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Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles 


If Tales From The Crypt were set in the Deep South with more of a pulp crime vibe, you’d get Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles, a sweaty, sleazy anthology mixup with one legendary ensemble cast and a deliberative effort to disturb the audience at every turn. Segmented into three zany outings, each one connected to a shady pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, by a different specific item each time. In the first it’s a shotgun which passes through a few different meth addled hands, as two strung out junkies (Paul Walker and Lukas Haas) foolishly try to rob their cook/dealer (Norman Reedus, but it could have been anyone because you literally never see his face). This is one grease-ball comedy of errors, as these two morons are way too high to actually get anything done, their feverish efforts culminating in a noisy Mexican standoff, an enjoyable bit especially to see Walker playing way against type. The second story is the most perversely extreme, as we see Matt Dillon and his new bride buying a wedding ring from the very same shop. Suddenly he recognizes another ring that belonged to his missing ex wife and gets all determined to track her down. This leads him to the home of clean cut yuppie Elijah Wood, who of course is anything but innocent and one ups his depraved character in Sin City, no easy task if you’ve seen that film. Speaking of one upping, director Kramer seems to be trying to outdo himself and churn out a story more sickening than the infamous ‘Hansel and Gretel’ sequence in his crime masterpiece Running Scared. While not quite as effective as that, this midsection will make many squirm and have you nervously eyeing both the door and the spot on the seat in front of you where a barf bag should be. The third and silliest tale sees Brendan Fraser as a sad-sack Elvis impersonator who can’t hold down a gig. It’s odd because this sequence is sort of pleasant even, Fraser being his usual affable self makes you feel vaguely comforted after the heinous happenings in the previous Matt Dillon bit. I wish I could rave about this flick, but there’s a few inconsistencies; some of the writing is shallow and disengaged, and in other spots it tries to hard to be shocking, while in Running Scared, for example, that just came organically somehow. However, it’s never short on entertainment value and you certainly won’t forget it anytime soon after. Plus there’s even more actors in the impressive lineup including DJ Qualls, Pell James, Kevin Rankin, Sam Jennings, Matt O Leary, Michael Cudlitz, Ashlee Simpson and Thomas Jane as a mysterious cowboy apparition. The very concept of a southern themed, vaguely horror anthology set around a pawn shop is brilliant though, and this almost seems ripe for an episodic streaming pickup, via Netflix or the like. 

-Nate Hill

The Beatnicks: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Beatnicks is an kooky, shambling little indie that I can’t really say whether or not I liked, because not much of anything happens the whole time. The filmmakers have obviously tried hard to capture the quaint feeling of the beat generation, whether or not they succeeded though isn’t for me to say, I kind of avoid stuff in that style, never appealed to me. It’s a strange little story concerning Nick Nero (Norman Reedus) and Nick Beat (Mark Boone Jr), two aimless wandering performers who are down on their luck and desperate for a gig. Most of the film is just them wandering around, pontificating on life and art and not much else. Reedus clashes with mysterious night club owner Mack Drake (a slick Eric Roberts) over the affections of his moll-esque girlfriend (Elodie Bouchez), whilst Boone gets handed a series of arbitrary, cryptic tasks by enigmatic stranger Hank (the underrated Patrick Bachau). And that’s it. There are pockets of the film filled with nothing but air, places where they’ve tried to stretch ‘not much’ into ‘a whole lot’ and have caused their creative well to run dry. In a film about beat poets who I imagine spend most of their time filling up time and space with constant stream of consciousness output, dead air isn’t a good thing to have lingering around in your story. An odd duck of a film that didn’t really chime with me, but some may find it worth a gander.  

