much more rooted in the comics, and God damn it all if he isn’t the most savage, violent Bats to come our way, well… ever. I’ve always been bothered by the nagging fact that Batman refuses to kill. Even in in a beatdown he could easily inadvertently cause death, so why bother trying? Here, he doesn’t go out of his way to deliberatly kill, but he sure has no problem brutally breaking bones and stabbing his adversaries without an iota of faux-noble hesitation. That’s the kind of Batman I want to see. Fuming, fired up and full of rage demons that erupt into fantastic action scenes. One sequence involving a room full of thugs is just jaw dropping and probably my favourite sequence of the film, even over the titular smackdown with Superman. There’s an earthy, simplistic take to him as well, with a modest suit that gives nods to Frank Miller and even Batman: The Animated Series. He is by far the elemental force that the character should be, and the part of the film that I connected with most. I hope he gets his standalone film real soon. Henry Cavill has grace and intuition as Superman, and a surprisingly earthly aura as Clark Kent, in a fit about Batman’s vigilante tactics. He’s the outsider here, an orphaned deity truly trying to do his best in a world that often shuns him in fear. He was never my favourite superhero, or even on the list, but Cavill combined with Snyder make him a force to be reckoned with, and a hero I can get behind. The two eventually meet in a remarkably choreographed clash of the titans, a duel that really only lasts a few minutes and isn’t central theme, which raises questions in my head about the first part of that title. Their fight is composed of Batman’s hard hitting, blunt force physicality pitted against Superman’s fluid, elegent invincibility which is satisfyingly put to the test by the appearance of a certain green mineral we all know about. The James Cameron-esque suit Batman wears for the fight is a grinding wonder that looks like it weighs a metric ton and could level buildings alongside the man of steel. The combat feels urgent, from the gut and roars into action perfectly. Of course, that isn’t where the fireworks stop, but I ain’t sayin any more than that. Gal Gadot is truly wonderful as Wonder Woman, I also can’t wait for her solo outing, and wish she’d been in the film more. Her much talked about entrance is the definition of crowd pleasing, and will make you cheer in approval, which I did out loud. She’s endlessly gorgeous, and has the toughness to go along with it, a great casting decision by anyone’s tally. Jesse Eisenberg wowed me as a young, jittery Lex Luthor, in what is probably the most clinically insane portrayal thus far. Forget bumbling Gene Hackman and hammy Kevin Spacey, this guy seals it for me. There’s a true madness to his Lex, which when given enough money and resources can have cataclysmic results. It’s a villain to remember, and Eisenberg exudes palpable danger from every pore, his psychopathic sheen of logic barely shrouding the mania beneath. Jeremy Irons is a more restrained, jaded Alfred who is still unconditionally supportive of Wayne, but is reaching the end of his rope which is tethered to pure world weariness. He gets some of the only humerous bits of the film, albeit of dry, brittle variety. Amy Adams is reliably terrific, her eyes pools of perception that mirror the horror and spectacle of the events through the mind of a human, with every ounce of nerve and courage as those around her that have superpowers, or expensive toys. Diane Lane is weathered wisdom and maternal compassion as Martha Kent, nailing her scenes with the small town, kindhearted patience that a film this noisy deserves, tipping the scales to provide occasional serenity in the eye of the hurricane. Kevin Costner makes a brief appearance in one of the films numerous and often confusing dream sequences. He was a highlight in Man Of Steel, and brings the same baleful, gruff adoration here, in a wonderful but brief scene with Clark. Laurence Fishburne is another source of rare humour as the perpetually exasperated Perry, CEO of the Daily Planet. Aggravated and cheeky, he commands every frame he’s in and had me chuckling no end. Holly Hunter has forged a career of playing no nonsense hard asses, here a ballbreaking US Senator here who shares a moment of distilled intensity with Luthor proving that Superhero films can have some of the best written dialogue. Harry Lennix makes great use of said writing too as the steely Secretary Of Defense. Callan Mulvey and Scoot McNairy are memorable in supporting turns. Listen hard for Patrick Wilson and Carla Gugino, and look for a certain ocean dwelling dude in the briefest of moments. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also has a cameo that’s almost too good to be true. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, who was so top notch with Mad Max: Fury Road, combine efforts for a score that knocks it out of the park and several miles further. Batman has a soul rousing battle cry of an overture, with subtle shades of Zimmer’s work on the Nolan films, built upon to give us something truly unique and fitting for the character. Lex Luthor is accompanied by a fitful cacophony of strings that sound like the Arkham Asylum charity orchestra having a collectively unnerving seizure. My favourite riff though I think is for Wonder Woman, a deviously disarming jaunt that strays from the grandiose, baroque theme and feels wickedly subversive, getting you just so pumped for her character. Zimmer’s work on Interstellar made it my top score of 2014, because he leapt out of the box of his usual tricks and gave us something we’d never heard from him before. Here he shreds that box with ingenuity and creative output, a varied, explosive piece that assaults your ears splendidly. My one concern with the film was a dream sequence midway through concerning Batman, and anyone who’s seen the film knows what I’m talking about. I’m sure comic book fans have some point of reference or context regarding it, but the casual viewer doesn’t, and a little more explaining would have been nice. I will say though it showcases Batman in an entirely new light which took me off guard nicely. This is what a superhero movie should be, plain and simple. Big, bold, audacious, stirring and full of high flying action, dastardly villains, conflicted heroes clashing like the ocean tides and a sense of pure adventure. Forget what the critics are saying, this one comes up aces in all categories and is a perfectly wonderful start to the stories of a group of characters that I look forward to seeing in many a film to come. Especially Affleck’s Batman.
After the commercial failures of Full Frontal and Solaris in 2002, there was pressure on Steven Soderbergh when he announced that his next film was to be the sequel to the wildly successful Ocean’s Eleven (2001), to not only come up with a box office hit but to also outperform the previous film. With big budget, star-studded casts like the one in Ocean’s Twelve (2004), there is always the danger of having them look too smug and self-indulgent instead of having fun along with the audience. Ocean’s Eleven managed to straddle this line quite well, resulting in an entertaining popcorn movie. Soderbergh kept his cast in check, never letting them go too far over-the-top and shooting it with a style that was always interesting to watch. The big question for the sequel was if he could pull off the same feat without repeating himself too much. Ocean’s Twelve ended making less than its predecessor (but still a lot of money) and cost more while also dividing critics but in some ways I find it a better film.
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is supposed to be retired and enjoying domestic bliss with Tess (Julia Roberts). However, old habits die-hard and the lure of pulling heists is always calling. She catches him casing a jewelry story on their anniversary. To make matters worse, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is still hot on their trail, tracking down all of the original eleven and letting them know, in his own casually menacing way, that he wants the $160 million, plus interest, that they stole from him in Ocean’s Eleven, and in two weeks time. The montage of him doing this mirrors the one in the first film where Danny and Rusty recruited their crew. If Benedict was an imposing figure in the first film, Andy Garcia makes him even more of a threatening presence in this montage by doing little except exude menace with his eyes and the all-business tone of his voice.
So, Danny gets everybody back together to figure out what to do. Obviously, they need to pull another job but they are too high profile in the United States, so they go to Europe and cross paths with a truly formidable opponent and rival master thief known as the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a bored French playboy. He’s jealous of Danny’s status as the world’s greatest thief and is out to prove that he’s the best by having the both of them go after the same thing: the Faberge Imperial Coronation egg. Vincent Cassel plays the Night Fox as an ultra-confident, cocky man in such a way that you want to see Danny and company knock him down a peg.
Ocean’s Twelve ups the difficulty level for our heroes even more by having most of the crew neutralized leaving only Basher (Don Cheadle), Linus (Matt Damon) and Virgil (Scott Caan) left to pull off an impossible heist. So, they bring in Tess to pose as, well, Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, another major movie star is staying at the same hotel, which only adds to the meta aspect. Said movie star gamely plays a fictional version of himself. The scene where he meets Tess as Julia Roberts is very amusing as Damon and Roberts act all star-struck in front of him. It is also interesting in that the meta aspect that was present in Ocean’s Eleven is made even more explicit – something that turned off some critics and audiences but I think works extremely well because Soderbergh isn’t having a cutesy cameo of a movie star for the sake of it but actually incorporating them into the plot and making them an integral part of the scam.
If the first film was about Danny’s redemption by reconciling with Tess, then Ocean’s Twelve is about Rusty’s (Brad Pitt) redemption by reconciling with his past love, Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a determined and quite beautiful Interpol agent. Like Danny’s feelings for Tess potentially compromising his involvement in the heist in Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty’s feelings for Isabel leaves him potentially vulnerable in Ocean’s Twelve. To her credit, Catherine Zeta-Jones fits right in with the European vibe, maintaining just the right mix of determination in nailing Danny and his crew and vulnerability when she’s with Rusty. Their relationship elevates the film ever so slightly above the standard heist story and the conclusion of her subplot is surprisingly emotional and poignant – the highpoint of the trilogy and something you don’t expect from a film like Ocean’s Twelve, which is essentially a feature-length lark.
Matt Damon demonstrates excellent comic timing in this film and is the real stand-out of this strong cast. Early on, Linus asks Rusty if he could have more to do this time out and this moment comes across as quite self-reflexive. It’s as if Damon were almost asking if he could have more screen time in the film itself. In some respects, he is the group’s stammering conscience. There is an amusing scene where Linus, Danny and Rusty meet a contact by the name of Matsui (Robbie Coltrane) for a potential job. Danny, Rusty and Matsui all speak cryptically, which leaves poor Linus totally confused. Damon plays the scene so well as he looks desperately to his cohorts for help or some sort of clue as to what he should say. Put on the spot, Linus finally responds by quoting lyrics from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin to hilarious effect.
While doing a press conference in Rome during the promotional tour for Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh fell in love with the city and over dinner with producer Jerry Weintraub began thinking about the story and structure for a sequel. He got the idea to set it in Europe and was so inspired that he started writing down ideas. After returning to Los Angeles, Weintraub discovered George Nolfi’s screenplay, entitled Honor Among Thieves, about the greatest thief in America going up against his equal in Europe. It was originally developed for John Woo to direct but Weintraub sent the script to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Soderbergh. The director came up with the basic idea for the film and thought that it “would be more fun if Twelve was the movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go.” He ended up merging Nolfi’s script with his own ideas. Soderbergh saw this film as more emotional, character-driven and complicated on a narrative level than the first one.
Prior to the start of principal photography, which lasted 77 days, Julia Roberts found out that she was pregnant and Soderbergh incorporated it into the script. He also met with Vincent Cassel at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and asked the actor if he would be interested in being in Ocean’s Twelve. He agreed without reading the script because he trusted someone with a reputation like Soderbergh’s. Once filming began, the production spent ten weeks globetrotting all over the world with stops in Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo, Lake Cuomo, and Rome. Principal photography concluded with four weeks on three Warner Brothers soundstages in L.A.
Once again Soderbergh keeps the pace brisk and breezy, making the two-hour running time fly by. Like its predecessor, Ocean’s Twelve is beautifully shot with atmospheric lighting and saturated color as evident in the bright yellow that permeates Isabel’s Europol lecture or the green lighting that illuminates the underwater sequence during a heist that Danny and his crew pull off, or the red lighting that dominates the nightclub where Rusty and Isabel meet. Most of the film takes place in Europe and Soderbergh adopts the look of a European film from the 1960s, which also applies to the eclectically groovy soundtrack from David Holmes that evokes a ‘60s Euro-lounge vibe. The director even described the film’s aesthetic as “the most expensive episode of a ‘60s television show ever.” He and Holmes agreed that the score would be completely different from Ocean’s Eleven in order to complement the different look and feel.