The Boondock Saints: A Retrospective Review by Nate Hill

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The Boondock Saints is an interesting movie for me, as it’s kind of evolved along with my consciousness as I’ve gotten older. Some films you initially dislike, yet they grow on you gradually until you see them in a new light. Some films you are crazy about right off the bat, yet over time the attraction dims and you realize you don’t really care for them anymore. And then there’s this one. While I can’t say I’ve grown to dislike it, because that’s just not the case, I will concede that as I’ve gotten older and new information on it has crossed my path, I’ve come to regard it in a new light. Also, the parts of my personality which went ape shit for anything pulpy and crime ridden back then have receded a bit as my tastes matured. But try as I might, I can’t bring myself to completely see it in a negative light, despite recognizing certain negative aspects of it which were once not so obvious to me. Saints is a tricky film because on the one hand you have the rabid fans who make up the cult following and have brought it the infamy it has today, as well as it’s sequel, which is really not that great. On the other hand you have the lofty monarchy of high film criticism, bashing it six ways to Sunday, the bad taste of it’s conception and production still on their tongues. Recently I watched the documentary Overnight (a biased film with its own glaring issues, but that’s another story), which chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of director Troy Duffy, who foolishly squandered a gift horse with immature and selfish behaviour, or at least that’s what the film shows. The film had the potential to be a big budget flick with huge stars involved and the backing of Weinstein. That never happened. Duffy’s ego swiftly sent the script into oblivion, until it finally got made years later for less than half the original offered budget, and landed in film purgatory before being squeaked into a meager distribution. A tragedy, say some. But.. is it though? Fate is a strange beast, and if everything went according to plan, we’d have a slick studio monster that might have been good, and no choppy, unique cult favourite to gain unprecedented momentum decades after its chaotic birth. Some food for thought. Anywho, on to the film. It’s low budget for sure and one can tell it’s made by a guy who’s never directed before, but it’s got a silly, cartoonish charm and cinematic flair for style that will keep you watching. Two rowdy Irish brothers named Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) accidentally kill some scary russian mob soldiers in one of the most inventive scenes ever staged, and they discover they have a spiritual affinity for knocking off evil men. So, with no tactical experience whatsoever, they set out on a mission from God to end the lives of the Boston criminal underworld. Dragging their hapless, loveable buddy Rocco (David Della Rocco) along, its only a matter of time before the law tags them, and soon they have loony FBI honcho Paul Smecker after them. Willem Dafoe has to be seen to be believed in what is a career weirdest for him. He plays it like the Joker crossed with Bugs Bunny, never allowing an ounce of restraint or subtlety into the performance. I’d be interested to see the actor/director relationship which led to getting something this zany in the can. Smecker struggles morally, part of him believing the Saints to be a necessary force. They are faced with Italian mafia bosses including a scuzzy Ron Jeremy and Carlo Rota as Giuseppe ‘Pappa Joe’ Yakavetta, a ham fisted Don who wants the Saints gone. Rota is the only one who comes close to matching Dafoe’s maniacal energy, playing Yakavetta to unhinged, mustache twirling delight. Reedus and Flanery hold up their end with physicality and quite a lot of energy, making the McManus brothers two fun protagonists to hang around with. Billy Connolly shows up as Il Duce, an almost invincible assassin from hell who proves to be quite the obstacle for our boys. The concept for the film is relentlessly juvenile, and the action set pieces veer into silliness quite a bit and there’s a slapdash, haphazard feel to the whole thing, an unfinished varnish, or lack thereof to the whole process. It’s just such lurid, reckless fun though, filled with excessive profanity, comic book violence, laughable religious symbolism and deeply questionable morals that seem to have been penned by an eighth grader who’s just completed a John Woo and Charles Bronson marathon back to back. This is a movie that loves the fact that it’s a movie and acts accordingly, throwing everything it can get its hands on at you and yelling ” Look! Look how cool I am”. Is it cool? Up to you. It’s certainly one you won’t forget about. It almost ducks the ‘good film’ litmus test in the sense that you’d be wasting breath in claiming it’s a bad movie. It couldn’t care less about that, and the fans, of which I have to say I still am, seem not to either. It’s not really good, bad, terrible or anything. It’s just The Boondock Saints.

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.

John Hillcoat’s Triple 9: A review by Nate Hill

John Hillcoat’s Triple 9. Bloody. Nasty. Blistering. Nihilistic. And surprisingly deft in its presentation of character. The only clear cut, out and out protagonist is Casey Affleck’s Marcus Allen, a young detective with a wife and kid, brutally unaware that he’s been targeted by a group of stunningly dirty cops and a few ex special forces hardcases to bite the dust in a planned homicide, sparking an ‘officer down’ over the airwaves to distract the force from what’s really going down. With the exception of his straight arrow heroics, the entire rest of the cast is a snake pit of depraved, slimy, reprehensible degenerates, populating a decayed, gang infested Atlanta where the cops are just as likely to empty a clip into your skull as the cholos. Chiwetel Efjor plays Atwood, leader of a most unfortunate crew of misfits who are forced to perform near suicidal heists for tyrannical Israeli-Russian mafia bitch Irena (a bleach blond, terrifying Kate Winslet). Their newest venture is so impossible that they’re attempting to use a slain officer as a ditch effort to get their stake. Of course it all goes to high hell, as we’ve come to expect and love in these type of films, with bullets, profanity, self destructive behaviour and wanton violence languishing all over the screen in glorious excess. Efjor is crackling good, showing brief glimpses of humanity in a dude who has lost his soul down a deep dark well, a caged animal fighting tooth and nail to no avail. The rest of his crew spend the film savagely trying to out – sleaze each other, and I mean that in the best way possible. They are really a bunch of snot rags, and this is a group of outstanding actors having bushels of fun being irredeemable bad boys. Anthony Mackie is walking C-4 as Efjor’s right hand, a guy rotten to the marrow with moral conflict. Norman Reedus leaks grease as an ex special ops prick and their getaway driver. I didn’t think Aaron Paul could be anymore despicable than in breaking bad, but somehow manages it here, playing a dude so grungy you’ll squirm. It’s Clifton Collins Jr. who scores the points though. He hasn’t had a great role in years and he comes out blazing as the icy sociopath of the group. Then there’s Woody Harrelson. Oh, Woody. He’s clearly having a ball as Affleck’s stoner uncle and high ranking cop. He spends the entire film ripped off his gourd on joint after joint, and take it from me, he knows how to play stoned impeccably. Despite the laconic bumbling, he shows that fire and ferocity we’ve come to know from him in brief unmistakable flashes, especially where it matters. Throw in Teresa Palmer as Affleck’s loving wife and Gal Gadot in full slut mode and you’ve got a cast for the time capsule. Hillcoat wastes not a second in propelling his narrative forward with the force of a bulldozer, giving us minute moments of respite amongst the surging monsoon of bloodshed and dirty deeds. Composer Atticus Ross whips up a foreboding, hair raising war cry of a score that kicks in from the first frame and doesn’t quit till the last shell casing has hit the ground. The only misstep the film makes is killing off its best actor way too early on, vut its not enough to be an actual concern or hurt it overall. If sickeningly satisfying ballets of blood, broken limbs and morally bankrupt people engaging in all kinds of giddily fun criminal activities are your thing, this is a great way to kick off the year, cinematically speaking. Hell even if it’s not your thing go check it out. It’ll shake your shit up and then some.