Soderbergh is an excellent visual storyteller and this is evident in several scenes that he depicts without any dialogue, instead resorting to music married to visuals that conveys exactly what’s going on. He understands the kind of movie he’s making and doesn’t try to be too cute or wink knowingly at the audience, instead focusing at the task at hand: making a confident, entertaining movie. Granted, Ocean’s Twelve is no Traffic (2000), and it’s not meant to be, but you could do a lot worse with two hours of your time.
Ever briefly get stuck in an elevator thats messing with you, malfunctioning and seems to almost have a mischievous mind of its own? That’s the premise of Down, also known as The Shaft. It concerns an elevator in a huge residential/office building that has gone homicidally haywire. It traps, drops and tricks people no end, raising and lowering the interior temperature to dangerous effect and generally just being a great big meanie. No one seems so know what’s going on with it though, especially the mechanic who installed it (Twin Peak’s James Marshall). The incidents accumulate, attracting a perky tabloid reporter (Naomi Watts having a ball) who makes up all kinds of tall tales to explain the situation in sensationalistic terms. This infuriates the CEO of the elevator company (now there’s a job title) played by a snarky Ron Perlman who gets a rant towards Marshall that walked in from a way better script (which leads me to believe it was the spawn of Perlman’s legendary improv skills). There’s also a cop played by Dan Hedeya who can’t seem to figure it out wither. The truth is a lot more interesting than you might expect and has nothing to do with ghosts or spirits at all, but centers around a deranged research scientist (Michael Ironside, whacked out to kingdom come). It’s not the least bit scary, but it’s worth a watch simply for the fact that it’s a movie about a fucking elevator that kills people lol. Cujo and Christine ain’t got nothing on this bitch. The scene where a gaggle of pregnant ladies enter the thing is just priceless in its blatantly gross out manner. Fun, fun stuff and great research to embarrass Watts with sometime down the road if you ever find yourself interviewing her on the red carpet hehe.
Swordfish tries so hard to be cool, and save for a few moments of smirking silliness, it is pretty goddamned cool. The early 2000’s still carried lingering, reminiscent elements of the 90’s, the super cyber hacker archetype included. The cyber hacker is played by two types of people: basement dwelling, Mountain Dew drinking chatter boxes and virile, sexy supermodels. The latter is employed here, personified by Hugh Jackman as Stanley, a sly devil who can hack into almost anything effortlessly, but has been caught and never allowed to touch a computer again. Enter Gabriel (John Travolta), a silver tongued arch villain out to steal all the money and priceless artifacts he can hope to ever own. Although Travolta isn’t as truly off the rails as in some of his villain roles, the amiable charm he puts forth here is but a ruse to cloud the monster beneath. He’s a very bad man, putting Stanley’s loved ones in jeopardy and forcing him to work computer wizardry for ill gotten riches. Gabriel has a girlfriend named Ginger (Halle Berry, never sexier) who walks a moral tightrope between the two alpha males, torn between roguish indifference and and her conscience. Stanley is also hounded by an FBI Agent (Don Cheadle), with whom he has a tumultuous past. The film resists goin completely by the motions, lulling you just to the border of entropy and then throwing something surprising from a direction you didn’t look in. My favourite scene of the film shows Travolta giving a monologue on bank robbery etiquette, complete with a reference to Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, confirming the fact that this flick has a strong script to go with its pyrotechnics. He flexes his sonic directorial muscles in an especially extraordinary action sequence involving a bus and a helicopter that will seriously make your finger hover over the replay button. Vinnie Jones is an ambassador of cool, in a lively turn as Gabriel’s head thug. Sam Shepherd has fun as a corrupt Senator. There’s also fine work from Zachary Grenier, Tim Dekay, William Mapother, Rudolph Martin and Drea De Matteo. Director Dominic Sena comes from music video land, having also helmed the priceless Nic Cage Bruckheimer-fest Gone in 60 Seconds, as well as the fallout brilliant psycho road thriller Kalifornia. Here he doses the flash and sizzle of 60 seconds with the hard hitting violence of Kalifornia, presented in a story guaranteed to raise a pulse. It’s also got pretty much the coolest poster of 2001. I dare you to find a cooler one, go ahead. Oh, and Travolta’s manscaping here deserves its own spinoff film.